Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

October 28, 2005

History of Segregation

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:25 pm

Clayton Cramer takes issue with my characterization of the roots of segregation:

Different River asks how segregation could have collapsed so quickly:

how else could a centuries-old system have collapsed in less than two decades?

The problem with this question is that segregation was not a centuries-old system. Segregation was largely a post-Civil War phenomenon. De Tocqueville (among others) noticed that in the South, blacks and whites socialized and engaged in public amusements together in a way that simply did not happen in the North. Under slavery, there was no practical way to segregate housing, because slaves lived on the owner’s plantation (with a few exceptions for absentee owners and some urban slaves), and of course, schooling wasn’t an issue: most slave states made it unlawful to educate a slave, and many of the Southern states didn’t even have public schools until just before (and in some cases, just after) the Civil War.

Allow me to clarify:

By “a centuries-old system” I did not mean “segregated facilities,” but rather, “a system in which blacks retain rights inferior to those retained by whites.”

As such, the period of slavery is included because most blacks were slaves and no whites were (i.e., whites had the inherent right not to be enslaved), and even free blacks did not,in general, have the same rights as whites. Racial segregation was simply not necessary when everyone could assume that any blacks they saw were slaves, and be right almost all the time. It’s true that schools were not segregated — but as Mr. Cramer points out, that’s because it was illegal to educate slaves (and I believe in some states, free blacks as well). I consider that a rather extreme form of segregated schooling, not the absence of segregation. As for housing, physical separation was simply moot when when everyone could assume that any blacks they saw were slaves, and be right almost all the time.

Racism — by which in this case I mean not how people feel but how people act — was quite old, probably occasioned by the interaction between the psychological need to justify slavery when the conscience knows it’s wrong, and the fact that nearly all blacks were slaves and (nearly?) all slaves were black.

The Economics of Segregation

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:02 pm

Clayton Cramer points to an article by Thomas Sowell, in which we learn the original of segregated public transit. Libertarians opposed to desegregation on “not the government’s business” grounds, take note:

Far from existing from time immemorial, as many have assumed, racially segregated seating in public transportation began in the South in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Those who see government as the solution to social problems may be surprised to learn that it was government which created this problem. Many, if not most, municipal transit systems were privately owned in the 19th century and the private owners of these systems had no incentive to segregate the races.

These owners may have been racists themselves [or not -- who knows? --DR] but they were in business to make a profit — and you don’t make a profit by alienating a lot of your customers. There was not enough market demand for Jim Crow seating on municipal transit to bring it about.

It was politics that segregated the races because the incentives of the political process are different from the incentives of the economic process. Both blacks and whites spent money to ride the buses but, after the disenfranchisement of black voters in the late 19th and early 20th century, only whites counted in the political process.

The incentives of the economic system and the incentives of the political system were not only different, they clashed. Private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies in the South lobbied against the Jim Crow laws while these laws were being written, challenged them in the courts after the laws were passed, and then dragged their feet in enforcing those laws after they were upheld by the courts.

These tactics delayed the enforcement of Jim Crow seating laws for years in some places. Then company employees began to be arrested for not enforcing such laws and at least one president of a streetcar company was threatened with jail if he didn’t comply.

Imagine that — if the (white?) bus driver had allowed Rosa Parks to keep her seat, he would have been arrested!

Initially, segregation meant that whites could not sit in the black section of a bus any more than blacks could sit in the white section. But whites who were forced to stand when there were still empty seats in the black section objected. That’s when the rule was imposed that blacks had to give up their seats to whites.

And he makes the same point I was trying to make earlier:

It was not necessary for an overwhelming majority of the white voters to demand racial segregation. If some did and the others didn’t care, that was sufficient politically, because what blacks wanted did not count politically after they lost the vote.

Just as it was not necessary for an overwhelming majority of whites to demand racial segregation through the political system to bring it about, so it was not necessary for an overwhelming majority of blacks to stop riding the streetcars, buses and trains in order to provide incentives for the owners of these transportation systems to feel the loss of money if some blacks used public transportation less than they would have otherwise.

And the economic bottom line:

People who decry the fact that businesses are in business “just to make money” seldom understand the implications of what they are saying. You make money by doing what other people want, not what you want.

And a warning for liberal supporters of judicial activism:

Legal sophistries by judges “interpreted” the 14th Amendment’s requirement of equal treatment out of existence. Judicial activism can go in any direction.

UPDATE: (10/30/2004):

Don Boudreaux has more.

An Anti-War Employer?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:13 pm

There’s a fine line between evil, and just plain mean:

Woman Fired For Missing Work After Seeing Husband Off To War

POSTED: 9:57 am EDT October 27, 2005
UPDATED: 10:04 am EDT October 27, 2005

CALEDONIA, Mich. — A woman who took an unpaid leave of absence from work to see her husband off to war has been fired after failing to show up for her part-time receptionist job the day following his departure [to Iraq].

“It was a shock,” said Suzette Boler, a 40-year-old mother of three and grandmother of three. “I was hurt. I felt abandoned by people I thought cared for me. I sat down on the floor and cried for probably two hours.”

Officials at her former workplace, Benefit Management Administrators Inc., confirmed that Boler was dismissed when she didn’t report to work the day after she said goodbye to her husband of 22 years.

Suzette Boler had received permission to take off work the week leading up to her husband’s departure. As a part-time employee at Benefit Management, she did not receive vacation pay and was not compensated for her time off.

At least they are admitting it.

I wonder if any part of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act applies to military spouses. If not, perhaps it should.

Powered by WordPress