Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Tag: racism

Creating racial categories to divide and conquer

Exploitated white and black workers were rising up together in the US in the 17thC. The government reacted by outlawing slavery of white people but not black people. This was a strategy used to quash uprising and placate the underclasses in a way that would allow exploitation to continue efficiently because “The great thing about the divide-and-conquer of creating white-skin privilege is that you don’t have to give people thusly bought off anything more” – having power relative to some others is enough.

Similar ‘divide and rule’ approaches were used throughout the colonial project:

As the aristocrats and their successors traveled around the world through the colonial age, Europeans all over would find or define a group within the colonial territory and elevate it above the other groups, give it some privileges, though never enough to challenge the intruding rulers. In exchange for this slightly elevated status, the rulers would make those people do the colonial dirty work, and usually keep them slightly more well off than their fellows. Over time, these slightly elevated people often tried to keep their European masters in power even after the people realized how evil colonialism was, maintaining the system both to keep above their fellows and out of fear of retaliation for the dirty work they’d done.

God made the whites to serve kings, and everyone else to serve whites. 

View at Medium.com

Government policy creating segregated neighbourhoods: Ferguson case study

Government policy did much of the work in creating the segregation and inequality of today’s US (with potential implications for the power of government policy and institutional change in general).

Points out that often seemingly integrated neighbourhoods today are actually just in transition from mostly black to white or vice versa.

Some tools used:

Racially explicit zoning decisions that designated specific ghetto boundaries within the city of St. Louis, turning black neighborhoods into slums;
Segregated public housing projects that separated blacks and whites who had previously lived in more integrated urban areas;
Restrictive covenants, excluding African Americans from white areas, that began as private agreements but then were adopted as explicit public policy;
Government subsidies for white suburban developments that excluded blacks, depriving African Americans of the 20th century home-equity driven wealth gains reaped by whites;
Denial of adequate municipal services in ghettos, leading to slum conditions in black neighborhoods that reinforced whites’ conviction that “blacks” and “slums” were synonymous;
Boundary, annexation, spot zoning, and municipal incorporation policies designed to remove African Americans from residence near white neighborhoods, or to prevent them from establishing residence near white neighborhoods;
Urban renewal and redevelopment programs to shift ghetto locations, in the guise of cleaning up those slums;
Government regulators’ tacit (and sometimes open) support for real estate and financial sector policies and practices that explicitly promoted residential segregation;
A government-sponsored dual labor market that made suburban housing less affordable for African Americans by preventing them from accumulating wealth needed to participate in homeownership.


Once the first zoning ordinance was adopted, City Plan Commission meetings were consumed with requests for variances. Race was an important consideration. One meeting in 1919 was devoted to a proposal to reclassify a single-family property from first residential to commercial, because the area to the south had been “invaded by negroes.” Bartholomew persuaded the commission to deny the variance because, he said, keeping the first residential designation would preserve homes in the area as unaffordable to blacks, and thus stop the encroachment. On other occasions the commission changed an area’s zoning from residential to industrial if black families began to move into it. In 1927, violating its normal policy, the commission placed a park and playground in an industrial, not residential area, in hopes that this placement would draw black families to seek housing nearby.


Called “restrictive covenants,” the first in St. Louis was recorded in 1910.28 Later, covenants were promoted nationwide by the National Association of Real Estate Boards, which provided model language. In St. Louis, the Real Estate Exchange provided a “Uniform Restriction Agreement” for neighborhood associations to use. By 1945, about 300 neighborhood covenants were in force.29

The legal instruments took two forms. In one, homebuilders attached clauses to property deeds committing the first and subsequent buyers of a house never to sell that property to an African American or permit the property to be occupied by one. Exceptions were typically made for live-in domestic servants. In the other, associations of homeowners in particular neighborhoods signed mutual agreements that no member of the association would sell to, or permit occupancy by, an African American – again, with a similar exception. The second form was easier to enforce, because any signatory had standing to compel compliance. The Real Estate Exchange itself was typically a signatory, and it frequently initiated litigation to prevent a breach.

Suggests many things about the relationship between contemporary government decision making and history, e.g. seemingly deliberate ahistoricism that refuses to take past policy into account in decision making about service provision and discrimination. All subsidisation decisions are probably deeply steeped in this approach, not only in regard to race, but also other discrimination. Governments should not pretend they have no responsibility for the actions taken by previous governments. Ahistoricism in policy is the enemy (or, one of the enemies).

Although policies to impose segregation are no longer explicit, their effects endure in neighborhoods segregated by race in the North, South, East, and West. When we blame private prejudice and snobbishness for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history, but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community.

Various thoughts

designated zones for future industrial development if they were in or adjacent to neighborhoods with substantial black populations

– Health and standard-of-living discrimination with ongoing effects

– ALL slums in the developed world created, with varying degrees of intentionality (including, of course COMPLETE intentionality) by policy?

– ALL zoning decisions generally racist and classist?

Even accounting for home improvement investments that owners of these homes have made since 1952, the capital gain for white homeowners, and their heirs, endures. The federal government’s support for residential segregation in the mid-20th century is largely responsible for the fact that while the median family income of African Americans is now about 60 percent of whites’ income, the median household wealth of African Americans is only about 5 percent of whites’ wealth.47 This enormous difference translates into differences between blacks and whites in the security and comfort of retirement (and in the obligations of adult children to divert their incomes to support elderly parents), in the ability of young people to attend college, and in the selectivity of the colleges they can afford to attend.

– Restricting social services and subsidies to some groups gives those groups massive demonstrable intergenerational advantage

Whites observed the black ghetto and concluded that slum conditions were characteristic of black families, not a result of housing discrimination. This conclusion reinforced whites’ resistance to racial integration, lest black residents bring slum conditions to white communities.51 Thus, to the extent we attribute segregation of the contemporary St. Louis metropolitan area to white flight, government policy bears some responsibility for creating conditions that supported the racial stereotypes fueling such flight.

– cf. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples


Beyonce, Emma Watson, and feminism

“So, can we please stop trying to make Emma Watson the new feminist icon of the universe? She’s not there yet. She’s still learning, I think, just like Beyoncé, who, by the way, rarely even gets the benefit of the doubt from white feminists, let alone hailed as feminist queen of all things, when her feminist expressions are less than perfect. (Imagine if Beyoncé got up at the UN and gave a speech that centered men in the fight for gender equality. The white mainstream feminist skies would rain down hellfire upon us all. Well, some of us, anyway.)

“I hope that as Emma Watson continues to grow into her feminism she’ll chuck these unfortunate approaches. But, frankly, it’ll take a lot more than that for me to see her as the “game-changing” feminist she’s being called. Where’s her analysis of racial justice and its necessity in ending gender inequality? What does she know about misogynoir? Does she understand that wealthy white women like her are often oppressors of women of color and/or poor women in the world? Where’s her understanding of transfeminism? Can she explain to the UN, or anyone else, why violence against trans women needs to be centered in our work against misogyny? Does she know and can she articulate that ableism is woven into not only gender inequality, but every form of oppression that exists? And, importantly, does she understand that as a white woman she is granted access and taken seriously by mainstream feminism in ways that a woman of color wouldn’t be and why, then, it’s necessary for her to step aside and make room for women of color to be heard if gender inequality is ever to be eradicated?”


Continuing segregation and implications for social change

How to social change? Often changing bits of the system, like laws, doesn’t actually change the culture, so are activist energies best put into changing the culture, or is working on individual aspects still helpful etc. This article makes it seem like desegregation in the US did absolutely nothing:

‘And so, sixty years after Brown, it is clear that the notion of segregation as a discrete phenomenon, an evil that could be flipped, like a switch, from on to off, by judicial edict, was deeply naïve. The intervening decades have shown, in large measure, the limits of what political efforts directed at desegregation alone could achieve, and the crumbling of both elements of “separate but equal” has left us at an ambivalent juncture. To the extent that desegregation becomes, once again, a pressing concern—and even that may be too grand a hope—it will have to involve the tax code, the minimum wage, and other efforts to redress income inequality. For the tragedy of this moment is not that black students still go to overwhelmingly black schools, long after segregation was banished by law, but that they do so for so many of the same reasons as in the days before Brown.’


White racial satire

‘Some people have suggested that The Colbert Report is fighting racism…somehow. That by taking on the persona of a conservative a-hole, Colbert is calling attention to how ridiculous they are. Yes. Ok. But calling attention to whom, and for what purpose? The fans who have responded angrily to #CancelColbert have either been liberals who believe they are in on the joke already or tweeting lunatics who seem to just get pleasure from hearing and hurling racial slurs. Where are these theoretical people who were racist until they watched Colbert, or SNL, orChelsea Lately, or any other show that uses white racial satire, and had their racist minds changed? Do we really believe these people exist? Do we really believe there were hella people watching Colbert’s skit about Dan Snyder’s awful foundation who had their minds changed about it as soon as Asian slurs were thrown into the mix?  Do we really think folks who defend that team’s name despite of all the harm it’s caused to Native people are sensitive to the stereotyping of Asian people? You’re telling me these folks exist?

‘And, you know what, even if they did, why is their “education-in-the-form-of-racist-jokes-that-are-satirical-so-it’s-okay” more important than the people we know for sure exist who are harmed by these jokes?

‘I reject the idea that we “need” white racial satire. That it’s helping us somehow. That it’s so powerful a tool against oppression that without it we can never end racism. That POC should be grateful for it, because these white people making “ching chong” jokes, in the case of Colbert, and jokes about black men’s penises, in the case of Chelsea Handler, are on our side and somehow making our lives better with their humor. That’s some especially convoluted white savior nonsense. And really, if the white savior narrative had any validity at all (which it doesn’t), it wouldn’t have it in the form of Chelsea Handler, ok?

‘Consider for a moment, folks, that The Colbert Report isn’t the best we can hope for. That it isn’t the best we can do. That we don’tneed it. And that it’s white supremacy (with a heaping helping of patriarchy and male privilege) that tries to convince us otherwise, that tells us that anything white people do to us is okay, as long as they say they’re helping.

‘We don’t need white racial satire. Let’s invest in something else.’


A less hierarchical environmentalism, not just for the privileged who can visit ‘real’ nature

‘I had been thoroughly convinced that sunset horizons on large expanses of safari, tall snow-peaked mountains, and boreal forests in northern lands epitomized what qualified as nature worthy of notice. I had wrongly come to believe that to care about nature, I had to feel romantic energy toward these often legislatively conquered, dominated spaces.

‘Domination and neo-colonialism aside, none of these spaces are inherently bad; they are extraordinary features of our world, worthy of notice and definitely worthy of maintaining. The problem is these spaces live within a hierarchical structure. These dominated spaces are often mostly accessible to those of more means and are seen as more deserving of awe than the overgrown block in the middle of inner-city Baltimore. We have come to be numb to the ecosystems that exist around us. We are numb to the raccoon that makes its way through the trash for food and label it a pest. We are numb to the trail of ants that make their way from the outside, and we set death traps around the perimeters of our home.

‘We trap ourselves in an idea of nature that all too often divorces us from the nature in our day-to day-lives, a notion that sets up our urban jungles or suburban islands as places devoid of thriving ecosystems.  In the end, we are left believing that we are separate from nature and, thus, unable to connect with it. Ultimately, we embody the toxic narratives that leave us blind to the beautiful and magnificent things we should be connecting with every day.

‘I have come to realize what rejecting these forms of toxic narratives can mean for us as queer and brown bodies. To see around us is to, ultimately, see us. To be blind to the world around us is to, ultimately, give credence to a world that discredits the bodies moving within these spaces; it is to allow for the consistent injustice against our bodies, our homes, and our communities. In the years I have come to be involved in the environmental justice movement, I have seen countless examples of communities of color who’s environments arepolluted and destroyed by corporations. In these cases, where is the legislation that protects these environments, that protects our lives and families? These environments have not been viewed as deserving of protection or care, and we have too often bought into this.’


Social policies, social discriminations, and environmental injustice

e.g. living near toxic sites like oil refineries in the US:

‘The Richmond Housing Authority, in 1941, was told by the federal government to provide low-cost housing to the shipyard workers who swelled Richmond to a city five times its earlier size. But by 1952, no African American had lived in any of Richmond’s permanent low-rent housing. There was nothing in rentals or sales available to blacks in the central city.

‘Nonwhites were pushed to unincorporated North Richmond and other neighborhoods dominated by the refinery, chemical companies, highways, rail yards and ports.

‘”It was the only land available to them when they wanted to purchase property. People don’t put themselves in harm’s way intentionally,” said Betty Reid Soskin, 93, who moved to the Bay Area with her family when she was eight. She lectures on the African American experience in World War II at the National Historical Park’s Rosie the Riveter project in Richmond. “Real estate developers could determine where you lived. The local banker could determine who could get mortgages.”’


‘The provincialism of privilege’

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Privilege simplifies things that in truth are complex.

‘People who take a strict binary view of culture (“culture of privilege = awesome; culture of poverty = fail”) are afflicted by the provincialism of privilege and thus vastly underestimate the dynamism of the greater world. They extoll “middle-class values” to the ignorance and exclusion of all others. To understand, you must imagine what it means to confront algebra in the morning and “Shorty, can I see your bike?” in the afternoon.It’s very nice to talk about “middle-class values” when that describes your small, limited world. But when your grandmother lives in one hood and your coworkers live another, you generally need something more than “middle-class values.” You need to be bilingual.’


Solid analysis of how racist societies manage to vilify stand-out racist events

‘This argument allows us to view the actions and behaviour of the Gold Coast teenagers and the subsequent reaction of the general Australian public not in opposition but in correspondence. What we witnessed was the policing operation of a racist culture that sensed the potential presence of the other in the public space. The boundaries were crossed, as they are on a daily basis in countless instances, and the teenage women acted as border control. The backlash against the latter worked in tandem to redraw the boundaries and simultaneously reassert the liberal values of white society. Racism was enacted and at the same time made possible the reclamation of liberal tolerance.

‘Another way to view racism, as I have argued here, is as the forcible eviction of difference from the public space, and the creation of consensus and complicity. Whether through force or assimilation, racism attempts to reduce as much as possible the visibility of different others, traces that might reveal the social tabula rasa for the palimpsest that it actually is.

‘Furthermore, the longevity of a racist culture depends on its ability to stave off conflict and disagreement, and to manage popular passions so as to keep them from spilling over into the public domain. When such overflows do take place, as on that bus, we are witnessing not some re-emergence of a latent racist ideology, but rather getting a glimpse of its cracks and weaknesses. These instances divulge the inherent contradictions of a culture that tries in vain to legitimise itself by denying the other as well as its own colonial history, while also failing to manage the excesses of its own internal processes.’

Obama and ‘personal responsibility’

‘How does a black writer approach The Man when The Man is not just us, but the Champion of our ambitions [Obama]? More, how do you approach the offices that have so often brutalized black people when those offices are occupied by the Champion? How do you acknowledge the president’s many gifts, his actual accomplishments, while still and all outlining the depressing limits of his own imagination?

‘The president is correct that there is a long history of black leaders addressing “personal responsibility.” But as a diagnosis for what has historically gone wrong in black communities, the tradition is erroneous. 

‘When W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1897, claimed that the “first and greatest” step toward addressing “the Negro Problem,” lay in correcting the “immorality, crime and laziness among the Negroes themselves” he was wrong. No amount of morality could have prevented the overthrow of Wilmington by white supremacists—the only coup in American history—a year later. When Booker T. Washington urged blacks to use “every iota of influence that we possess” to “get rid of the criminal and loafing element of our people,” he was wrong. When Marcus Garvey claimed that “the greatest stumbling block in the way of progress in the race has invariably come from within the race itself,” he was dead wrong. When Malcolm X claimed that “the white man is too intelligent to let someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community,” and asserted that black people “will let anybody come in and take control of the economy of your community,” he was wrong. He knew the game was rigged. He did not know how much.

‘I can’t think of a single credible historian of our 500-year tenure here who has concluded that our problem was a lack of “personal responsibility.” The analysis is as old as it is flawed, and that is because it isn’t analysis at all but something altogether different. No black people boo when the president talks about personal responsibility. On the contrary, it’s often the highlight of his speeches on race. If you’ve ever lived in a black community, you might understand why. I can assemble all kinds of stats, graphs, and histories to explain black America’s ills to you. But none of that can salve the wound of leaving for work at 7 a.m., seeing young men on the stoop blowing trees, and coming home and seeing the same niggers—because this is what we say to ourselves—sitting in the same place. It is frustrating to feel yourself at war with these white folks—because that too is what we say—and see people standing on your corner who you believe to have given up the fight.

‘When Barack Obama steps into a room and attacks people for presumably using poverty or bigotry as an excuse to not parent, he is channeling a feeling deep in the heart of all black people, a frustration, a rage at ourselves for letting this happen, for allowing our community to descend into the basement of America, and dwell there seemingly forever. 

‘My mother’s admonishings had their place. God forbid I ever embarrass her. God forbid I be like my grandfather, like the fathers of my friends and girlfriends and wife. God forbid I ever stand in front of these white folks and embarrass my ancestors, my people, my dead. And God forbid I ever confuse that creed, which I took from my mother, which I pass on to my son, with a wise and intelligent analysis of my community. My religion can never be science. This is the difference between navigating the world and explaining it [emphasis mine].’