The Ghetto Is Public Policy

I'm away this week, reporting. For the past few months I've been exploring the wealth gap through New Deal-era policy with a particular focus on housing. I'm in Chicago this week talking to victims of that policy, and attempting to grapple with its broader implications. I'll be out for a few days.

For those keeping count, the current exploration involves the following books:

1.) Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

2.) Tom Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty

3.) Arnold Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto

4.) Beryl Satter, Family Properties

5.) Antony Beevor, The Second World War (I didn't feel like I could really understand New Deal policy without understanding World War II)

6.) Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself

7.) Douglass Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid (just started on the plane out here)

For those new to this I would start with Wilkerson's book. And I'd add two more that I read a few years back: Thomas Sugrue's The Origins of the Urban Crisis, and Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White

I think what amazes me about all of this is the degree to which we blind ourselves to policy. I remember coming to Chicago in the mid-90s, riding down the Dan Ryan and assuming that the wall of projects (there's no other way to describe them) was somehow "natural." It never occurred to me that segregation -- without "Whites Only" signs -- was actual policy. We are living with the effects of that policy today. And we likely will be for many years.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.


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