Indivisible--Jim Crow of the North
"Colorblind" or just blind?
I grew up in the North. I went to high school in a lily-white suburb of Milwaukee. I never questioned—and I certainly was never taught in school—that there was a reason embedded in law that people of color lived only in what locals referred to as the “Milwaukee ghetto.” The citizens of my white suburb condemned the people living in the “inner city” for their presumed sloth. When that “ghetto” burned in the summer of 1967 we wondered at the inanity of rioting and burning their own neighborhood.
When you grow up on the white side of a systemically racist system, when you are surrounded by well-meaning, church-going, civil rights supporting people in that system, you grow up blind to your own society’s complicity in the outrages of the day.
Much of the wealth average Americans possess is tied to home ownership. Obtaining and steadily paying off a mortgage on a home is a savings program and a source of pride and credit. I was five years old when my economically lower middle class family of three purchased a modest home. It was a memorable event. The course of my life would have been quite different if my parents had been people of color who were denied a mortgage because the only place they were allowed to purchase a home were in a re-lined district. How different my life would have been without my parents’ home investment, how much of a blow to the family’s tiny financial nest egg and overall self-esteem?
For much of the 20th century for anyone not “Caucasian” (sometimes stated as “Aryan”) being shut out of home buying was the legal and economic reality. For black, brown, Jewish, asian and other minorities faced this reality when they tried to establish themselves and their families in the cities of the North—while we smug, white Northerners, oblivious to our own complicity, decried the more obvious racism of the South.
This history of legal systemic racism is now coming to light. To shine that light requires combing through the wording of thousands of deeds, a project now aided by digitized records, optical character readers, and computerized searches. I highly recommend an hour long documentary focused on such a project in Hennepin County, Minnesota, the county that contains the City of Minneapolis. It is entitled “Jim Crow of the North.” You can watch it on Youtube (with annoying commercials) or on KSPS (which might require a membership—well worth your money).
It should come as no surprise that Spokane has its share of racially restricted covenants written into property deeds. There have been a few articles in the Spokesman (for example) about such covenants. Efforts to map these local covenants by a local historian, Logan Camporeale, are part of his blog, The Local History, a fascinating resource.
This is exactly the sordid history of racism in our country that white supremacists like Tucker Carlson, Christopher Rufo, and their (sometimes unwitting) Republican legislative allies seek to ban from our schools as they demonize “Critical Race Theory,” weaponizing the words even as they carefully avoid discussing what it really is. (See Critical Race Theory??) My fervent hope is that the Carlsons, Rufos, Trumps, and Allsups of this country are too late, that this train of historical understanding of our racist past has already left the station, that honesty will prevail, and that we can teach our children of the past of which we were made intentionally unaware.
Keep to the high ground,