Electrical Merchandising By A Cartoon That Captured A Dramatic Demographic Transformation

Electrical Merchandising By A Cartoon That Captured A Dramatic Demographic Transformation

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In 1957, the magazine Electrical Merchandising published a cartoon that captured a dramatic demographic transformation that was changing the nature of life across America.



And besides that first car, which is bursting with smiling white children, we can’t see the skin tones of any of the other passengers and drivers in the traffic-jam. But history tells us that the drivers and their passengers were likely all white. The American Suburb, presented in 1950s advertising (such as in the cartoon above) as utopias, full of nice people and pretty streets and safe neighborhoods, were in reality shaped by racially discriminatory laws, government programs and practices, and the bigoted tendencies of realtors. That demographic history leaves a sad legacy of continuing racial segregation and racial inequality across nearly all metropolitan regions, even today. Now, it’s a half-century after the Civil Rights Act, and nearly all white suburbs, and nearly all black urban neighborhoods, within otherwise diverse city areas such as Boston, Hartford, Minneapolis and Chicago, are still common. However, not all hope is lost, and demographers have recently pointed out that some suburban communities are actually becoming more racially and culturally diverse as a result of immigration, the success of fair housing laws and other factors such as white peoples’ reduced racial bias. The important question today is whether government and individuals will learn lessons from the racist elements that shaped the history of American suburbanization and created racial inequalities and divisions, and the ghettoization of Blacks. Will we the people choose to help today’s suburbs be a model for a healthy, diverse nation that provides opportunity for all? Or wil...


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...established a program that gives very low interest loans to people who want to move into neighborhoods where their own race is in the minority, thereby promoting diversity of neighborhoods.
Whether or not the federal government will work to reverse the problem of segregation that it helped create beginning in the 1940s remains to be seen. However, in 2013, the Obama Administration did put some new regulations in place that made it easier to put affordable housing in suburban communities and that provided vouchers for people of color to leave very poor urban neighborhoods and move to subsidized apartments in wealthier, mostly white suburban communities. (Tegeler, 2013) No doubt it will take a long time to undo what’s been done over decades, but perhaps it is time for another “dark and stormy trip” of the sort that Lyndon Johnson bravely and rightly took back in 1966.

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