Confronting the Roots of Structural Racism and Bias
The following resources provide an introduction to the vast literature on the historical contexts that have shaped the structural racism of today.
What is racism?
Dismantlingracism.org: The definition of racism offered here is grounded in Critical Race Theory (CRT) a movement started in the 1970s by activists and scholars committed to the study and transformation of traditional relationships of race to racism and power. CRT was initially grounded in the law and has since expanded to other fields. CRT also has an activist dimension because it not only tries to understand our situation but to change it. The basic beliefs of CRT are:
Racism is ordinary, the "normal" way that society does business, the "common, everyday" experience of most People of Color in this country.
Racism serves the interests of both white people in power (the elites) materially and working class white people psychically, and therefore neither group has much incentive to fight it.
Race and races are social and political constructs, categories that society invents and manipulates when convenient. In reality our differences as human beings are dwarfed by what we have in common and have little or nothing to do with personality, intelligence, and morality.
Society chooses to ignore this and assigns characteristics to whole groups of people in order to advance the idea of race and the superiority of whiteness.
The power elite racializes different groups at different times to achieve their economic agenda, continually and repeatedly prioritizing profit over people.
What is structural racism?
Dismantlingracism.org: Systemic or structural racism is how the racist and discriminatory practices of institutions intersect to create a network of opportunity for people in the white group while blocking opportunity and access for People and Communities of Color.
Most leaders of the U.S. expansion in the years before the Civil War were southern slaveholders. As Matthew Karp shows, they were nationalists, not separatists. When Lincoln's election broke their grip on foreign policy, these elites formed their own Confederacy not merely to preserve their property but to shape the future of the Atlantic world.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva's acclaimed Racism without Racists documents how, beneath our contemporary conversation about race, lies a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories that whites use to account for--and ultimately justify--racial inequalities. This book explodes the belief that America is now a color-blind society.
Telling perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history, eminent historian Nell Irvin Painter guides us through more than two thousand years of Western civilization, illuminating not only the invention of race but also the frequent praise of "whiteness" for economic, scientific, and political ends. A story filled with towering historical figures, The History of White People closes a huge gap in literature that has long focused on the non-white and forcefully reminds us that the concept of "race" is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed as it has been driven by a long and rich history of events.
The National Book Award winning history of how racist ideas were created, spread, and deeply rooted in American society. Some Americans insist that we're living in a post-racial society. But racist thought is not just alive and well in America--it is more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. As historian Ibram X. Kendi argues, racist ideas have a long and lingering history, one in which nearly every great American thinker is complicit. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. He uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to drive this history: Puritan minister Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and legendary activist Angela Davis.
In this history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America's cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation--that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation--the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments--that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.
Historian Baptist provides a powerfully written survey of the economic powerhouse combination of slavery and cotton and their centrality to the rapid growth of the US economy from the Revolution to the Civil War. Slavery had a pervasive influence in shaping society, culture, politics, finance, and international trade as the number of enslaved people and their productivity continued to increase. Drawing upon archival research, slave narratives, and newspaper accounts, Baptist's vignettes vividly portray enslaved peoples' lives, work, and culture.
Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control relegating millions to a permanent second-class status; even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.
The Civil War did not end with Confederate capitulation in 1865. A second phase commenced which lasted until 1871--not Reconstruction but genuine belligerency whose mission was to crush slavery and create civil and political rights for freed people. But as Gregory Downs shows, military occupation posed its own dilemmas, including near-anarchy.
The ULS Digital Collections Database provides access to several collections and individual items that are useful when examining the roots of racism in our country. Most notably is the Charles R. Martin Photograph collection, depicting the peace march that occurred in Pittsburgh on the National Day of Mourning three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.
Additionally, ULS Digital Collections maintains Black Paper for Black Studies. Written in 1969, Black Paper for Black Studies illustrates an attempt by the Black Action Society to reckon with the structural disparities present within the University system and specifically, within the University of Pittsburgh.
The archival collections of the Center for American Music comprise one of the world's leading repositories of materials related to blackface minstrelsy, a type of musical theater that emerged in the 1840s. Centering on demeaning portrayals of enslaved and free Blacks, minstrelsy cemented many stereotypes that persist in popular culture today. The foundation of the Center's collections is the Foster Hall Collection, the principal collection for researchers interested in the life and music of one of minstrelsy's most prominent composers, Pittsburgh-born Stephen Collins Foster (1826–64).
Charles "Teenie" Harris (1908–98) was a photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier. His photographs—60,000 of which are available on the Carnegie Museum of Art's website—chronicle African American life in Pittsburgh in the mid-twentieth century.
The Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress presents the papers of the nineteenth-century African American abolitionist who escaped from slavery and then risked his freedom by becoming an outspoken antislavery lecturer, writer, and publisher. The online collection, containing approximately 7,400 items (38,000 images), spans the years 1841-1964, with the bulk of the material dating from 1862 to 1865. Many of Douglass’s earlier writings were destroyed when his house in Rochester, New York, burned in 1872.
Fences represents the decade of the 1950s, and, when it premiered in 1985, it won the Pulitzer Prize. Set during the beginnings of the civil rights movement, it also concerns generational change and renewal, ending with a celebration of the life of its protagonist, even though it takes place at his funeral. Critics and scholars have lauded August Wilson's work for its universality and its ability, especially in Fences, to transcend racial barriers and this play helped to earn him the titles of "America's greatest playwright" and "the African American Shakespeare."
The bleak years after the Civil War brought continuing oppression to African Americans. During the 1880s and 1890s, more than 100 black citizens were lynched each year. In 1892, Memphis newspaper editor Ida B. Wells-Barnett raised a lone voice of protest and was forced to flee for her life. So began the civil rights pioneer's crusade against lynching. This compilation features Southern Horrors, Wells's first pamphlet on the subject of lynching, as well as its successors, A Red Record and Mob Rule in New Orleans.
W. E. B. Du Bois was a public intellectual, sociologist, and activist on behalf of the African American community. He profoundly shaped black political culture in the United States through his founding role in the NAACP, as well as internationally through the Pan-African movement. Du Bois'ssociological and historical research on African-American communities and culture broke ground in many areas, including the history of the post-Civil War Reconstruction period. Du Bois was also a prolific author of novels, autobiographical accounts, innumerable editorials and journalistic pieces, andseveral works of history.Black Reconstruction in America tells and interprets the story of the twenty years of Reconstruction from the point of view of newly liberated African Americans. Though lambasted by critics at the time of its publication in 1935, Black Reconstruction has only grown in historical and literary importance.
Originally published in 1903, The Souls of Black Folk introduced a number of now-canonical terms into the American conversation about race, among them double-consciousness, and it sounded the ominous warning that "the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." This moving homage to black life and culture and its sharp economic and historical critique are more important than ever, resonating with today's unequivocal demand that Black Lives Matter in the twenty-first century.