Juneteenth Day

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An article in the Globe and Mail, Urban planning sowed racial inequality in Minneapolis. Other North American cities must heed that warning, caught my attention. While at present our attention is directed towards policing, the article made it clear this is only the tip of the problem.

Iceberg, St. Anthony, Newfoundland ($)
Iceberg, St. Anthony, Newfoundland

The article points to racially discriminatory zoning laws and planning processes. One practice cited was the use of covenants that prevented the sale of a home to coloured people, that lead eventually to the segregation of cities. “Red Lining”, first developed by the US Federal Government to show “…lenders where to make safe [government under-written] loans…”, delineated predominantly black areas as unsafe, and “thereby limited the ability to obtain loans.” These same maps were used later by the Federal Highway Administration to plan routes for the interstate highways and municipalities to zone multi-family and industrial zones (both impacting “unsafe” zones).

The pandemic lays bare some of the more subtle forms of racism. Two causes of the disproportionately high death rate among African Americans are often cited. First, their predominance in frontline, low-wage jobs that need to continue to function during the lockdown, elevating the risk of exposure. Second, their higher rates of preconditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and being over weight, that make one more susceptible to infection. Hypertension is particularly interesting as inner city African Americans are said to suffer this condition 5 time the national average:

While psychosocial stress such as occupational stress, housing instability, social isolation and racism sometimes faced by African Americans were not within the scope of this specific study, Benenson believes that these could be a few factors that can contribute to higher rates of blood pressure in African Americans.

— Science Daily: Extremely high blood pressure in African-Americans is 5 times the national average

The Journal of the American Heart Association links the prevalence of the condition to slavery:

The “slavery hypertension hypothesis” states that the higher prevalence of hypertension among blacks could have resulted from an enhanced ability to conserve salt by slaves, protecting them from fatal salt-depletive diseases during the stormy Atlantic passage, such as diarrhea and vomiting.5 This condition would induce hypertension when they and their descendants consumed the much higher sodium content in American compared with African foods. This hypothesis is hard to confirm or refute.

— American Heart Association: Why Do Black Americans Have Higher Prevalence of Hypertension?

In an article in Science Magazine, Elizabeth Culotta explores the human adaptation for co-operation as a root of racism. This shaping of our nature leads to a distinction we make between those in a group and those outside, which in turn leads to various prejudices against the latter. The distinguishing feature between those within a group or not varies from culture to culture, but race is not necessarily the universal factor:

“These prejudices tap into very ancient parts of our minds, and it’s happening at a very quick, automatic level,” he says. “But we have recently evolved parts of our brains that allow us to engage in slower, more rational thought. When I experience that fear in a dark alley, it may take me another half-second for a more rational thought to kick in, but I’ll get there, if I have the motivation and means to do so.”

— Science Magazine: Roots of Racism

So, in other words, while we may all share an immediate “racist response” to certain events, we have a rational brain that can overrule and form a balanced response, if we choose to use it.

While there are some who have argued that there is no systemic racism, it is hard to argue it’s not deep rooted. Given such deep roots, It’s hard to see how removing those often cited “few bad apples” from police forces will solve the problem either. Yes, it is a start, but only that.



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