Friday, December 4, 2009

Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

I read so many books, that I rarely bother with a book review. You guys would get sick of them in a hurry. Plus, my interests are all over the place and there is no rhyme or reason to them.

Occasionally, I read a book that really is very good or very educational and I really want to share. This book would be one of those.

Since adopting trans racially, I read alot of books on race and race relations. I grew up in a white bubble full of white privilege so I have a lot to learn.

Sundown Towns is a rather shocking book. First, because these towns became Sundown Towns after running the Blacks out....not because they were ALWAYS white. Second, they are in every state...and the majority are in the north, not the south like you would assume. Third, this book was published in 2005 and it is still an ongoing process. In other words, this is not ancient history.

One of the most interesting subjects in the book was inner cities. We know pretty much how they got that way. White flight. And because the Blacks were driven out of so many towns and suburbs, there ended up being large concentrations in some cities. This was not by choice. It was where they were allowed to live without their lives being threatened for being there. Most of them did not want to be in large cities. They had no choice. People were hung, houses were burned and children were threatened if they tried to fight back.

For years Blacks have been kept from leaving the inner cities either by real estate agents that wouldnt show houses in "white" areas, or by actual covenants, ordinances, zoning laws and laws written to keep Blacks out. SHAMEFUL stuff. Whites have also zonee their areas so no public housing, low income housing, mental facilities, drug treatment facilities or even rest homes are allowed. If one of their own falls into needing these types of services, they just kick them out. So now you have a higher concentration of drug abusers, elderly and mental patients back in the city center.

So now we have a large concentration of Blacks in the inner city...because they can't get out.

Then begins white flight.

And most of these whites are the ones that make money and work for good companies. The CEO's are usually over represented in this group. And as the CEO's they have the power to make changes. They don't want to drive into the city anymore. So they relocate their offices to their white suburbs.

Now the city has not only lost private home tax income from the upper class, they are also losing the tax income from the companies pulling out. So taxes in the city have to go up...because their tax pool is going down and they still have to maintain the streets and services (police, libraries, fire, hospitals).

And what is still downtown? Universities, museums, churches/cathedrals, parks, art organizations, concert halls, non-profit hospitals. All these have small or no tax contribution to the city.

Yet those in the suburbs come into town and use these things. And don't pay taxes to help support them. Some of these things are MOSTLY used by suburbanites.

And the city residents? Its not a two way street. They don't get to use the suburban services like the suburban residents use theirs. Many times there are rules in the parks and such to keep out all but residents. They hang "Private" signs on everything. Can you imagine if there was a "Private" sign on Central Park in New York and only the city tax payers were allowed to use it?

So with all that tax money drying up, what do you think happens to the schools? Or what happens to the city residents that are looking for a job? With taxes going up to cover the losses, more and more businesses are bailing to the cheaper suburbs.

So now I have a bigger clue on why inner cities struggle so much.

And I feel even more stronger about a new program to bring business back into town centers. They need huge tax incentives to get them there.

But how does that help when the tax money is needed?

Well, those already living in the area will have jobs they can actually reach. Their income goes up. CEO's and others get tired of the drive and start moving back into the area. More tax income. The alternative is no businesses moving back in so it is still better with a large tax break than none at all.

The book does point out that it does appear to be getting better. At least sundown towns are in serious decline. But the sundown suburbs? Not so much.

I would be interested in knowing if having a biracial president has helped any. I want to believe we are improving on areas of race.

I recommend the book to those that have an interest in race relations in our country. It is not a quick or easy read. Some times it is more like a train wreck you are horrified by but can't look away from. Anyone that does read it can't help but learn a few things they never taught us in school...and that is always a good thing.

And I'd love to hear about any race related books that you have read that you feel have stretched your mind or increased your understanding of something. Please share!


  1. Thank you for writing an informative review of a tough subject. Many people are unaware of the terrible racist practices that are occur in our country. Much of the racism is so systemic, that a person growing up in these circumstances does not have fair access to housing, equal education or other resources.

  2. I live in a sundown town. After being forced to live in black neighborhoods all my life, thanks to my civil rights activist parents, being in a clean, friendly town with ZERO CRIME is like nothing you can imagine. Well, maybe YOU can, since you grew up in a "white bubble" or something like that. As usual, those who feel sympathy for blacks living in cesspools have never actually had much exposure to them. If you had, you'd understand that no matter how much money you throw at them, they will never clean their hoods up, or start parenting their children, or stop committing crimes. They is what they is.

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