Ghetto Vs. Suburbs

With the abolishment of slavery it seemed that nothing could prevent African Americans from the integration into the white society of people of Anglo-Saxon descent but the white supremacy was firmly established and from now on it just changed tools of its domination. A series of unwise policies and administrative actions contributed to the ghettoization of African American ethnicity and other racial minorities. However, at the core of it was the necessity to assign the Other and justify the discriminatory practices by their grounding in ethnical cultural practices and inclination to cling together. Although the days of slavery long passed, the white ideology continued to reinforce race through spatial institutions such as the ghetto by channeling out financing and infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, shops, etc. in order to create environment that encouraged the white population to move to suburbs while leaving city centers for the ethnically mixed ghetto. Thus American society was divided into the inner-city ghetto and the gated communities of the suburbs. However, an attempt to unite these two special formations by the same principle of affinity and shared background should be rejected. Even though the ghetto and the gated community may seem to share similar characteristics of people of similar income and background having chosen to reside together, the radically different guiding principles of these two formations reveal that the suburbs are voluntarily formations, whereas the ghetto is imposed and perpetuated.


In the US, the ghetto refers to an inner-city where a particular group of racial minorities, usually African Americans, resides amidst poverty, high rates of criminality, and neglected environment. However, with the flow of time the connotation of the term began to imply a wider circle of phenomena referring to culture, mindset, and values. The ghetto is not a freshly coined term; it has been around since the late nineteenth century when it used to denote separate urban settlements of Jews that came to the US from Europe. At that time, the ghetto did not have connotations of an impoverished and neglected environment and just implied a separate ethnicity living in a separate area of the city. When the abolishment of slavery did not bring to emancipated African Americans any tangible benefits and promised freedoms, they fled to the North in the search of jobs and opportunities. It frightened affluent Anglo-Saxons who got concerned for the ability of African Americans to assimilate. While African Americans came to the North and settled in big cities where they could find jobs, the middle- and upper-class segment of the white population began their migration to suburbs.

The reason for it stems from an unwillingness of the mainstream American to accept African American as equal citizens. The ghetto acts as a continuation of chattel slavery and intentional segregation in the post-slavery period. Therefore, it has several function. First, the ghetto serves to further exclude African Americans from economic benefits and social environment of the dominant ethnicity of the US. Second, the ghetto acts as a facilitation means for exploitation of waged labor of the excluded category of the population. As much as prison, the ghetto is an institution of forced confinement where people are enclosed because they are perceived as a threat to a wider population. Therefore, forcible confinement is the major difference between the ghetto and the gated community.

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Despite the fact that de jure the American North was not segregated, de facto public services followed the pattern segregated but equal whereas in fact there was no equality whatsoever. Segregation permeated all levels of human interaction from housing and employment to health care and education. The fact that the white population began their exodus to suburbs resulted in the inner city being left to racial minorities. First of all, the ghetto was formed by policies and actions of the government and authorities through financial means, urban renewal projects, and employment decisions.

Through financial means the reinforcement of race became more pronounced during the New Deal when the important acts and documents issued by the government were supposed to be functioning for all citizens whereas in fact African Americans and other racial minorities were shut out from governmental help. The Federal Housing Act of 1934 was meant to help all people with housing and loans for buying property but primarily the white population was getting the loan money because racial minorities could not get through racial profiling when considering their documentation.

After the Second World War the situation further exacerbated with similar administrative policies when racially mixed areas where denied loans while white suburbs were receiving them. In the 1995 American Quarterly article The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: Racialized Social Democracy and the White Problem in American Studies, George Lipsitz gives an example of the area Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, CA, that did not receive federal loans for respectable house purchasers under the pretexts of it being a dangerous area. Similarly the authors compare the predominantly white area of St. Louis Country and the racially mixed St. Louis city and say that the city received five times less federal loans than the county in the first two decades after World War II. Furthermore, under the pretext of urban renewal many areas where population of European descent resided where destroyed pushing white Europeans to suburbs. It further divided races because ethnically mixed racial minorities stayed in the inner city whereas European-Americans mingled with mainstream Americans as a unified Caucasian race. It signaled that race was still important and it deepened housing segregation.

The ghetto formation was further assisted by laying down highways through city centers to suburbs at the expense of the ghetto. For the new highways some poor residential areas were dislocated and never replaced. The remained residential areas were distorted by the laid highways and lost its political power due to a decreased population. As a result, poor neighborhoods became a place for the construction of unfavorable institutions such as prisons and dumps: 75 percent of municipal garbage incinerators and 100 percent of the city-owned garbage dumps. Furthermore, the changes in policies and urban renewal affected economy and there appeared an emphasis on services instead of factory production. Therefore, instead of residencies city centers received blocks of offices which, by becoming empty at night, separated poor ghettos from affluent suburbs.

Additionally, the move of the whites to suburbs resulted in an outflow of jobs from the inner city to suburban areas. Even if racial minorities are willing to commute to suburbs to retain their jobs, they should pay their fares and it is more expensive than for the whites who live in the suburbs. If racial minorities are willing to move to suburbs to retain their jobs, they may have difficulties with house loans because loan officers are not favorable to loan them. Thus, it is obvious that the ghetto was formed by the governments policies that assisted the whites to move out of the city and did not allow African Americans to move to suburbs as well at the same time worsening living conditions in racially mixed neighborhoods.

The dire situation with the ghetto had dire consequences because the fact that racially mixed groups of people are separated from the mainstream white population negatively affected both the people living there and the ghettos infrastructure. The confinement of a single ethnicity to a particular place together with the above mentioned external reasons often results in growing poverty because the general dilapidation due to a lack of governmental funding and resources drives businesses away and respectable population leave the area. Therefore the level of services and education decreases.

However, the ghetto is usually characteried by poverty, crime, and poor health care. The rate of crime is so high that it is more dangerous for young African Americans to live in Harlem than be present in a war battle. Given racial profiling and the fact that African Americans have higher rates of ending up in jail, balck males have very limited life choices: either they are murdered or end up in prison. The United States incarcerates more people per-capita than any nation in the world; the incarcerated are disproportionately Americans of color.

Therefore, the ghetto is extremely dangerous environment both for adults and for children. For example, Chicagos public schools are so dangerous that parents often send their children to their grandparents to the South to allow them to live in a calmer environment. Another example of how different the ghetto and the suburbs are is the fears parents have of their children. In the ghetto, parents are afraid of shootings, extortion by gangs,and obscurity, propitious to violence of all kinds whereas in the suburbs the dangers are mostle kidnapping, which is quite rare in comparison to the daily dangers of the ghetto.

The phenomenon of the ghetto used to be largely misuderstood in the sociological literature. The authors stressed that racial minorities strived to live together among people of the same descent for the sake of retaining culture and traditions. However, it was a very useful pretext for the mainstream American to feel good while doing something completely wrong. Similar to rationalization in the times of slavery that African Americans are like children and can do nothing without their white masters and need a constant guidance, the attempts to rationalize segregation and ghettoisation in the post-abolishion period sounds equaly inadequatly.

Yet the natural inclination and voluntary actions are the major differences between the ghetto and the gated community. People of a certain class voluntarily choose to move to more affluent areas to be united with other people of the same income and occupation. In such a case, their choice does not limit their life opportunities. Conversely, it strengthens them and widens their possibilities. The people who reside in the gated community function, interact with each other and structure their suburban lives diametrically different from the residents of the ghetto. In contrast, the ghetto limits and assigns dangerous and unhealthy conditions of living. It limits life chances and does not protect its residents. In fact, the knowldge that an individual resides in the ghetto casts a negative light rather than renders prestige, unlike in case with the suburbs. Besides, living in the ghetto is involuntary and people often can do nothing about it.

The residents of the ghetto react to their caste exclusion by getting closer to each other and developing coping mechanisms. In his article studying the ghetto phenomenon called A Janus-Faced Institution of Ethnoracial Closure, Loc Wacquant explains that similar to the Roman god Janus who had two faces the ghetto, too, has double characteristics: it is hostile to the outer world represented by the white population and it has internal affinity. It implies that the ghetto owes its formation to the ruling class that wants it to contain subversive racial elements within protecting the white population. At the same time seeing such a negative attitude from the government bureaucracy and the dominant ethnic group the residents of the ghetto feel the need to pull closer to each other protecting themselves from the outside negativity. Therefore, there are different types of the ghetto and not necessarily they all are poor. Under the forces of internal affinity the black middle class is formed by offering jobs and services to people of their ethinicity. It means that the ghetto cannot be characterized by poverty because it depends on the general socioeconomic level of the neghborhood. To this effect, not all poor areas can be considered ghettos and not all ghettos are impoverished.

As a result of the misunderstanding for the reasons of the ghetto formation, the white population is overwhelmingly unaware of the blight of African Americans and other racial minorities. The public opinion is that now America is color blind and everyone living in the US has equal opportunities. Often in public opinion polls and interviews, white respondents testily remark that both African Americans and whites have similar life chances and there is no structural discrimination. Talking about the black ghetto the majority of white respondents believe that economic differences African Americans experience are due to their laziness and inability to retain job or a lack of desire to study: A National Opinion Research Report in 1990 disclosed that more than 50 percent of American whites viewed blacks as innately lazy and less intelligent and less patriotic than whites. Thus the mainstream America ascribes the ghetto formation to negative characteristics of African Americans such as a lack of will power, laziness, dumbness, etc. rather than intentional structural racism and segregation.

It looks like the white community could not see through the governments wrongful decisions and policies and believed that it was the fault of African Americans that they were not able to use opportunities. As a result, inhabitants of the ghetto are demonized by the invention of the term underclass which is characterized by aggressive sexuality, single-parent families, poor education, drug and alcohol addiction, involvement in crimes, dependency on welfare, reluctance to work, dysfunctional families, etc.

The experts give several reasons for that phenomenon. Loc Wacquant writes that such extreme isolation through demonizing of one group of people by another serves as a justification to show that peoples are radically different and could not reside together due to their cultural differences. George Lipsitz stresses that the white population has an absolutely distorted idea of the environment African Americans live in due to the overdetermined inadequacy of the language of liberal individualism to describe collective experience.

Furthermore, it would be a mistake to think that white Americans are only passive recipients of the information given them by the government and they are unable to draw conclusions from what they see around. The fact is that the mainstream America reaps benefits and some advantages from the status quo and at the same time loses something. Therefore Americans realize that they are beneficiaries of the blight of African Americans. Some groups of the white populations gain direct advantages from the ghettoization due to their economic connection through renting and selling property and land. Another part of the population can lose if jobs are equally allocated between blacks and whites. If the affirmative action would get jobs to 1.3 million non-white men for equal job distribution, it would mean that the equal number of whites would lose their jobs. Therefore, there are certain advantages for whites for reinforcing race.

However, race is first of all reinforced from the above and is evident that the major role in promoting racism is played by the state. It laid the groundwork for the ghettoization by encouraging pro-growth coalitions that demolished housings for the poor, by cutting off districts and even cities with minorities from the FHA financing and loans, and by worsening rather than helping with the anti-social demographic policies of neoconservatives in the Reagan and Bush administrations. The governmental and federal policies contributed to the demonization of the ghettos by blaming racial minorities and immigrants on the problems that the city authorities are responsible for, e.g. diseases, public health. Trying to justify the policies of segregation and discrimination the authorities claim that immigrants and other residents of the ghetto have low hygiene standards whereas Americans are all clean and healthy. It covers up the states or the citys obligations to take care of raw sewage and health care and blame many problems of the ghetto residents and their cultural habits.

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Yet, the state assigns the ghetto a role of prison because it feels that it should ward off a large part of African Americans. In the article Decivilizing and Demonizing: The Remaking of the Black America Ghetto, Wacquant explains that excessive incarceration of African Americans in the last decades is a response to the shrinkage of welfare support. Especially young males suffer due to a combination of skills deficit, employer discrimination and competition from immigrants). Therefore, a disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans is based in the states policies rather than in turbulent behaviors or criminal inclinations of perpetrators.

It is obvious that with the end of slavery the social positions of African Americans did not improve as well as it was expected and complete equality is far from reaching. Instead of blatant segregation nowadays racism is intricate and structured. It is so difficult to notice for white population that many people are surprised to hear that it still exists believing in the color-blind America. Thus white population perpetuate racial discrimination by simply ignoring the fact that it exists or claiming that it has long been eradicated and African Americans are just being lazy and unwilling to work. Meanwhile racial discrimination is very evident in every aspect of public services such as education, health care, and housing. The formation of the ghetto as a social prison reveals that it cannot be equaled with the gated community because of the different reasons underlying them. Even though the ghetto should not necessarily imply poverty and well-off middle class can reside there, it is formed primarily to guard off its inhabitants from the rest of society whereas people gather in the gated community because they share similar income and background. The primarily reason for it is that the ghetto is imposed on it residents and they are pushed there as unwanted people who are dangerous for the general population. In fact, the policies and practices of the authorities are so appalling that the ghettoization can be called colonization. The mainstream America not only pushes racial minorities to separately allocated settlements but it also economically benefits from them, as much as it was in the period of slavery and colonization.

Jan 18, 2021 in Research
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