When Atlantic Monthly correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates’ spoke in Cleveland in August about reparations, he touched only briefly on the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo., earlier that month.
“All I want to see is some history of the housing there,” he said. “We can begin with Mike Brown laying on the ground and folks rioting. But there’s just a whole host of questions behind that. How did his family get to live there? What are the conditions like? What’s going on there?”
Researcher Richard Rothstein at the Economic Policy Institute has dug up some of the answers in his new report, “The Making of Ferguson: Public Policy at the Root of its Troubles.” On Twitter, Coates called it the “best researched piece I’ve seen to come out of all this.”
Policies on zoning, segregated public housing, bank redlining and federal subsidies diverted from black communities all did cumulative harm, Rothstein argues.
“Government policies turned black neighborhoods into overcrowded slums and white families came to associate African Americans with slum characteristics,” Rothstein writes. “White homeowners then fled when African Americans moved nearby, fearing their new neighbors would bring slum conditions with them.”
In his own column covering Rothstein’s report, Coates reiterates: “The geography of America would be unrecognizable today without the racist social engineering of the mid-20th century.”
Rothstein calls for a more systemic lens to address decades of discrimination: “When we blame private prejudice, suburban snobbishness, and black poverty for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community.”