Remark: Pittsburgh is America’s apartheid metropolis – PublicSource

Over a decade ago, I was walking down a muddy and crowded alley between hundreds of shanty houses in Alexandra. Alex is known to be one of Johannesburg’s post-apartheid most separate slums and bastion of inequality. I was young Human rights activist and Fulbright scholar lived in South Africa and had just advised a group of residents on a water dispute. I left the alley on a busy street. As I wound my way through a jam of minivan taxis known as station wagons, a group of giggling young black children pulled me aside and playfully tossed me a tennis ball. They knew I wasn’t a local and were curious about interaction. I smiled and crouched down. I caught a few passes, hugged, and continued on my way.

A decade later, I crossed the Pittsburgh area knocking doors and meeting local residents as a candidate for US Congress before the pandemic abruptly disrupted my travels. I met a black single mother of three young children on her porch in a shabby house in the city’s segregated Hill District. We talked about housing issues. I could hear their children playing and giggling inside. They looked out the window to see who their mother was talking to. I smiled at the children. But I got serious when I left this pleasant exchange. Like the kids in Alex, black kids grew up in one of the nations of my hometown least livable and unequal cities for black AmericansAt that moment I came to an uncomfortable truth. Pittsburgh was America’s apartheid city, not the most livable city in the nation.

It’s a shocking comparison at first sight. The legacy of South African apartheid had forcibly separated the people by law Racial classifications and in geographically isolated districts. The result was heavy values ​​of professional separation. The schools were separated along the race lines and the gap in Educational success was wide. The health outcomes for women and children were clear different between whites and blacks. The economic divide across race growth. It was indisputable that the apartheid legacy contributed to this to Johannesburg’s enormous racial inequality. How could Pittsburgh possibly compare? At best, the contrast seemed historically imprecise and, at worst, culturally and racially insensitive. But as sociologists Nancy Denton and Douglas Massey once explained in their seminal work, American apartheid“The Americans were quick to criticize the apartheid system in South Africa. [but] They hesitated to acknowledge the consequences of their own institutionalized system of racial segregation. ”

Indeed, the apartheid comparison is appropriate when we dig beneath the surface. There we find irrefutably sobering facts that add to Pittsburgh’s romanticized nickname “America’s Most Livable City. “A confluence of private and government action has resulted in a long history of segregation and discrimination in Pittsburgh. As in Johannesburg, these earlier practices have a comparatively “solid foundation for a broader system of racial injustice“today. Although the history of apartheid in Pittsburgh may not be”rooted in the legal regulations“From his relative in Johannesburg, the city’s policies and practices, like many places comparatively separate in the US and South Africa, were”no less effective in maintaining racial inequality. ”

Jerry Dickinson is speaking to a Homewood resident in October 2019. (Courtesy photo by Jerry Dickinson)

Examples abound. The destruction of the Lower Hill District to make way for an arena was disastrous for Black PittsburghDisplacing thousands to isolated gray fortress housing projects. The crowd Shifting East Liberty increased racial exclusion. Aggressive redlining Across town, black residents huddled quietly into concentrated pockets like Homewood, Larimer, and Lincoln-Lemington. Race control black and brown communities cornered in silos. Pittsburgh created one Code for “Exclusion Zones” This maximized the proximity and separation between low-income tenants and homeowners in certain neighborhoods in order to effectively establish de facto racist zoning. And the Accelerating gentrification For the past few decades, the Pittsburgh area has made a history of two cities that reflects a de facto apartheid city. There were also regional spillover effects.

ON Decades of a system of housing discrimination Practices in mostly black suburbs forced poor residents into separate social housing enclaves in Braddock, Clairton, Rankin, and Wilkinsburg. Illegal School Segregation Practices Black children in quarantine in Braddock and Rankin from the predominantly white suburbs of Forest Hills, Edgewood, Swissvale, Churchill and Turtle Creek to “to maintain, tighten and maximize student segregation. ”

The hallmark of South African apartheid cities wasn’t just segregation. It was racial inequalities that increased by the separation. Similarly, for decades, Pittsburgh sowed a divided urban landscape, the contributed to the city that produces some of the nation strongest racial differencesthat have only grown stronger as a result of the disproportionately devastating pandemic of the black and brown communities. It is the growth of extreme racial differences within Pittsburgh’s segregated landscape that puts the city in a league of its own when compared to other American cities. Indeed, the black people of Pittsburgh are falling “far below similar cities”In terms of health, income, employment and educational outcomes as a result.

The evidence is abundant. The poverty in Pittsburgh’s segregated landscape is linked to it this story. More Black children in Pittsburgh grow up in poverty than 95 percent of similar cities while A third of black women live in poverty in the city. You are five times rather poor than white men. The dire health consequences of white-black poverty, a hallmark of apartheid, are among the worst in the country.

Jerry Dickinson in January 2020 with a Hill District resident. (Courtesy photo by Jerry Dickinson)

The death rate of black adults in Pittsburgh is higher than almost any other similarly located city and black Male homicide rates are among the highest in the country. Black mothers are three times more likely compared to white mothers too give birth to extremely heavy babies. Black child mortality Rate is much higher than white babies in Pittsburgh and across the country while fetal deaths are occurring twice as common among black women in comparison to white women. Indeed the inequality between white and black Maternal mortality is higher than in most other cities. The differences extend to the workforce.

The city has one of the highest rates of occupational separation between whites and blacks in America. White women make 78 cents a dollarwhile black women only make 54 cents. Black men have some of the lowest median incomes in the country. The sharp distinction between employment and professional inequality between whites and blacks also leads to this significant differences in educational level about races. White men and women are three times more likely to graduate from college than black men and women. Black men are two and a half times more likely to drop out of high school than white students. This is modern American apartheid.

A moral settlement is up to us. We need to realign the lens for which we are looking at Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh isn’t the nation’s most livable city. It’s America’s apartheid city. The future success of a metropolis depends on a moral vision with which residents identify and to which they can bond. So it is evident that our collective moral imperative is to end Pittsburgh’s apartheid and become a world-class city of racial equality. That is our vision for Pittsburgh. That is our moral imperative. As the father of two black daughters, the determining characteristic of our generation will be whether we pursue this vision and accept this imperative.

Jerry Dickinson is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a former US Congress candidate. He teaches constitutional law, property and race, and law. He was a Fulbright scholar in South Africa. He can be reached at

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