From the New York Times opinion page’s series on how Raj Chetty has discovered exactly which Zip Codes are hoarding the Magic Dirt and which are stuck with the Tragic Dirt, a black lady writer responds to the growing menace of woke Asian lady writers by laying down just about All the race cards other than (unaccountably) Emmett Till:
White people are protesting against being trapped at home. Black people know what it feels like to really be trapped.
By Brandi T. Summers
Brandi T. Summers, an assistant professor of geography and global metropolitan studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of “Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City.”
May 15, 2020
On Feb. 23, a 25-year-old black man named Ahmaud Arbery left his home in Brunswick, Ga., to go for a Sunday afternoon run. As he entered a nearby subdivision, he was followed and later shot dead by a father and son while their neighbor recorded the incident on his phone.
Mr. Arbery’s crime of running while black speaks to a history of racial surveillance and containment enforced by the American state and supported by white people with the means and opportunity to cause great harm.
Lately, the coronavirus has got me thinking a lot about the racial dynamics of containment. Under the quarantine, much has been made of Americans’ regulated lack of mobility. But our cities have long kept their black residents contained and at the margins.
As we all know, blacks were traditionally marginalized to the distant exurbs of big cities, such as Staten Island, while whites got to live in desirable locations like Central Park North. Similarly, in Southern California blacks were relegated to remote Simi Valley while whites luxuriated in the short commutes of South-Central. That’s why the term “inner city whites” is so common, and nobody ever talks about “inner city blacks.”
Populations trapped in place are easier to price-gouge and police. Capitalism and immobility work hand in hand.
Lots and lots of big money to be made off blacks. That’s why places that have been losing their black population, such as San Francisco, are notorious for their dying economies.
The American state has restricted black people’s mobility at least since the time of slavery. These regulations included convict leasing, Black Codes, loitering laws, redlining, racial zoning, redistricting (legal and illegal), the prison-industrial complex and increased surveillance. This history has given us entire cities built to shepherd black labor and presence.
One might even consider the black experience as a kind of never-ending quarantine — and indeed Jim Crow laws that grew partly out of concerns that black people spread “contagion,” like tuberculosis and malaria, affirmed as much. The eugenics movement, popular in the early 20th century, led many doctors and scientists to attribute the precarious state of black health to physiological, biological and moral inferiority, instead of structural causes like poverty and racism.
Nearly a century ago, my grandparents fled the Jim Crow South, joining the millions of black families that moved north and west as part of the Great Migration. No matter how many thousands of miles they crossed, they met the same thing: not freedom, but constraint. Even in some of America’s most “progressive” cities like San Francisco, where my family ended up, black people were relegated to parts of town with limited housing, overcrowded schools and low-paying jobs. The police were everywhere.
So black folks have been educated in a kind of quarantine since Day 1.
Yet mobility remains a big part of America’s narrative about freedom. The tone and complexion of the anti-quarantine protests shouldn’t surprise us when white people have been accustomed to boundless freedom of movement.
Consider the glaring contrasts between the architecture and development of the large-scale public housing units and suburban bedroom communities of the 1950s. Two very different outcomes — one black, one white — from one ostensibly shared aim of creating affordable housing.
Black people were trapped in poorly maintained towers, like the notorious Pruitt-Igoe homes in St. Louis, that kept them far away from the city’s arteries and public transportation.
Like Cabrini-Green, which was a 20 minute walk from Chicago’s Miracle Mile.
The 33 buildings of the complex were so uninhabitable that they had to be destroyed after only two decades.
Meanwhile, all-white suburbs like Levittown, N.Y., which also received government subsidies, were designed expansively with front lawns, public parks and wide sidewalks.
The same freeways and boulevards that made it easy for suburbanites like those from Levittown to zoom in and out of cities destroyed black neighborhoods, either by cutting them off or by bulldozing them entirely.
Now many of these roads are being retooled in the spirit of “new urbanism” to make way for more bike lanes and wider sidewalks. But who will these benefit the most? A wealthier and whiter population that wants better access to a walkable, gentrified city.
When black people can move freely about the city, that movement is often controlled by housing location, surveilled by the police and private security measures and allowed only in the service of providing cheap labor.
Today cities are asking, demanding and even coercing black people to shoulder the burden of work that is fundamental to their functioning, but without protecting those people in return. Whatever mobility people have is largely for executing low-wage jobs, which are now recognized as “essential” because they directly benefit white infrastructures.
This, in addition to the crowding in black neighborhoods, is one reason we see an overrepresentation of black people among the Covid-19 dead in places like Detroit; Chicago; St. Louis; Richmond, Va.; and Washington, D.C. Another reason is racial disparities in testing and treatment. In Illinois, just under 10 percent of those tested for the coronavirus are black. But among those who test positive, 18 percent are black.
Maybe blacks aren’t doing the whole quarantine thing all that well?
[Comment at Unz.com]
And among those who die, a stunning 32 percent are black.
… The history of black quarantine provides us with our plan in reverse. Colorblind responses only make the problems worse.