Racism without racists
Rich Benjamin spent two years traveling through white America and discovered a country filled with kind and endearing white individuals. In his book "Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America," published by Hyperion in October, Benjamin reveals that he also found something else: a legacy of racial segregation and division resulting from habits, policies, and institutions that don't explicitly discriminate. In the following contribution, Benjamin, a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan think tank, describes the nature of structural racism.
GUEST BLOGGER: Rich Benjamin
When those pop-up lists beckon you from your Web browser (America's 25 Best Places to Live!), or those snappy guidebooks flirt with you from the bookstore shelves (Retire in Style: 10 Hotspots), ever notice how white they are?
I know a little about such places. Between 2007 and 2009, I embarked on a 26,909-mile journey through the heart of white America -- some of the fastest-growing and whitest locales in our nation. I call these communities Whitopia (pronounced Why-Toh-pia).
A fascinating conundrum dogs Whitopia.
Day-to-day interaction in some of the whitest parts of America, I discovered, is quite pleasant. The majority of whites in predominantly white communities across our heartland are endearing and kind. Direct interpersonal racism is no longer acceptable.
Still, against this backdrop of improved attitudes and interpersonal interaction among the races, residential segregation is on the upswing.
Whites may not move to a place simply because it teems with other white people. Rather, a place's whiteness implies other desirable traits: comfort, cleanliness, perceived safety, and neighborliness. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are subconsciously inseparable from race and class in many whites' minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits. And, if a neighborhood has those traits, many whites presume -- without giving it a thought -- that the neighborhood will be majority white.
Despite Obama's historic election, America remains a highly segregated society in which whites, Latinos, and blacks inhabit different neighborhoods and attend different schools of vastly different quality
Through most of the 20th century, racial discrimination was deliberate and intentional. Today, racial segregation and division often result from habits, policies, and institutions that are not explicitly designed to discriminate. Contrary to popular belief, discrimination or segregation do not require animus. They thrive even in the absence of any person's prejudice or ill will.
It's common to have racism without racists.
Interpersonal racism exists between people. Structural racism exists across institutions, public policy, and other important domains (education, the judiciary, real estate, etc.). The former has sharply declined. The latter has not.
Structural racism is baked into our national psyche and behavior. Nationwide, municipal governments enact suburban land-use and zoning policies to promote larger lot development, to sustain private property values, to restrict suburban rental housing, all of which limit the influx of black and Latino households.
On my long journey throughout Whitopia, examples of structural racism surfaced over and over, including how towns and neighborhoods are zoned. How chambers of commerce favor or discourage certain newcomers and businesses. How communities block public transportation from reaching their doorstep. And how political and business establishments resolve social conflict -- often in favor of powerful individuals and business interests.
Public investment over the next decade -- including the 2009 $787 billion economic stimulus package -- must not further racial inequality and segregation the way that Eisenhower's post-war housing policies and highway programs spawned segregated suburbs for decades. Eisenhower was not terribly concerned about the long-term racial impact of his domestic agenda. Obama must avoid that fate: Taxpayers should not again subsidize federal projects that perpetuate segregation and inequity.
Awash in its racial conundrum, America has delightful people who are perfectly comfortable with widening segregation and yawning socioeconomic inequality.
I want America to be a post-racial union. Truly. But we still have massive gaps in public schooling, college access, earnings, savings, homeownership -- all the benchmarks of upward mobility -- which shake out along racial lines.
As America rebuilds its economy and infrastructure -- including neighborhoods, roads, bridges, broadband access -- if now is not the time to take a fresh look at race and opportunity, then when?
This is the moment when finally we need to get it right.
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: mccxxiii | November 5, 2009 10:36 AM
Posted by: peabody2 | November 5, 2009 12:13 PM
Posted by: drzimmern1 | November 5, 2009 12:35 PM
Posted by: Krazijoe | November 5, 2009 12:46 PM
Posted by: thermowax | November 5, 2009 12:51 PM
Posted by: Mickey2 | November 5, 2009 12:51 PM
Posted by: jamesls | November 5, 2009 12:52 PM
Posted by: brian_gtr | November 5, 2009 12:55 PM
Posted by: jhr1 | November 5, 2009 12:57 PM
Posted by: brian_gtr | November 5, 2009 12:57 PM
Posted by: amybk12 | November 5, 2009 1:23 PM
Posted by: patmatthews | November 5, 2009 1:30 PM
Posted by: george32 | November 5, 2009 1:34 PM
Posted by: a1231 | November 5, 2009 1:35 PM
Posted by: chatard | November 5, 2009 1:40 PM
Posted by: twasneva | November 5, 2009 1:50 PM
Posted by: AlbyVA | November 5, 2009 2:20 PM
Posted by: AlbyVA | November 5, 2009 2:23 PM
Posted by: twasneva | November 5, 2009 2:35 PM
Posted by: pihto999 | November 5, 2009 2:51 PM
Posted by: pihto999 | November 5, 2009 2:59 PM
Posted by: twasneva | November 5, 2009 3:02 PM
Posted by: pippsk | November 5, 2009 3:25 PM
Posted by: silvergoat1 | November 5, 2009 3:31 PM
Posted by: mclovin | November 5, 2009 3:40 PM
Posted by: AlbyVA | November 5, 2009 3:48 PM
Posted by: mclovin | November 5, 2009 3:56 PM
Posted by: robertjonezz | November 5, 2009 4:00 PM
Posted by: myatthwin62 | November 5, 2009 4:00 PM
Posted by: cyberfool | November 5, 2009 4:01 PM
Posted by: dummypants | November 5, 2009 4:23 PM
Posted by: dummypants | November 5, 2009 4:29 PM
Posted by: Lee451H | November 5, 2009 4:37 PM
Posted by: yokosuka1985 | November 5, 2009 5:01 PM
Posted by: chert | November 5, 2009 5:04 PM
Posted by: AgentSunshine | November 5, 2009 5:22 PM
Posted by: DCTofSE | November 5, 2009 5:44 PM
Posted by: twasneva | November 5, 2009 6:03 PM
Posted by: Moley2 | November 5, 2009 6:20 PM
Posted by: AgentSunshine | November 5, 2009 7:27 PM
Posted by: TomfromNJ1 | November 5, 2009 7:51 PM
Posted by: Martial | November 5, 2009 9:23 PM
Posted by: Dionysis | November 5, 2009 9:35 PM
Posted by: TomfromNJ1 | November 5, 2009 11:06 PM
Posted by: mclovin | November 6, 2009 7:48 PM
Posted by: twasneva | November 7, 2009 12:40 PM
Posted by: AnaHadWolves1 | November 11, 2009 5:23 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.