The economics of race relations in Detroit during the interwar years.

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Author: Sierra Boney
Date: July 2021
Publisher: Superintendent of Documents
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,224 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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In Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit, Karen Miller recounts the roots of racism and economic inequality in Detroit during the 1920s and 1930s. Instead of following historians who focus on racial discord in the North post-1945, she presents the racial ideology of White Detroiters during this earlier period and coins the term "northern racial liberalism." Miller defines northern racial liberalism as "the notion that all Americans, regardless of race, should be politically equal, but the state cannot and indeed should not enforce racial equality by interfering with existing social or economic relations." According to Miller, policies in Detroit enacted by White liberals resulted in racial democracy, or the pretense of racial equality based on the provision of political gains. White liberals surrendered some political control because of Black activism, but they maintained economic and social policies that exacerbated inequality in the labor market and worsened residential segregation.

Karen Miller posits that the development of northern racial liberalism resulted from several concurrent changes in the United States. First, the First Great Migration changed Detroit's labor market regarding the inclusion of Black workers. Second, this migration reshaped Detroit's housing market and racial geography, prompting conflict over racial boundaries. Third, urban reform in Detroit significantly changed the city's leadership and municipal government. Lastly, the Black minority became more politically organized and began actively advocating for racial justice and challenging Detroit's racial hierarchies. These changes influenced how White leaders approached Blacks in the labor market and how Blacks responded. During World War I and into the 1920s, manufacturers hired labor agents to travel to the South to attract Black workers by offering higher pay and promoting greater racial freedom.

Northerners claimed to support the Black migration but used segregation to organize factory production. Miller cites the example of employers laying off hundreds of Black workers and replacing...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A672201936