Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunset towns by James Loewen examines racism against blacks in the North and how it works

Sundown Towns deals with towns that had policies forbidding blacks from staying there after sundown as well as limiting how many blacks could have homes in the town, often forcibly expelling the black population and leaving a token family. This gets to what might be the big difference between northern and southern racism in the United States: in the North racism is more about exclusion than outward hostility, although of course that's present as well, while in the South racism is more up front and in your face.

I can imagine some of the experiences that blacks have in the north, like extra questions and suspicions while making a major purchase, like that of a car, or having an interview to get a bank loan for a house. Or even shopping for nice clothes. Moving into an area no doubt has great suspicion attached to it. Job applications and interviews are no doubt full of apprehension and doubt on the half of the interviewer, who holds the guy being interviewed to a different standard than white applicants.

Exclusion is the key that I see among all of these sorts of experiences, the fear of black people participating in communities, and a general closing of ranks against the black people who want to become part of them. Walls of silence, more hassles than others in everyday life, suspicion. I've noticed that in many situations in restaurants and elsewhere that as soon as a black person walks in many of the conversations stop and don't start again until he or she leaves. The same can be said of normal, everyday occurrences like standing at bus stops and waiting for a the light to change at a cross walk. It's the creation and reinforcement of a 'whites only' space, a kind of unique white experience consisting of regular life and interaction that blacks are denied participation in.

The laws restricting blacks in the north were never as codified and obvious as those in the south, where separate but equal was rigorously enforced and vigilante violence seems to have been a significant factor. In the north, in white society, people who start ranting and raving about blacks, especially if they use the 'N Word', aren't very popular. Unless the community you live in is deeply, overtly, racist, people like that are likely to be labeled nuts and extremists, although some lesser complaints against blacks may be sort of accepted as kind of reasonable. Yet the same people who consider these folks to be beyond the pale unconsciously do their best to marginalize blacks when they actually have a physical encounter with a black person.

I think that this attitude by whites has contributed to the ghettoization of blacks in inner cities, with economics and the economic place of blacks in society probably being the dominant factor. It's okay if blacks live someplace in the area as long as they don't go into white areas too much, or go into shopping districts that lots of white people shop at, or think of buying homes in a very white area. It's also okay if they do work that lets them be invisible to the majority of white people. Of course these are extremely low paying jobs with very low status attached to them. It's a fortress attitude.

Although unspoken, the idea seems to be that whites in the north see blacks as an invading force and do their best to make life unpleasant for them when they try to participate as full citizens in life there as opposed to citizens that lead a marginal life. Northern cities benefited from the exodus of southern blacks to their industrial sectors, but didn't want them to seriously challenge the status quo.

While whites often complain about blacks as if people who dress like 'gangsters' are the whole black population, it takes two to tango. The barriers to entry into society, white and otherwise that are put up to black people in the north are unreal. I say 'and otherwise' because whites in the north don't see their society as being 'white society' per se but as being 'normal society' in general. Blacks are considered to be outside of 'normal society' for whatever reason, usually a rationalization based on a few people in the black community who are really visible.

A sociological/political solution to racism, as opposed to the kind of economic change that would also need to happen, would have to involve whites letting their guards down, letting their apprehensions mellow, and affirming that there's a common humanity shared between blacks and whites with certain universal rights that go with it. These rights include the right to meainginful participation in public life.

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