Richmond, segregation and paternalistic white supremacy

11/1/2018, 6 a.m.
Segregation is no stranger to Richmond. Intentional measures to provoke racial animosity have been in place in Virginia since the ...

Segregation is no stranger to Richmond. Intentional measures to provoke racial animosity have been in place in Virginia since the early days of American settlement. Such measures include racial slavery, slave codes, racial terrorism, “racial purity” laws, Jim Crow laws, disenfranchisement efforts, xenophobic politics, discriminatory banking practices and commercialization of racial myths and stereotypes, among many others.

Given what we know about the history of this city, there is no doubt Richmond has borne or bore witness to most every kind of racist and segregationist practice imaginable.

Today, we see segregation continue in Richmond, not because of any overt command to segregate, but because of the legacy that the aforementioned practices have left us.

The growth of Richmond’s population in the past decades is mostly because of immigration to this city. This can be at least partially correlated with the growth of Virginia Commonwealth University in the past years.

Transplants of young people from affluent areas of Virginia and elsewhere has certainly been an economic boon to some parts of the city, but a marked division exists between this population and Richmond’s long-standing African-American population. The children and grandchildren of those who took part in 20th century “white flight” suburbanization are coming back to Richmond. And although these young people typically have more open minds than did their progenitors, they undoubtedly are affected by prejudice.

Segregation can be seen all over Richmond. Highways, roads and bodies of water bound neighborhoods and areas clearly separated by race and class. It exists in the distribution of resources and opportunity, such as access to fresh food and affordable transportation. It may be seen in blatant inequity in housing, which gentrification perpetuates. It pervades our city’s education systems. It can even be seen in local elections and in how people align themselves in local politics.

There is an unfortunate tradition of racial, historical and cultural ignorance among those of privileged economic and racial status in America, Virginia and Richmond. Such ignorance perpetuates the white supremacist hierarchy that has ruled this city for centuries.

Those young people flocking to this city, especially those who come to participate in civil service and social justice initiatives to make Richmond a “better place,” must check themselves and their privilege, lest they wish to perpetuate the paternalist, white supremacist condition that has too long called Richmond home. One need not have faith in a religion to believe in the need to evict this devil.

Talk to your neighbors, and love your neighbor as yourself.