Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities, Carl H Nightingale, University of Chicago Press, Pp 536, £ 21.38
THIS book is about residential segregation in cities around the world through the spread of coercive measures by powerful institutions and intellectual networks.
At Baltimore, Maryland, in December 1910, the whites began clamouring for new ways of asserting their political supremacy over the African-Americans by desiring a new technique of racial control, called ‘segregation’. In the name of segregation, the United States had passed laws since about 1900 to relegate the blacks to inferior Jim Crow schools, trainers, railroad station platforms, waiting rooms, theatres, restaurants, public bathrooms, amusement parks and even public water fountains. Employers and white workers imposed colour bars that kept certain high-prestige jobs off limits to blacks. Laws that prevented blacks from voting helped to reinforce the system.
The surge of enthusiasm for urban residential segregation resonated “not only in the United States, but even in Africa, the natural habitat of the black man.” Urban segregation designed to enhance elite groups’ power and wealth extended back to the ancient cities in Mesopotamia when a holy temple was built in the city of Eridu exclusively for the gods and from which ordinary mortals were kept out.
European colonial segregation dates as far back as the Middle Ages when English colonies in Ireland and Italian merchants in eastern Mediterranean reserved separate parts of overseas colonial towns for themselves. The idea of separating a ‘black town’ from a ‘white town’ dates back to 1700, when British officials demanded colour designations in the city of Madras.
The word ‘segregation’ was used for racial isolation in Hong Kong and Bombay in the 1890s. Monumental segregated colonies went up in places like Rabat, in French Morocco and New Delhi, in British India, signalling new arrogant ambitions for urban planning based on separate racial zones.
This book offers an update and elaboration of the fact that not only the idea that residential colour lines have proliferated across the world but also the main point that such movements to segregate cities spread because they were interconnected. Segregationists always worked within three kinds of institutions that were critical for West’s rise to global dominance – the governments, networks of intellectual exchange and institutions associated with the modern capitalist real estate industry. Of these, the empires of Britain, France and the United States supported and replicated by far the largest number of local movements for racial segregation across the world, relying on smaller-scale national, colonial or municipal government as well.
The author takes the reader on a sweeping voyage across time and space, ranging from the ancient roots of modern practices.
(The University of Chicago Press, Chicago – 60637)