Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

Category: Social Sciences
Author: James W. Loewen
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by wpietri   2019-01-09
A followup: I just came across a study of the extent to which Americans radically underestimate black/white economic difference: https://www.amazon.com/Sundown-Towns-Hidden-Dimension-Americ...

It covered a lot of history I was unaware of.

by wpietri   2019-01-09
If you are a non-white person, no, I would not say you have had your expectations set by experiencing white privilege.

You are welcome to empathize with white people. I often do. I am one. I empathize with that guy. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't acknowledge privilege.

If you can't fathom what this has to do with race, I'd suggest you haven't studied the topic enough. There is an ocean of history and rivers of current evidence that in America race drives a lot of this.

For example, you could go read Loewen's Sundown Towns, [1] which demonstrates that America had a major period of violent ethnic cleansing circa 1890-1930 known as the Nadir. That peaked with white people destroying America's most prosperous black district, firebombing it from the air and burning 35 blocks to the ground. [2]

You could go back from there and read about slavery and the civil war. You could read the various declarations of secession, where white people make clear they're willing to go to war because they believe black people are so inferior that they must forever be property. You could read the reports of the Freedmen's Bureau, and how even after the civil war there was endless violent aggression against black people.

Or you could go forward from the Nadir and read about Jim Crow. About white flight. About redlining. About racial exclusion covenants. Heck, right here in the Bay Area after WW II there was public debate over whether the peninsula should be declared whites only in its entirety.

From there you might read about the present. There too there's a ton of material. E.g., the classic resume study showing discrimination against black people. [3] And there are plenty of evocative books. E.g., Julie Lythcott-Haims's memoir Real American about growing up biracial. [4] Or Ijeoma Oluo's So You Want to Talk About Race. [5] And I don't think an understanding of American racial dynamics is complete without a look at white fragility. DiAngelo recently did a talk about her excellent book that's a good intro. [6]

I agree that America could be unique in the extent to which race matters historically and currently. But it's not like other countries don't have major issues with racial discrimination. Wikipedia has a very long list of ethnic cleansing campaigns, for example. [7] Congrats if your home country never had any of that, but that's not where you are now.

I also get why you might think discrimination was due to some correlative factor, like money. I used to think that too. But over time I came around. What changed was studying the history, looking at the evidence, and really listening to non-white people with empathy and an open mind.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Sundown-Towns-Hidden-Dimension-Americ...

[2] https://www.amazon.com/You-Want-Talk-About-Race/dp/158005677...

[5] https://www.amazon.com/You-Want-Talk-About-Race/dp/158005677...

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45ey4jgoxeU

by wpietri   2018-10-20
That seems part of a larger pattern.

The excellent book _Sundown Towns_ [1] pointed out something I had never noticed. People from suburbs and exurbs expect without question to be able to use big-city facilities. E.g., parks, libraries, and all manner of for- and non-profit organizations. But suburbs and exurbs often either restrict facilities to residents (as with parks) or don't have them at all (as with drug treatment centers, halfway houses, homeless support, hospitals).

That worked well enough for the suburbanites in the early decades of suburbanization; well-off people moved out of town and stopped paying for the central facilities. But as those communities become less homogeneous over the generations, they too started needing drug treatment, homeless support, etc. Except that the residents are very used to low taxes, so city managers don't have the money to fix things.

I get the desire for low taxes; who doesn't like as low a price as possible? But there's a toxic combination of penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking and pure IGMFY out there that seems so misguided to me. I don't have kids myself, but I still believe strongly in making things better for the next generation and the one after that.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Sundown-Towns-Hidden-Dimension-Americ...

by wpietri   2018-03-05
Twitter is definitely what you make of it. I have plenty of reasonable discussions with people of very different perspectives. It is definitely harder to do that than, say, on Facebook. But there's no other platform where you can find and interact with as many voices, from the globally famous down to entirely marginalized people.

That's not to say that they don't have a problem with hate, or that they shouldn't be working much harder on it. But I disagree that it's an essential property of the platform. Humans have a very long history of people of different perspectives hating each other even in person. For example, look at the Nadir: https://www.amazon.com/Sundown-Towns-Hidden-Dimension-Americ...

Nobody needed short messages or engagement metrics to do that.