The United States is more segregated today than it was 100 years ago, according to Thomas W. Mitchell, the Robert Drinan, S.J., Professor of Law at Boston College.
“I’m talking about barriers to people acquiring property in the first instance,” Mitchell said. “And because there had been these barriers, and African Americans and Latinos and other subordinated people of color in this country, [they] couldn’t access the traditional system.”
Mitchell kicked off BC’s Critical Conversations and Student Voices, Addressing Racial Justice in America Conference with his keynote address on Friday night, discussing the impacts of racialized practices as well as potential solutions.
Mitchell said there were many laws prior to 1933 within municipal and local governments specifically designed to ensure there would be segregation within the United States. According to Mitchell, one of the efforts put in place to create segregation was racial zoning, even after it was made illegal.
“Although racial zoning was out the window, there ended up being an infrastructure of various laws and policies that essentially accomplished the same purpose,” Mitchell said.
One example Mitchell cited was the town of Grosse Pointe, Mich., where the neighborhood association created a 100-point scale, testing the eligibility of those who could live there.
“They didn’t have direct racial categories, but they literally had a category that said, ‘How swarthy is somebody?’ That’s just a fancy language like, ‘Are they dark skin?’” Mitchell said. “And they were then denying people based on this alternative test.”
According to Mitchell, there were also laws put in place to justify the discrimination of Native Americans.
“Essentially what the Supreme Court said is that the Native Americans basically are second-class citizens, that under our property system, they don’t get full ownership of a property,” Mitchell said. “But to justify that you had to paint the Native Americans [as] deviant, as being marginalized as being less than human.”
This perception was also carried through to Asian Americans, Japanese Americans, and Black people to justify their marginalization, Mitchell said.
“A similar thing happened with respect to African Americans under Jim Crow,” Mitchell said. “So one of the things that in terms of our popular popular perceptions of lynching in this country, so one of the popular perceptions and it was typically a Black man who had an inappropriate relationship or communication with a white woman.”
Mitchell then discussed the displacement of families following the Great Recession in the 2000s. According to Mitchell, the recession not only created economic problems but also led to the erasure of culture and history in the Black community.
“Then a number of the families there have been [targeted] and ended up losing their property,” Mitchell said. “They didn’t just lose their property, but they lost an important part of history that has been kind of erased.”
After Mitchell’s address, attendants had the option to attend two breakout sessions of their choice. Sessions such as “How Implicit Bias Impacts Healthcare from a Nursing Perspective” provided an insight on the dangers of implicit bias and tools to use to address bias.
“The actual breakout sessions were designed to have specific facilitated discussions about different topics,” Devianna Smith, one of the conference’s keynote speakers and MCAS ’23, said. “So it could range from wealth distribution, or social inequities, or various topics related to racism on a systemic level.”
Another option for attendants was “Movies, Television, and Social Media’s Impact on Racial Identity Development”—a session focused on reflecting on the role of media in one’s identity and understanding others’ identities.
Smith said she appreciated the opportunity to share her personal experiences and she hopes the conference continues to grow.
“They want people of all different identities, socio-economic statuses, people from all backgrounds to take part in these conversations, because conversations around social justice are the most productive when it’s filled with a diverse background and knowledge base,” Smith said. “So I hope to see this continue to grow over the years even after I graduate.”