If there’s one region of the United States with a notoriously bad reputation for racism, it’s the South. But in the latest episode of MTV’s Decoded, Franchesca Ramsey sounds a hearty spoiler alert: Racism is a problem in the North and West too. And it always has been.
"Racism also has a long history in Northern and so-called progressive Western states," Ramsey said. "And the history of this racism is the history of land and how far some white people were willing to go to keep it for themselves."
Here are just a few examples of old-fashioned American racism above the Mason-Dixon Line and west of the Mississippi River that Ramsey discusses:
- Sundown towns: From 1890 to 1930, between 3,000 and 15,000 towns throughout the country were referred to as "sundown towns." They were almost exclusively all-white towns, but these places maintained their racial demographics by threatening black people to get out of town lines before sunset or risk facing life-threatening consequences. Racist signs would be posted on the outskirts of town. And the message, Ramsey said, was clear: "If you were caught being black in that town after sundown, you wouldn’t survive the night."
- Oregon: It turns out the state that’s home to "hipster heaven" Portland was officially founded as a safe haven for white people in 1840. Oregon was the only state that explicitly denied black people any rights to anything within its state borders — except the right to leave. Black people have only been allowed to move to the state since 1926 and own businesses since the 1950s. In 1922, more than 60 percent of the Ku Klux Klan’s membership lived in Portland. The legacy of Oregon’s founding as a racist utopia remains today: 2015 census data shows that 87.6 percent of Oregonians identified as white.
- Redlining: Back in the 1930s, home loan organizations would actually draw red lines around black neighborhoods on maps in major cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, preventing black people from buying homes in less segregated neighborhoods. This practice created a serious racial wealth gap, which still has an impact today. "Just like people inherit suburban homes owned by their grandparents, victims of redlining inherit all of the social, educational, and housing issues created generations ago that keep them oppressed," Ramsey said.
Sure, it might be easy to depict a racist as someone with a Southern drawl. But the thing about racism in America is that it knows no regional or state boundaries. And a major part of addressing racism is recognizing its multiregional history.
"Look, we’re not saying everyone in the North is racist," Ramsey notes. "But we can’t ignore the systemic reasons that racism persists, and we can’t pretend it only happens in the South."