Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Racial Bias of Roads, Transit Lines, and Red Lined Loan Districts

Harold Innis published "The Bias of Communication" back in 1951. In it he outlined how the various forms of communicating, as well as the channels such communication, or interaction if you want to see it a bit more broadly, flowed through, affected the very nature and composition of societies. A very influential work that had great impact on how Marshall McLuhan would come to formulate his own advancement of a media centric approach to history and social/psychological development,

McLuhan's introduction to "The Bias of Communication" is very informative here:

"Most writers are occupied in providing accounts of the content of philosophy, science, libraries, empires, and religions. Innis invites us instead to consider the formalities of power exerted by these structures in their mutual interaction. He approaches each of these forms of organized power as exercising a particular kind of force upon each of the other components in the complex."

I mention this now because I have been reading an article by Alec MacGillis that puts the effect of this kind of power into stark human terms. The article, "The Third Rail" relates the history of white flight from Baltimore as cautionary tale of how racism, and real estate greed, came to influence the demise of the very first, truly extensive, streetcar system; precisely because it allowed for unrestricted migration of upward scale blacks to where ever they had the will, and new economic means, to go; something the people of a borderline, North/South state would not tolerate.  And rather than run them out on rails, they would take the rails away, and build expressways for the burgeoning auto that would encircle the city and, along with restrictive county rent voucher rules, as well as red lined loan districts, make black isolation be both physical and economic. as well as nearly absolute.

As I have said before, everything is connected, even when you try to thwart the connections. The bottom line here is a simple equivalency: failed states, or failed cities, the difference is one of only size and geographic location. The resentments, and hatreds that build up from such disorder bring trouble your way no matter how much you try to barricade yourself in suburbs of denial. And perhaps much worse, the very act of this denial, the forgetting of the historical injustice perpetrated, turns you ever colder, and less human; ripe ground for even further excesses of greed and the trampling of the rights everyone deserves.

Please read this article. Remember the history recounted here. Consider it the next time you here or see the cliche response, either in movies, or news reports, that the ghettos of whatever city are simply the fault of those stuck in them, for whatever assumed failures of character. Environments of despair, so carefully engineered by those in power, present obstacles to overcome to challenge any character set. Just consider, if the racial roles had been reversed, how many of us whites would have fared any better.

The Third Rail

In Baltimore, public investment — and disinvestment — in transportation have figured greatly in the persistence of racial and economic inequality.
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