Do you see a difference between these images? If you do I ask you to re-think that.

The first, the sign depicting legal restrictions on the mixing of whites and blacks from early in the last century is itself an anachronism. Such discrimination….thankfully…is no longer legal. But as a practical matter these Jim Crow laws still exist in spirit and as a residue of nearly two hundred fifty years of slavery in what became the United States and another hundred years of Post-Civil War and post abolition open and often legislated bias against blacks.

And the second, of course, is an image from the recent demonstrations in Ferguson.

This discrimination festered in housing and education and voting and jobs and the military and the criminal (in)justice system and public accommodations and just about every aspect of life. Largely in the South but also in other parts of the nation blacks were subject to lynching for actual but often only presumed offenses against white people.

And, while the South was the geographical focus of the Civil Rights Movement, some discriminatory practices were also prevalent north of the Mason-Dixon line, much subtler in tone or even application but with no less a devastating effect on the lives of African-Americans.

When allowed to participate beyond service in behind the lines units black soldiers such in the famed 92nd Division and the even more famous Tuskegee Airmen acquitted themselves well when permitted to engage in the combat  that saved the world from fascism and Naziism. Yet the black veterans returned home to the same limitations on their freedoms as existed before the war.

Well thank goodness for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as Brown v Board of Education and Loving v Virginia and other court decisions that forever eliminated racial discrimination for our sea to shining sea totally unified country.

Well eliminated all the discrimination except that remaining in housing and education and voting and jobs and the military and the criminal (in)justice system and public accommodations.

I will say that the military is probably more of a meritocracy than these other institutions. The eminent Colin Powell rose to general and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and even Secretary of State. And neither his color nor his real life demonstration of the Peter Principle at work prevented Allen West from becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army.

The August shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson has generated not only the subsequent protests and demonstrations about that incident but also at least some discussion about endemic racism still apparent in American society especially manifest in law enforcement. With similar shootings both prior to and after the Brown killing many political, religious, and other leaders and common citizens have recognized a nexus between this violence and racial attitudes that regard young black men as extremely dangerous when, in similar situations, white men of any age are given the benefit of the doubt about possible criminal intent.

Richard Rothstein, a research fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, has developed a theory that the current climate and experience in Ferguson, even aside from the Brown shooting, is the natural outgrowth of a series of intentionally discriminatory policies at the local, state and federal levels. As recently as 1970 Ferguson’s population was 99% white and now it is 2/3 black.

Rothstein’s theories and the paper he wrote are the subject of this story, complete with a link to his paper that is down loadable.http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/10/how-a-century-of-racist-policies-made-ferguson-into-a-pocket-of-concentrated-despair/

Whether one subscribes to his conclusions point by point…and I’m not certain I do…there is overwhelming evidence of some of the phenomena he cites in other areas of the country  that have contributed to the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and resultant discrimination. Just in the area of urban renewal ghettoizing blacks the story of Pittsburgh;s Renaissance is instructive. A huge part of the lower Hill District there was demolished in the early 1960’s to build the Civic Arena, a concert and public light opera venue cum sports palace. As a consequence, what was at one time a vibrant multi-cultural, multi-ethnic  neighborhood became a black ghetto cut off from the heart of the city by accompanying highways, and lacking the variety of businesses that sustain such urban neighborhoods.

But aside from the Ferguson cause and effect theory itself there are other palpable, unmistakable explicit examples of the theory at work. Among them are much of the media’s reaction to the Ferguson demonstrations, characterizing the participants as themselves racist and barely controllable animals and excoriated by various TV and talk radio pundits with practically non-existent qualifications to speak on racial issues objectively. Indeed two instances of far more destructive white rage…the Pumpkin riots in Keene, N.H. and the post football game hooliganism in Morgantown, W.Va. drew little opprobrium from the self-appointed experts on proper public behavior.

And then we come to the voter ID movement, a response to extremely rare in person voter fraud that targets those of lesser means which, far too often in this country, means large concentrations of African-Americans.

So our old buddy Jim has been reincarnated and is still alive and kicking though his corporeal presence has been greatly altered.

But a thorn by any other name is still a prick.

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  • toadsly  On October 29, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    I glad you mentioned the Civic Arena disaster. Racism is alive and well all over America.

    • umoc193  On October 29, 2014 at 6:56 PM

      When I read the piece about St. Louis and its decisions that led to present day Ferguson the Civic Arena immediately came to mind.

      Growing up in Washington, Pa. and being a teen in the early ’60’s during the Civil Rights movement I think the general attitude was that the bad stuff “didn’t happen around here”. Yet, during those years there was a controversy about the swimming pool in the city park that was closed to blacks, possibly not officially. The argument against integration was that the “coloreds” had their own pool at the LeMoyne Center in a black section of town. (Dr. LeMoyne, for whom it was named, was a local physician of great accomplishments, the two most notable being the establishment of the first crematorium in the U.S….which still stands…and allowing his home to be used as a station on the Underground Railroad.)

      I have FB friends from those days including several blacks. We’ve had some discussions about their experiences growing up. One, just recently retired from teaching in Pittsburgh, recalled a number of offenses that were racial, without specifying them, but dealt with them because that was what one had to do.

      There was a priest in town, later in Pittsburgh, named Charles Owen Rice (ggogle him, he’s fascinating) was known as The Labor Priest for his advocacy of unions but also was a leader in demonstrations against segregation.

      I think the city (read white residents) had its head in the sand regarding racism at that time, treating it as a southern problem. Just like now with the deniers that widespread racism still exists.

      Maybe one day.

      • Devildog  On October 31, 2014 at 4:18 PM

        It depends on the definition. If “widespread” racism still exists in your mind, that “one day” will not come to your mind even if you live for another 100 years (or even much longer).

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