Tag: white privilege

Affirmative Action For Whites – began in the 1930s

As noted here in “Creating Segregated America in the 20th Century – government in action” segregated America didn’t happen by chance nor by choice of the victims. Consistent white supremacist government action supported by private institutions created the segregation that persists and flourishes in the 21st century. But there is a flip side to this. At the same time government law, regulation and policy created white affirmative programs to provide white people enormous advantages in jobs, education, housing, healthcare and more throughout this period. Columbia University professor Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White: an untold history of racial inequality in twentieth-century America1 lays out the history of Federal legislation, most prominently of the New Deal era, that created the booming white middle-class of the post-WWII decades while excluding African Americans. 

In June, 1965 President Johnson gave a commencement speech at Howard  University, “To Fulfill These Rights” about efforts to end segregation and poverty in the African American community. He outlined the growing disparity between white America and black America as follows:

A WIDENING GULF But for the great majority of Negro Americans-the poor, the unemployed, the uprooted, and the dispossessed–there is a much grimmer story. They still, as we meet here tonight, are another nation. Despite the court orders and the laws, despite the legislative victories and the speeches, for them the walls are rising and the gulf is widening.

Here are some of the facts of this American failure.

Thirty-five years ago the rate of unemployment for Negroes and whites was about the same. Tonight the Negro rate is twice as high.

In 1948 the 8 percent unemployment rate for Negro teenage boys was actually less than that of whites. By last year that rate had grown to 23 percent, as against 13 percent for whites unemployed.

Between 1949 and 1959, the income of Negro men relative to white men declined in every section of this country. From 1952 to 1963 the median income of Negro families compared to white actually dropped from 57 percent to 53 percent.

In the years 1955 through 1957, 22 percent of experienced Negro workers were out of work at some time during the year. In 1961 through 1963 that proportion had soared to 29 percent.

Since 1947 the number of white families living in poverty has decreased 27 percent while the number of poorer non white families decreased only 3 percent.

The infant mortality of nonwhites in 1940 was 70 percent greater than whites. Twenty-two years later it was 90 percent greater.

Moreover, the isolation of Negro from white communities is increasing, rather than decreasing as Negroes crowd into the central cities and become a city within a city.

Of course Negro Americans as well as white Americans have shared in our rising national abundance. But the harsh fact of the matter is that in the battle for true equality too many–far too many–are losing ground every day.2

Without exploring the ironies of Johnson, who was present in the Congress and Senate when much of the legislation that generated these disparities was passed with his support, now calling for a solution, this is the central set of facts that persist to this day with only a worsening in some areas in the ensuing five decades following his Great Society programs.

Katznelson recounts the central political facts of the political coalition that passed the New Deal legislation of the 1930s. Northern Democrats had to rely on the support of Southern Democrats for their majorities in both the House and Senate. The Southern Democrats were white supremacists across the board. They could effectively guarantee that every piece of legislation and the regulations that implemented it would exclude African Americans. Any Federal action that might upset the white supremacist regime in the South was foreclosed.3 Second, Southern Democrats also insisted that the administration of programs be handled at the state and local levels of government. This provided further opportunities to exclude or harass African Americans seeking to take advantage of the Federal programs. And third, Southern Democrats made sure that no anti-discrimination policies could be attached to a Federal program.

With the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 the first national comprehensive economic security program proved not to be so comprehensive and not so national. Southern Democrats forced the final bill to exclude farm workers and maids. This excluded 65% of African Americans nationally and 70 to 80% in the South from the retirement program. To be sure these exclusions in a country that was still quite rural and agricultural also kept 40% of whites outside of Social Security. In the second portion of the bill, Aid for Dependent Children and help for elderly poor, where cost sharing between the Federal and state governments was involved, the impact of local administration was even more decisive in excluding African Americans. Three states, Texas, Kentucky and Mississippi did not participate at all. The third leg of the Social Security Act, unemployment insurance required that an unemployed person’s employer had paid into the system and that they had a history of “regular and stable employment”. Combined with the exclusions for farm workers and maids the availability of this insurance for African Americans was miserable. The net of these affirmative action programs for whites and others is that by 1950 over $100 billion had been transferred to the white population in preference to black America.4

Katznelson details how the same coalition of complicit white Northern Democrats and Southern white-supremacist Democrats crafted labor legislation and the great post-WWII GI Bill to further favor whites. All of these white affirmative action policies contributed to the increasing disparities between white and black America described by president Johnson.

Taken together, the effects of these public laws were devastating. Social Security, from which the majority of blacks were excluded until well into the 1950s, quickly became the country’s most important social legislation. The Labor Laws of the New Deal and Fair Deal created a framework of protection for tens of millions of workers who secured minimum wages, maximum hours, and the right to join industrial as well as craft unions. African Americans, who worked on the land or as domestics, the great majority, lacked these protections. When unions made inroads in the South, where most blacks lived, moreover, Congress changed the rules of the game to make organizing much more difficult. Perhaps most surprising and most important, the treatment of veterans after the war, despite universal eligibility for benefits offered by the GI Bill, perpetuated the blatant racism that had marked military affairs during the war itself.  At no other time in American history have so much money and so many resources been put at the service of the generation completing education, entering the workforce, and forming families. yet comparatively little of this largesse was available to black veterans, With these policies the Gordian knot binding race to class tightened.5

In short African Americans were excluded from the great boom of the 25 years that followed WWII.

This affirmative action for white people and persistent segregation have been the drivers of the continued disparities that mark American society. The ability of African Americans to fully participate and succeed in American life has been and continue to be severely inhibited. Since home ownership is the primary source of wealth accumulation for middle class Americans, we now see a multi-generational gap widening. The persistent segregation with its accompanying poor education, healthcare, lack of job opportunities and mobility, have produced African American incomes and wealth that areis a fraction of what would have been expected to result from the boom decades following WWII. Of course, since the mid 1970s everyone, excepting the top 10 percent, in America has suffered from stagnating incomes and a worsening of wealth accumulation. The fate of African Americans in this environment are predictably somewhat worse.

Katznelson ends his book with an examination of the affirmative action programs following President Johnson’s initiatives. The results have not been very good in terms of changing the fundamentals of income and wealth.

 

 

  1. Ira Katznelson. When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America. New York; London: W.W. Norton, 2006. []
  2. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=27021 accessed 07162017 []
  3. This is a repeat of the failure of Northerners and their politicians to make the emancipation of slaves real when they abandoned Reconstruction in 1877. Not only did newly minted civil rights for African Americans disappear over the following years to the semi-totalitarian system called Jim Crow but the very people who had cleared the land and made it productive were left landless and forced into the new slavery of share cropping. []
  4. Katznelson p. 142 []
  5. Katznelson p. 143 []

Creating Segregated America in the 20th Century – Government in Action

Today, more than 50 years after the much lauded 1960s era Civil Rights Acts legislated the end of segregation in housing and education, this country is as segregated as ever. The official explanation is that this is de facto segregation, the comforting idea that this segregation is a function of choice. This is notion amplified through our mass media and education system. It is a complete delusion.

There is a piecemeal awareness by some that, over the years – from the 1930s to the present, government and private business carried out policies that created and reinforced segregation. Some are aware of the history of Redlining in the real estate market. But fewer know that this was not a construct of private industry but the result of Federal policy. See the map created by a Federal agency below for an example. Investigate redlining in your city at MAPPING INEQUALITY – Redlining in New Deal America  for a complete set of these maps. 1  

Piecemeal bits of the story of segregation in housing hide the full reality of how our country came to look the way it does.

A new book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein2 provides a compelling, comprehensive history. Rothstein’s relatively compact, readable exploration of this story presents dozens sad details to flesh out his argument. It will re-educate you about what you think of the history and politics of the 20th century and on into the 21st.

The story is not just about government. It includes a broad set of private and industry players acting in concert with government action and support. All of them pursuing explicit white supremacist beliefs.

Rothstein sets his story within the context of the distinction between de facto and de jure legal states.

De facto means a state of affairs that is true in fact, but that is not officially sanctioned. In contrast, de jure means a state of affairs that is in accordance with law (i.e. that is officially sanctioned).3

His primary objective is to demonstrate that government, Federal, state and local, took a long string of affirmative actions to set up and sustain segregation that is clearly unconstitutional and illegal. He proves the de jure nature of the history then puts the burden on the government, our government, to remedy the situation. 

Rothstein describes in great detail the following types of government actions:

  • Federal legislation with supporting regulations – e.g. New Deal legislation – Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fair Labor Standards Act, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration, US Housing Authority, Federal Works Administration.4
  • Local zoning and land use regulations – these have been used and continue to be used to concentrate populations and functionally prevent the integration of suburbs.
  • Real estate industry – supported and enforced segregation through redlining practices based on government maps and discriminatory practices enforced by the courts.
  • Restrictive covenants in land and building contracts and deeds – these were written in based in part on maps created by the Federal government. These blatantly racist legal practices were enforced by state courts into the 1950s.
  • IRS grant of non-profit exemption to religious and educational institutions that supported segregation.
  • Insurance companies and banks supported whites only housing development.
  • “Slum clearance” via the Interstate Highway System and other Federally funded projects
  • Locating public schools to reinforce segregation.
  • State sanctioned violence against families attempting to move into white neighborhoods
  • Suppressed African American incomes due to segregation in housing and education – the concentration and reinforcement of poverty by the government
  • Unions were allowed by government to exclude blacks from membership
  • Real estate tax assessments and therefore tax burdens are higher on African Americans than whites.

    HOLC redlining map for Los Angeles – 1937

Rothstein notes that the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was built in 1967 largely with Federal transportation dollars without a single African American worker on the entire project. This because the government refused to enforce the law against the wishes of the local trade unions.

As recently as July 2, 2017 the New York Times ran a story with the title, “Program to Spur Low-Income Housing Is Keeping Cities Segregated” – the beat goes on.

The Future

Rothstein does not end his book without addressing the question of what should and can be done to remedy government created and enforced segregation.

The first necessary step is for white people to accept responsibility for the racist actions of their government and their civic and economic institutions. The problem of segregation is not an African American problem. White people created this system and white people must bring it to an end. We need to create a broad public recognition of the facts of the history and reject the comforting notion that all of this happened by a combination of choice and chance. Here the education system needs to abandon its passive voice and actively teach the real history of the 20th century. Rothstein cites a widely used 2012 American history textbook that has this to say about residential segregation:

 “African Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods.” That’s it. One passive voice sentence. No suggestion of who might have done the forcing or how it was implemented.5

More active steps might involve banning exclusionary zoning in the suburbs. Rothstein envisions much more direct action:

We might contemplate a remedy like this: Considering that African Americans comprise 15 percent of the population of the New York metropolitan area, the federal government should purchase the next 15 percent of the houses that come up for sale in Levittown [built with Federal subsidies and excluding African Americans from ownership] at today’s market rates (approximately $350,000). It should then resell the properties to qualified African Americans for $75,000, the price in today’s dollars that their grandparents would have paid if permitted to do so. The government should enact this program in every suburban development whose construction complied withy the FHA’s discriminatory requirements, If Congress established such a program and justified it based on the history of de jure segregation, courts should uphold it as appropriate.6

Other Resources

Rothstein has appeared regularly in recent years. One can find recordings of his lectures, speeches and interviews readily on the internet. Here is a 13 minute speech by him, “A Human Rights Address: How Ferguson became Ferguson” 8/15/2015:

 

See also Ta-Nehisi Coates’ June 2014 essay in the Atlantic: “The Case for Reparations

 

  1. see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/housing-discrimination-redlining-maps/ for examples of the  Federal Home Owners Loan Corporation maps. https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=4/36.71/-96.93&opacity=0.8 Go Look up your own city []
  2. Rothstein, Richard. Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017. []
  3. https://onlinelaw.wustl.edu/blog/legal-english-de-factode-jure/ []
  4. It must be noted that the original sin of the Constitution with its 3/5ths compromise to count slaves to mollify the Southern slave holders came back in a new form to continue white supremacist rule, now throughout the country.  Roosevelt could not pass his New Deal legislation without the support of Southern Democrats, white supremacists to the last. So segregation was written into law and regulation throughout the New Deal and on into the 1960s. This reflects the racism of Northern whites who have repeatedly failed to confront the issues raised by the alleged freeing of slaves at the end of the Civil War. []
  5. Rothstein, P. 199 []
  6. Rothstein, p. 202 []

White Privilege – White Racism

Borrowed from: http://greenlining.org/blog/2016/white-privilege-sequel/

James Baldwin pointed out repeatedly that racism is a white issue. In the US, only white people can end the 400 years of racism against black people. To that end there has been talk of coming to grips with white privilege. This would be an important first step for white people to engage in, to recognize their privileged state This can then lead to concrete efforts to undue the embedded racist structures in our society.

Recently I ran across a 1990 article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh. 

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group”

Though some of the privileges she lists are the obvious ones, like to having to worry about DWB. I found it enlightening about some dimensions of my own privilege.

A short version featured 50 examples of white privilege. Download here (very small file): White Privilege Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack