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Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

Response to the Great Depression -- White Supremacy by Ruling Class Design (by those who make the rules)

In his book, “When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America,” Ira Katznelson explains how the national policies enacted from the 1930s through the 1950s – initiatives such as Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, emergency relief, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the G.I. Bill – “constituted a massive transfer of quite specific privileges to white Americans” and “widened the gap between white and black Americans.”

Katznelson describes how the South’s representatives in both Houses of Congress “built ramparts within the policy initiatives of the New Deal and the Fair Deal to safeguard their region’s social organization” and he cites three particular mechanisms that they used. First, “they sought to leave out as many African Americans as they could . . . not by inscribing race into law but by writing provisions that . . . were racially laden.” The “most important instances concerned categories of work in which blacks were heavily overrepresented, notably farmworkers and maids.” These groups, which constituted over 60% percent of the Black labor force in the 1930s and nearly 75% of those employed in the South, “were excluded from the legislation that created modern unions, from laws that set minimum wages and regulated the hours of work, and from Social Security until the 1950s.” Second, “they successfully insisted that the administration of these and other laws, including assistance to the poor and support for veterans, be placed in the hands of local officials who were deeply hostile to black aspirations.” Third, “they prevented Congress from attaching any sort of anti-discrimination provisions to a wide array of social welfare programs such as community health services, school lunches, and hospital construction grants, indeed all the programs that distributed monies to their region.” In this way “a wide array of public policies” gave preference to whites and “most black Americans were left behind or left out.”

One of the most glaring examples cited by Katznelson concerns the impediments to African Americans getting GI Bill home loans that had features such as low interest and zero down payments. The many impediments to African Americans were not limited to the South, and in New York and the northern New Jersey suburbs “fewer than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI Bill supported home purchases by non-whites.”

See “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” by Jeffrey B. Perry at http://www.jeffreybperry.net/works.htm (top left)
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