Lynne Hayes Freeland spoke to Jerry Dickinson about his latest publication, “Pittsburgh is America’s Apartheid City”.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: We’re back on The Lynn Hayes-Freeland Show. My guest today is Jerry Dickinson. He is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. But we’re not talking about that today.
We actually combine part of Jerry’s life, his experience in South Africa, his candidacy here in Pittsburgh, and the unusual perception of the similarities that actually led him to write a play that considers Pittsburgh to be America’s apartheid city.
Let’s just go back because some of … I would like to assume that anyone watching today will read the play. But they can still go back and read it online. Was it like about two weeks ago? Is that about right?
JERRY DICKINSON: Yes, approximately. Yes.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: About two? Yes? And they can still go back and read it online.
JERRY DICKINSON: Yes you can. Yes, public source. And it’s a comment that has been published.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: OK. Good. OK. Good. So when you talk about this separate life, the separate lifestyle – the impact of that separation is significant because it affects everything from the education system to what?
JERRY DICKINSON: For sure. It affects everything from health outcomes to education to housing, work and income. I mean, it affects almost every single aspect of American life, segregation. And just like segregation in Johannesburg, here in Pittsburgh, we have a long history of segregation practices by the city and private actors.
So I’ll give you an example here. The Lower Hill District, the 1950s, 1960s – the use of a significant domain to displace and educate predominantly African American communities, effectively pushing and dispersing thousands, nearly as many as 8,000 residents across the city. Many of them go to public housing projects, separating African Americans from public housing projects.
The story goes on
This was the result of a practice and policy of the City of Pittsburgh by the Urban Development Agency. This is an example. Displacement in East Liberty. Urban renewal in East Liberty, which has just carved out and carved out neighborhoods in the social fabric of an Afro-American neighborhood, has in turn separated part of the city as a result of this restructuring in which the real estate agents have effectively controlled the Africans – American families have moved away from white neighborhoods and pushed them into predominantly black neighborhoods, creating a resegregation across the city in places like Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln.
This racial control had a disproportionate impact on the separation of the entire landscape in Pittsburgh. In terms of education, long, long history of discriminatory practices in Rankin and Braddock – long history of segregation in those school districts that separated black children from white children.
It happened here in our hometown in the black suburbs of Pittsburgh. And then you have exclusion zones. Zoning laws effectively segregating homeowners from tenants, which in many ways is de facto a racist zoning policy. All of these measures taken together have effectively created a separate landscape for all of Pittsburgh.
As a result, over the decades we see a significant number of racial differences resulting from a separation of health, professional outcome, education, housing, and other such things. And that is exactly what makes Pittsburgh this apartheid city. It’s not just the breakup. It is the racial differences that exist in the separated landscape.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: For example, if you break it down, you can take any of these communities you describe, isolate them and say, for example, that you cut off public transport. So if you eliminate public transportation, especially if you are out of town and a rankin or something like that, if you eliminate public transportation, you have no access to anything for many of the people who live in these communities. Whether it’s work, food, medical care, you don’t have access to anything.
JERRY DICKINSON: Yes absolutely. Transportation has a long history of these types of segregated practices. And you look at places like Johannesburg, South Africa the same way. And if you cut off modes of transport to get to certain communities, you in turn cut off opportunities for upward mobility. They cut off opportunities for educational opportunities, cut off opportunities for greater employment opportunities, which only then widens and widens the gap that we see in professional segregation, for example across the city of Pittsburgh, or in educational outcomes or even health outcomes.
If you cannot access adequate health care because you do not have access to transportation or because you are segregated in these neighborhoods, you will see huge differences between whites and blacks in terms of their health outcomes. And that’s what we see here in Pittsburgh. The Gender Equity Report highlights these differences. And these differences exist precisely because of this separate landscape.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: This is where my frustration comes in because when you break it down that way, it seems to me that the forces that are, whoever those forces are, should be apparent to the forces that are.
These problems did not occur overnight. They have existed for a long time. These situations did not happen overnight. Why didn’t we start addressing her? I mean, even a lot of problems in South Africa, some of which have been addressed.
JERRY DICKINSON: Yes, they have been brought up, although it is still one of the most unequal societies, but certainly far more so than here in Pittsburgh. Part of the problem is that many of these practices in the past have been positive action by politicians to actually create a segregated landscape.
In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s here in Pittsburgh, these were targeted, deliberate actions by officials to actually separate the city of Pittsburgh. Today we don’t necessarily see that much of this deliberate action by officials. What we are seeing is a failure – doing nothing – inaction by politicians to actually fix these problems.
They exist. And many elected officials at the state, local and federal levels are simply not ready to acknowledge this. Why? Because in many ways it is politically vulnerable for politicians to say that this city is so bad for African Americans in terms of its health and educational and professional outcomes.
As a result, many politicians were hands-free. You don’t want to talk about the problem. But the reality is that from a public order perspective, one cannot hide from what is evident here in Pittsburgh, that we are America’s apartheid city.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Then Jerry Dickinson comes in and writes this comment. And I am curious. Have you heard from an elected official since writing this article?
JERRY DICKINSON: No.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Not a word, not a look?
JERRY DICKINSON: No.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Not even a voice of indignation you would compare Pittsburgh to?
JERRY DICKINSON: I heard – I heard from an elected official. And this is Councilor Liv Bennett, a good friend of mine, who reached out to me. She is a strong advocate of racial justice. She is someone who implements guidelines on a daily basis to make Pittsburgh a better place for everyone.
But she is the only elected officer who has reached out to me for a discussion about this essay. Otherwise, most politicians – almost all politicians have not said a word. That doesn’t mean they might have conversations about it behind closed doors. But no one has reached out to me to have this conversation, which is unfortunate given the reality we are seeing here in Pittsburgh.
LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Well, I was going to say, not just in the face of reality, but also … I mean, it’s not like a presidential year. But it’s still an election year. I mean, we are in this time of year when a lot of people are running for different offices.
And so I think my other question is – let’s do that. Let’s take a commercial break. Then we come back and walk down this street. You are watching “The Lynne Hayes-Freeland Show”. I am glad that you are with us today. And I think you’re glad you hired yourself too. We’ll be right back.