ZNet Institutional Racism Instructional
Justin Podur (2002)

Parts of the Instructional

1. Society, Culture, and Communities

2. The Racial Caste System

3. Racist Economics

4. Racist Geography

5. Culture and Racism

6. Racist Politics

7. Racist Sexism

8. Antiracist Strategy

9. Antiracist Visions

Geographical Segregation

People are found in places.  This is true always and everywhere.  A consequence of this is control of places or land or territory means control of people.  If the places are controlled, then people can be moved around, settled or resettled, confined or enclosed, in a way that is acceptable to the powerful.  In a racial society the only acceptable distribution is to keep the races separate, with the dominant race on the best territories, and everyone else on the worst.  We have developed sophisticated ways of doing this.  On the world scale, there are the militaries, the borders, and the immigration policies.  On the North American continent, there is the ghetto system and the reserve system. 

This separation and control of space by the dominant group is an important part of the racist system.  for the maintenance of racism.  Land is the basis of polity and community.  If segregation were not so strict, whites and people of colour could not help but find common interests.  Whites could not insulate themselves from environmental destruction and resource depletion or economic decline by shifting those burdens on to less important lands (and less important people).  People of different races would have direct experiences of one another on a daily basis, outside of strictly controlled settings, instead of the situation that prevails with people learning about each other through the filters of manipulated and racist media (to be discussed later).  It is very likely that people would begin to intermarry in large numbers.

I'm not suggesting that people be forced or legislated into uniform distributions all over the world.  Even if it were possible, the idea of multiple, overlapping cultural allegiances begs the question: what is going to be uniformly distributed?  (white/nonwhite?  Ethnicity?  Language?)  The reality is that some people are allowed to travel and settle where they wish, and some people are not.  This, at least, is unfair.  We owe it to ourselves to lift the barriers and see what happens. 


Immigration revisited

The push factors for immigration are a result of structural poverty which is a result of the way we run our economies.  The pull factors are simple economics too.  Employers prefer poor desperate workers because they work cheap and don't fight.  What makes workers desperate?  Being disorganized, disunited, uninformed of their rights and abilities, dependent on their employer.  Working people with their roots in a community are more likely to know their rights, to have rights, to be able to organize, to know one another: and to demand a larger share of the pie.  Hence employers use immigrants when they need cheaper labour.

If 3rd world poverty and employer selection create forces that bring immigrants to North America, racism prevents immigrants from having an equalizing effect.  Consider that if borders were open and all barriers were removed, workers could simply move to wherever the wealth was-- and keep moving until everyone's situation was roughly equal.  If immigrants could quickly become a part of the communities they worked in they would be no more difficult to exploit than non-immigrant workers. 

That immigrant workers are in north America and working at all shows that they are adaptable.  Immigrants quickly adapt to the culture and language of the host country.  What prevents 'assimilation' is not the inability of immigrants to adapt but the inability of society to accept them.  A racist society says to immigrants: we want your labour, not your lives.  This is a matter of official policy.  Quota systems which specify numbers from each country (with vastly higher European than Asian or African immigration (but no limits on Latinos) and then gradations among the European nations, with higher quotas for more northwestern and Aryan countries) followed by periods of exclusion acts, head taxes, and deportation efforts, and guest worker programs were the norm in they years before 1965  (see Vijay Prashad's 'Karma of Brown Folk' for more details).  In the US, in 1965 the racial quota system was changed to quotas for labourers that were required irrespective of country-- less racist but with the 'labour not lives' principle intact.  The latest efforts to keep immigrants from becoming a part of the community are: Proposition 187, which denies public services, health and education, to immigrants in California; proposals to deny citizenship to children of immigrants; the everyday work of the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service; suggestions that immigrants are the source of ecological destruction; and direct action against immigrants, for example by the 'Dotbusters' of New Jersey (who have attacked South Asians).

How else could we do immigration?  The first and most important thing is to stop the push factors-- to stop creating and maintaining third world poverty.NAFTA came into effect in 1994. Since that year, there has been a 122% increase in Border Patrol agents, and two thousand immigration inspectors have been added.(Thaddeus Herrick, Reno Urges Putting Brake on Border Patrol Buildup, HOUS. CHRON., Mar. 10, 1999, at A1.) The second is to control the actions of employers.If any freedom is to be curtailed, it should be the freedom of employers to seek the most desperate labour force wherever it is-- not the freedom of people to travel or become a part of another community. Without unemployment and underemployment, it is likely that few people would uproot themselves from family, friends, and communities to become a 'problem' for another society.

For those who do, the multicultural approach is needed.  It will be discussed in more detail later, but an antiracist society would allow immigrants the space and resources to reproduce their own culture as well as the influence in the wider community to share and participate fully.  Denying citizenship, health care, education, or employment opportunities would be out of the question. 

The Ghetto System (from 'American Apartheid')

Immigrants know that the opportunity to move is incredibly important for a person's life chances.  There are plenty of reasons why people shouldn't constantly move-- to build commitments to a place, to a community, to stay with family-- but all these occur where people can move, but do not.  It is much harder to feel at home in a place you are forced to be in.

This is the issue for the ghettos, particularly the African American ghettos.  The question is not whether black people want to live in a community with other black people.  The question is do they have a choice about where they live at all.

To answer this question, we have to look at how a family comes to live in a place.  Housing is bought on a market.  We know from the economics section that black folks have less wealth and less income to bring to a housing market.  But this is nowhere near the end of the ghetto-creation process.  Because even for black folks who have money, it is difficult to learn about what housing is available-- agents do not show black folks houses as often, do not take them to the same houses, and show them different prices.  Everyone who buys a house does so on credit.  But banks do not give black folks the same rates of interest, nor do they give them loans as often, nor do they insure their houses, as they do for whites.  Also there is the routine harassment and violence experienced by people of colour found in all-white neighbourhoods. 

Probably most insidious of all though, is the way daily prejudice creates and maintains the ghetto. While most blacks say they would live in a 50% black neighbourhood if they could, most whites (73%) say they would not move to a neighbourhood if it was 1/3 black, and 41% say they would try to leave.  This is the basic mechanism that maintains the ghetto-- once a certain number of blacks enter a neighbourhood, whites begin to leave, until the place becomes known as a 'black' neighbourhood, at which point whites start to leave quickly, resulting in a ghetto. 

80% of whites live in virtually all-white neighbourhoods and nearly 9 in 10 suburban whites live in communities less than 1% black.  12% of whites in law school today say they had significant interaction with blacks when growing up.  (National Election Studies cited in Donald R. Kinder and Lynn M. Sanders. 1996.  Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. University of Chicago Press; John R. Logan and Harvey L. Molotch, 1987. Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place.  University of California Press;  Dennis R. Judd, 1999.  "Symbolic Politics and Urban Policies: Why African Americans Got So Little from the Democats," in Adolph Reed J.r, ed. Without Justice for All: The New Liberalism and our Retreat from Racial Equality. Westview Press; George Lipsitz, 1998. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness.  Temple University; Gary Orfield and Dean Whitla, 1999. "Diversity and Legal Education."  Harvard University Civil Rights Project.  www.law.harvard.edu/civilrights/publications/lawsurvey)

The same racism that led to white flight from black neighbourhoods ensures that the ghettos that result receive the least in every kind of public service, schools, health care, have the least political clout, and are mistreated by every private institution as well.  A place full of people who are there because they have no choice is not a community, and the conditions-- from the spatially concentrated poverty to the lack of educational and housing options to the higher prices for shoddy versions of everyday goods-- which shopowners can get away with precisely because customers lack the option to go elsewhere-- are not conducive to community-building.

How were the first ghettos created?  Just after the civil war, the US was not a segregated country.  In the 1900s however, the Jim Crow system was established in the south.  In the north, blacks-- many of whom had come north during reconstruction-- were segregated by violent riots and lynchings, like the Tulsa riot described above.  After WWII, the government's aid and Federal Housing Authority programs designed to ensure housing for all and buy social peace were denied to blacks.  Thus blacks struggled for civil and human rights in the 1960s in an already segregated context.  Their struggles were met with class warfare and methodical police repression (more on the police in the politics section).


Reserves and Reservations

The governments of the US and Canada have no legal title to over 30% of their territory.  The legal title for this land belongs to Native American nations according to treaties made by the colonial governments or by the North American governments with these Native American nations. In much of this territory, native people are in a majority.  They are in a majority, on land that has natural resources-- mineral, energy, renewable-- which ought to make them, per capita, the wealthiest people on the continent.  Instead, they are, by any quality of life indicator, the poorest.  Infant mortality, education, health, environmental quality, hugely disproportionate rates of incarceration, and social problems of addiction and violence are typical of reserves.  (See Ward Churchill's 'Struggle for the Land')

When Europeans arrived in the Americas, the native population was about 100 million, and the North American population about 10 million.  Today, after recovering from even lower levels, it is about 1 million.  The 'demographic collapse' is attributed to disease, most of the time.  What's neglected is that the disease was deliberately used in some of the first biological warfare.  People were starved, worked to death as slaves, massacred time and again, forcibly transferred from one area to another as uses for their lands were found by ambitious settlers and their settler states.  (See Ward Churchill, 'A Little Matter of Genocide')

Year after year, government departments of 'Indian Affairs' discuss the problems of poverty and disempowerment in native communities.  None of these reports recognizes that we have built our societies on top of societies that have existed.  That we have built our societies by destroying peoples.  Consolidated our societies by consciously trying to exterminate others.  And that our society continues along this path, waiting for them to disappear, moving them where we want to, killing them when they resist.

Racism is built on this lack of recognition.  If we faced this, we would have to change our program quite a lot.  We would have to give up our right to evict people when we decided it was convenient and consider a North America of many nations, self-governing nations associating voluntarily, sharing resources according to justice and development needs.

Today some native lands are so degraded from industrial exploitation that governments are calling them 'geographies of sacrifice'.  Ward Churchill suggests that this isn't just land that's being sacrificed, but the people on it as well.  It's possible to contemplate sacrificing these lands and these people, because it doesn't imply a sacrifice for white society.  The spatial separation of the societies means white society can be insulated from the things that happen on reserves and reservations. 

Geographical Segregation concluded:

The findings of this section are:

  1. To maintain racism, races must be separated physically, or, people of different races are in the same place, these places must be under the political and economic control of whites.

  2. This separation is accomplished by direct political action (borders and immigration laws, reserve establishment and resettlement of native people), and discrimination in housing markets (to establish ghettos).

  3. The consequences of the separation are: to insulate those who have power from those who do not; to concentrate poverty and misery and the conditions that make these things difficult to fight; to put the truth of racism out of sight of those who might otherwise rebel against it; to maintain economic inequality in general.


Next: Culture and Racism      Previous: Racist Economics