The Creation of Blackness as Pathogen

The Transition from Blackness as Property to Blackness as Pathogen in the United States

This brief essay by William Jamal Richardson discusses the primary sociopolitical conditions which changed the relationship between black people and the US state “From Blackness as property to Blackness as pathogen,” or from chattel slavery to conditions of criminalization, containment, and segregation away from white communities.

One of the main ways this was accomplished was through redlining, or the massive government construction of new housing for white people, rating white neighborhoods as worthy of loans and investment, and rating Black neighborhoods as criminal, dangerous, and not economically viable. Such practices have perhaps changed in name but continue through banking practices and creditor/debtor relations like creditworthiness.

One thing I may study in law school is how this process of pathologizing Blackness grounds how white people understand gentrification, the quality of schools, and whether a neighborhood is “safe.” Because if you ask white people which neighborhoods we think are unsafe or unfit, we will without fail point to majority Black places. So it’s clear that unsafe is usually code for non-white, and especially Black. Given the history of segregation and morphing Blackness to a pathogen, white people still rely on the logic of redlining despite it being “officially” discontinued.

It’s still how creditworthiness is gauged, it’s how housing is granted, it’s the logic of segregation, and it’s how white people still think about Black people without having to explicitly say “I’m anti-Black.” White people clearly benefit from this systematic exclusion.

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