A Johns Hopkins University historian is pushing back against cultural explanations for concentrated poverty.
US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty member Kathryn Edin is faculty director of Johns Hopkins University’s 21st Century Cities Initiative, an interdisciplinary effort testing solutions and sharing best practices to expand health, wealth, and well-being in America’s urban areas. Last month, Edin and colleagues hosted more than 250 leaders and experts from around the country for the initiative’s inaugural symposium.
During a keynote address, historian Nathan Connolly offered attendees a framework with which to think about and combat the racial segregation that has been a prominent feature of US cities for decades.
In most instances, we use very familiar explanations, such as culture to explain the problems of segregation: There are people who don’t want to move to certain areas, or they’re unable and unskilled, and we have to find a way to improve their culture. Those of us who have some sense of structure, particularly after the 1970s, say, “Well, these are areas that lack investment. We need broad economic growth in order to lift all boats, and that will then solve the problems of lingering poverty.” Now there was in fact a different way of thinking about this relative to the question of structure, and that was indeed a focus on the problem of predation in these communities.
Racial bias, Connolly argues, creates the perfect conditions for wide-scale and persistent financial exploitation. “It’s predation, not culture, that is our problem,” he says. “And merely growing the [economic] pie is not going to help us.”
Connolly calls for alliances between activists and business forged in regulations that protect racial minorities and create a profit motive for supporting racial equity.
His talk runs from 0:07:30 to 0:37:30. More video and resources from the symposium are available on the 21st Century Cities Initiative’s webpage.