In his book 2018 Segregation by design, Trounstin details how local public works in the early 1900s dramatically reduced disease outbreaks such as cholera and typhoid fever. The infectious disease death rate fell 75% between 1900 and 1940, and part of this decline was due to the development of public water and sewer systems by local municipalities. These benefits were far from universal, however, and early on, low-income residents and communities of color received less of these types of services. Even when they received them, the services were of lower quality. “They were less likely to be connected to sewers, to have level and cobblestone streets, or to benefit from disease mitigation programs,” Trounstin writes.
These inequalities persist today, with some neighborhoods having access to drinking water, large green spaces with playgrounds and working sewers, while others do not. Segregation, both official and de facto, has enabled this unequal provision of public goods and services. Trounstin argues that local governments have widened this divide by shaping residential geography through local land use policies, such as zoning laws. This is what she calls “segregation by design.”
During the second half of the twentieth century, as the flight of whites left urban centers with a reduced tax base, these inequalities widened and, with them, the politics of the advantaged and the disadvantaged also diverged. In favored places, Trounstin has found that residents are politically conservative and vote higher rates for Republican presidential candidates, favor lower taxes and limited spending, and see inequality as the result of failures. individual. Ultimately, by regulating land use, planning, zoning, and redevelopment without taking into account the challenges faced by marginalized communities, local governments have deepened racial and class segregation – a process which benefited white landowners at the expense of the colored inhabitants and the poor, concludes Trounstine.
The consequences of this divide were profound and lasting. Researchers have found that racial segregation influences a wide range of factors that determine the outcome of a person’s life, leading to higher rates of poverty, lower educational attainment, and higher rates of incarceration. Segregated neighborhoods become communities where this disadvantage worsens, leading to ingrained inequality that is difficult to escape and passed down from generation to generation, according to Professor Robert Sampson at Harvard, who explores it in his book, Great American city: Chicago and the sustainable neighborhood effect. Sampson concludes that this inequality can be broken through the kind of structural intervention that governments are equipped to manage. History, however, has shown us that those in political power have failed to take action to eliminate these inequalities, leaving communities of color to wonder if the American dream of equality for all will ever be within reach. during their lifetime.
Throughout his life, writer James Baldwin wondered if the United States would finally face the hypocrisy of a democracy founded on principles of equality, but which had in fact created a system that valued the life of whites before any other life. At the height of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, Baldwin warned his nephew of the perils that awaited him in a country that placed him in a ghetto, intending to “perish.” In his essay “A letter to my nephewWhich is part of his 1963 book Fire next time, Baldwin denounced the conditions under which his nephew was born: “Conditions not far from those described for us by Charles Dickens in London over a hundred years ago.” The 1960s were an era of violence and resistance to calls for change – a dark moment in our history, as freedom fighters lost their lives in this battle for civil rights and equality. “I know how dark he is today for you,” Baldwin wrote to his nephew. Yet despite all his misgivings, Baldwin hoped that we could collectively “make America what America should become.”