Infrastructure Racism: People of Color Getting BULLDOZED for Highway Construction

by Eli Mshomi
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Racial bias in the education, economic, and social spheres of the United States is no longer hidden.

However, one pervasive form of racism that often goes overlooked is the infrastructure racism that has dislocated hundreds of thousands of Black families across the United States.

In previous administrations, interstate highways were deliberately passed through the regions with Black populations as they were considered lesser Americans.

Consequently, the Black communities were pushed to regions having less developed infrastructure and limited access to daily life necessities.

Ranging from Texas to California to Minnesota, the presence of this racism is worrisome and dangerous at the same time.

However, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill of Joe Biden has shown promising signs to counter the infrastructure racism crisis that could give the people of color some breathing space.

Under Eisenhower presidency a wave of interstate highways started which initiated racism in the country as most of these highways were passed through communities heavily populated by the people of color.

Under Eisenhower presidency a wave of interstate highways started which initiated racism in the country as most of these highways were passed through communities heavily populated by the people of color.

Infrastructure Racism has Impacted People of Color in Every Major City

President Eisenhower is considered the father of the US interstate highway systems, as a wave of roads and highways started connecting different parts of the United States under his administration.

However, in parallel, one severe inequity was taking birth, i.e., infrastructure racism, that would define the course of the policies adopted by the upcoming presidents.

According to the data of the US Transportation Department, almost 475,000 households were displaced between 1957 to 1977 due to the new wave of highway construction. The majority of these people were Black, as the sites chosen for highway construction were concentrated by Black communities.

At that time, when the devastating things were happening in the name of development, something similar was happening in Minneapolis, Minnesota as well.

The Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, heavily concentrated by people of color, was destroyed for the construction of I-94. But this was not the only place from where Black communities were expelled.

The 38th Street and 4th Avenue in the Central neighborhood of Minneapolis were also dismantled due to the construction of the Interstate 35W highway.

The neighborhood was dominated by businesses owned by Black people that were shattered altogether. Most of the people back then were surprised and unaware of what was happening. They did not see this coming until bulldozers came and demolished their businesses.

The interchange for the Interstate 95/395 was supposed to use a nearby railway corridor but was ultimately passed through a Black neighborhood. Consequently, the process displaced almost 10,000 residents, perpetuating the wave of racial violence.

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Logan Heights, a Black-dominated neighborhood, was bulldozed into two for the passage of Interstate 5.

Black Bottom, a heavily Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, was compromised just to pave the way for Interstate 375. The list goes on with every Black neighborhood being affected due to infrastructure racism.

Non-Black Americans were also impacted by the construction, but the demolishing of businesses and communities disproportionately impacted people of color.

People believe that it was all intentional, at a time when the political clout of civil society and the media was next to none. So, the racist administrations left no stone unturned to exercise as much racism as possible.

The US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg acknowledge the prevalence of infrastructure racism, which depicts that pervasiveness of the issue. Under Biden's infrastructure bill, this issue needs to be tackled.

The US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg acknowledge the prevalence of infrastructure racism, which depicts that pervasiveness of the issue. Under Biden’s infrastructure bill, this issue needs to be tackled.

Infrastructure Bill: Biden’s Bid to Tackle Highway Racism in the US

The passage of the infrastructure bill is a much-need relief for people of color who are expected to be given favorable treatment under the new wave of construction.

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The US incumbent Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also acknowledged that some of the nations’ highways are racially motivated that yield “lasting damage” to people of color.

The White House has promised to spend nearly $20 billion to reconnect neighborhoods that were separated due to the racially driven infrastructure in the past. Similarly, the infrastructure bills plan to give 40 percent benefits of green infrastructure investment to historically disadvantaged communities.

 

Final Thoughts

The impacts of these interstates are far beyond housing problems only. When Black communities are divided into two for the construction of the neighborhood, they face chronic noise pollution, as they live near the highways.

The same goes true for air pollution as they consume dangerous greenhouse gases exhaled from vehicles near their homes.

Thus, the passing of the highways through their communities ultimately impacts their mental and physical health at the same time, as they are also subjected to more accidents for living near roads.

This is the curse of gentrification as well, where people of color are continuously being suppressed in the name of development.

Nonetheless, if Democrats have signed up to heal the historical racism, they must pursue the bottom-up approach to facilitate those who were disenfranchised the most in the past.

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