Thomas Sugrue’s book, Sweet Land of Liberty, is an interesting evaluation of the nature of racism in America. When we typically think of racism we often think of the South and Jim Crow laws. We envision legal segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, and violence against blacks. These things are obviously racist. However, according to Sugrue, there is a different kind of racism that exists in the North. This racism is characterized by much more subtle segregation and is practiced by whites that say, and often wholeheartedly believe, that they are not racist.

 This more subtle form of racism, according to Sugrue, is often more dangerous and damaging to blacks because it is not recognized. Whites will move out of cities and into all-white suburbs, they will create policies that make it all but impossible for blacks to be able to move into those neighborhoods, and will create school districts with schools filled with whites. The result is neighborhoods and schools that are nearly as racially segregated as Southern cities. Whites then argue that they aren’t racist, but that the two races simply choose to live separately.

 According to Sugrue, racism in the North is not carried out with state laws separating the races. Rather, it exists in practices like steering, when realtors try to place whites in white neighborhoods and blacks in black neighborhoods, and financial instutions’ practice of making it nearly impossible for blacks to get loans big enough to afford suburban houses. These practices have the same effect as more obvious racist practices carried out in the South. But, the people implementing them have a clear conscience and believe that they are not racist.

 I disagree with Sugrue that the practices carried out by Northern whites are racist in nature. The fact is, that oftentimes when blacks moved into white neighborhoods, the housing prices in that area plummeted.  Low income blacks are a riskier investment for banks to give loans to than middle-class whites. And, predominately white schools do tend to perform better academically than do predominately black schools. If a person tried to keep blacks from moving into his neighborhood, or a bank tries to make the wisest decisions with its money, or parents try to maintain the quality of their child’s education, it doesn’t make them racist. They are simply doing what is in their own best interest. Unfortunately, the reality is, that often times what is really in a white’s best interest causes misfortune in the black community. I don’t believe that makes somebody a racist however.

 If I apply for the same job as a black person and do everything in my power to make sure that I get picked for the job, I am simply doing what is best for me. If I succeed and get the job, I will advance in society and the black person will be left behind. I don’t feel like I am a racist for competing against a black person though. Perhaps Sugrue would disagree.

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