A helicopter flies over a section of Baltimore affected by riots. Richard Rothstein writes that recent unrest in Baltimore is the legacy of a century of federal, state and local policies designed to “quarantine Baltimore’s black population in isolated slums.”
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Fifty years after the repeal of Jim Crow, many African-Americans still live in segregated ghettos in the country’s metropolitan areas. Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, has spent years studying the history of residential segregation in America.
“We have a myth today that the ghettos in metropolitan areas around the country are what the Supreme Court calls ‘de-facto’ — just the accident of the fact that people have not enough income to move into middle class neighborhoods or because real estate agents steered black and white families to different neighborhoods or because there was white flight,” Rothstein tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.
“It was not the unintended effect of benign policies,” he says. “It was an explicit, racially purposeful policy that was pursued at all levels of government, and that’s the reason we have these ghettos today and we are reaping the fruits of those policies.”
On using the word “ghetto”
One of the ways in which we forget our history is by sanitizing our language and pretending that these problems don’t exist. We have always recognized that these were “ghettos.” A ghetto is, as I define it, a neighborhood which is homogeneous and from which there are serious barriers to exit. That’s the technical definition of a ghetto.
Robert Weaver, the first African-American member of the Cabinet appointed by President Johnson as his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, described many of the policies that I’ve described today in a book he published in 1948 called The Negro Ghetto.
The Kerner Commission referred to the ghetto.