The Racist Terrorism and Segregation Behind "Midwest Nice"Roundup
tags: racism, sundown towns, African American history, urban history, Midwest, housing discrimination
Aaron Kinard is a Ph.D. student in the department of sociology at the University of Virginia.
Over the weekend, hundreds of people took to the streets in Minneapolis to protest the police killing of Amir Locke, a Black man, in his apartment as police carried out a “no knock” warrant. This new killing happened even as a federal civil rights trial is underway in Minneapolis that is focused on the roles played by three police officers in the killing of George Floyd. This trial comes on the heels of the conviction of Derek Chauvin in state court for Floyd’s murder, and more recently, the conviction of former police officer Kim Potter, who was found guilty of manslaughter of Daunte Wright.
These instances of police violence are emblematic of the persistence of racism and white supremacy in the Midwest. While the Midwest consistently ranks among the best places to live in the United States, the region is home to some of the worst White-Black racial inequalities in the nation, with Wisconsin ranking last in the disparity between Black and White children. While the region is commonly considered homogeneously White, approximately 7 million Black Americans live in the Midwest, and the Black population continues to grow.
Despite a deep and startling history of racism and the present-day reality of racial violence, the region has managed to avoid much scrutiny because of the myth that it is mostly White. Many White Midwesterners can live their lives with little or no interaction with Black people, failing to see the lack of racial diversity as a problem. This leads to some White Midwesterners constructing a narrative that “race is not a problem here.” Indeed, the “Midwestern nice” trope has helped some White Midwesterners see themselves as outside of the racist structures of our country.
But in reality, the lack of racial diversity is often actually the result of the historic maintenance of White spaces through racial segregation and the threat of violence in “sundown towns.” Policies and practices kept those spaces all White, and their legacy still plays a major role in shaping the Midwest today.
During the middle of the 20th century, some 6 million Black Americans fled the terrors of the Jim Crow South in search of better economic opportunities in Northern states, including cities throughout the Midwest. This migration was met with great hostility and violence from White Midwesterners. Although their labor was sometimes welcomed, Black Americans were often denied access to resources and struggled to meet basic needs. In particular, it was difficult to find decent housing, as Midwestern communities and governments worked to maintain strict residential racial segregation.