The timing of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ discovery of Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto is opportune, since I just re-read the book about a month ago. (The first time was in high school, for a research paper on the history of segregation in Chicago that was my first academic investigation into what appears to be my future career. Memories!) The book is an absolute tour de force, and one of those histories that fundamentally changes your understanding of how things came to be the way they are. That is to say, if you haven’t read it, you must.
One of the main themes–perhaps theme Number One–is white territoriality, both from a sort of traditionalist community-integrity sense and a capitalist economic-efficiency sense. (Or, in other words, a territoriality that spans the white class structure.) TNC picks out a passage that highlights what that territoriality looks like from the black side of the equation:
Unable to do anything to alter the plans that shaped their lives, Chicago’s blacks responded viscerally, charging the planners with conspiracy and reviving an old strain of nativism in response to their ethnic antagonists. The dimensions of the conspiracy varied. Some believed the “plan” was to drive all blacks out of the area between 12th and 63rd streets; others stretched the territory to be “reclaimed” by whites down to 67th. The same new governmental agencies and powers that frightened white ethnics similarly affected blacks – only the latter saw no communists or subversives. “Land-grabbing” realtors, bankers, businessmen. and institutions provided explanation enough.There were as many reasons for the perceived conspiracy as there were villains: Blacks were to be pushed out of their desirable inner-city locations and herded to the outskirts of the city or to undesirable suburbs such as Robbins to make way for Loop workers (there was at least some truth to this – not all conspiracies were fantasies); the dispersal of black population was designed to dilute that community’s political strength; the use of eminent domain was intended to reduce black property owners to tenancy.