- "Food apartheid is a relentless social construct that devalues human beings and assumes that people are unworthy of having access to nutritious food. Food apartheid affects people of all races, including poor white people, although Black and brown people are affected disproportionately. Under these conditions — which are overtly abusive — whole communities are geographically and economically isolated from healthy food options." (Atlanta Black Star)
- “Food apartheid is a human-created system of segregations, which relegates some people to food opulence and other people to food scarcity. It results in the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other diet-related illnesses that are plaguing communities of color,” she explains. (AlterNet)
I was going to title this, To Those Who Refuse to Come South, (an ode to those northerners in Chicago, who, out of fear, refuse to travel any further south than the South Loop. Well, besides Hyde Park and Beverly) but that would have gone too far off course of the subject of this blog, the subject of food. (Wait on it… drafting some words to send to the Chicago Tribune.) Simply put, things exist in the form that they manifest themselves for historical reasons; people and places are a summation of events taken place in the past. It is incredibly ignorant to ignore the past while analyzing the present.
So, how did Chicago become so segregated in the first place?
Most of my knowledge on the post comes from The Color of Law, a phenomenal book by Richard Rothstein that give's insights into the federal government’s role in segregating many of America's cities, including Chicago. (If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. It is the weapon against any ignorant person complaining about Black crime, Black poverty, or Black education, without fully understanding the forces that created these existing conditions.) As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor explains in her book, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, we cannot continue blaming black poverty on black culture and the black family. The government has to be held responsible for their discriminatory policies that, to date, have fostered segregationist policies adversely affecting the livelihoods of African Americans.
Redlining was one strategy used by the government to foster segregation. After Congress created the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) in 1934, the FHA began insuring private mortgages, making it easier for some individuals to purchase a home. The method the FHA used to distributed private mortgages was dependent off of a system of maps in which neighborhoods were color coded based off of their "perceived stability", coming down to whether a neighborhood was occupied by black people. Areas that lacked "a single foreigner or Negro" were colored green and rated "A". Areas where black people lived were colored red and rated "D"; insurance in these neighborhoods was often impossible to achieve. "Black people were viewed as contagion," says Coates. As blacks were denied the right to housing (and loans and mortgages) due to the color of the skin, many missed out on the opportunity to gain wealth in the form of owning property.
Redlining was not the only tool used to maintain the whiteness of neighborhoods; restrictive covenants were also responsible for helping segregate cities across the US. Restrictive covenants were often legally binding agreements, written in the deeds of houses, preventing the home-owner from selling to blacks. The University of Chicago, located in Hyde Park, Chicago, was responsible for some of these restrictive covenants that aggressively excluded blacks from living anywhere near campus. “The university not only subsidized the associations but from 1933 to 1947 spent $100,000 on legal services to defend covenants and evict African Americans who had arrived in the neighborhood.” (Rothstein, 2016) In fact, the president at the time cited his duty ensure that living environments for students and faculty were “content to live.” As if the presence of black people within neighborhoods somehow how destabilized environments and made the neighborhoods near campus unlivable.
The list is inexhaustible; I could explain the zoning laws that made it easier for industry to conduct its dirty work in communities of color. I could rant about the absurd acts taken to ensure encourage whites to flee neighborhoods so that realtors could upcharge to blacks, hiring black men to drive around neighborhoods with speakers blasting or paying African-American women to push their babies around the neighborhood. I could go speak about the harassment, in the form of bomb threats, that black families received as they tried to integrate into white communities, despite the forces telling them otherwise. I could go on a harangue about how African-Americans were discriminated against in jobs, where during WWII, black men and black women were the last to be hired in factory jobs and were often segregated from white workers and paid less. (This phenomenon, although much subtler, still happens today, despite the backlash against affirmative action and other measure put in place to help the black woman or man stand a chance against a society that has so violently chewed us and spit us out.) But enough… it’s quite obvious the intentional effort put into shunning African-Americans to certain sections of the city, allow food apartheid and other forms of oppression, from education to violence, etc. to “flourish.”
I didn’t know at the time, growing up, that a lot of the things existed the way they did for a reason, for life is not as serendipitous as we think it to be. I figured that we as blacks had relegated ourselves to the South side. (I’m so sorry West Siders, I’m definitely leaving you out! West Side too!) That it was our fault that many people lived in the conditions that exist on the South side. How naïve of me. The segregation that exists has allowed black communities to remain vulnerable to the effects of capitalism and racism. (Say, through corporate presence in the form of McDonald’s and racist policing of young black men, when God knows increasing the presence of the Chicago Police Department isn’t going to change gang violence.) People often ignore these facts, so I’ll repeat them again. Federal policy, racism and capitalism have allowed these spaces to exist. Federal policy, racism and capitalism have allowed food apartheid to thrive. Refer to the definitions above of food apartheid; they should now make even more sense.
Wrapping up, when you’re ever in Chicago, if you’re ever in Chicago, do me a favor, please? Drive south; drive around and observe the environment that exists, the neighborhoods, the people, the stores that sell food, etc. Just look outside the window and observe what you see. And this time, take into account the forces that have put the picture into frame.
Coates, T. (2015). The case for reparations. The Atlantic, June 2014.
Rothstein, R. (2017). The color of law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America. New York, NY: Liveright.