Ferguson tells a lot about the current state of the US…


Ferguson is a story going back decades. And there is no new ending

Yes, more black Americans will gain political power, but racial divisions will still blight the US

The story of Ferguson, Missouri, goes well beyond the tragic murder of a young black man. It is a story about demography and race going back to the great migration out of the south when many northern cities absorbed hundreds of thousands of African Americans over the course of only a few decades, creating the conditions for severe racial tension. Newly arrived black people competed for housing, land, schools and jobs with a range of white ethnic groups, many of whom bonded to suppress the “threat” from the new population.

The story of racial conflict that emerged in the 20th century north is well documented in histories written by Isabel Wilkerson about the migration northward, by Tom Sugrue about the decline of Detroit, and by Arnold Hirsch about the south side of Chicago. These and other urban histories describe how formal laws and policies were developed to maintain racial separation by restricting where black people could live and work, and how violence and intimidation were used when these explicit policies were not sufficient. Control over the local political structure, and the police, were essential in this effort. The historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad has documented the way that city police departments reinforced racial order in northern cities by actively targeting African Americans. Sociologist Christopher Muller has shown that racial disparities in rates of arrest and incarceration began to emerge in the places that were absorbing the greatest number of black people, and during periods when the black population was expanding most rapidly.

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