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Racism in American Infrastructure

Racism is an ingrained feature of American infrastructure, as Sir Deborah N. Archer rightly said, "The white man's way through the black man's house".

A peculiar fact about US economic history and politics is the cruel and systematic underdevelopment of blacks, as the history Manning Marable correctly presents. According to this theory, Black has never been an equal partner in the US Social Contract, as the contract aims to reverse "Black" rather than develop the United States. As a result, blacks have been deliberately sacrificed for the growth and development of the United States. Blacks in the United States were disproportionately located at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, denying their basic right to become US citizens.

To answer the question - how is racism in-built in America’s Infrastructure? The enactment of the Highway Act of 1956 (commonly known as the State Highway Act or Federal Aid Highway Act) pushed for both - the construction of highways and the destruction of the black community. The state has purposely targeted the black community to provide a method for large-scale highway projects. In states across the country, roads have driven blacks out of their homes, dissecting the hearts and souls of thriving black communities of families, churches, schools, businesses and more. In some cases, entire black communities faced total destruction. For example, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the construction of Interstate 94 evacuated about one-seventh of the city's entire black population[1] Surprisingly, a major black rehab did not happen in the city, but throughout the United States.

Similarly, a black suburb in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was completely destroyed for the construction of Interstate 579 as per the report published [2] . [1] When Interstate 579 was opened to traffic, it effectively separated the Hill District from bustling downtown Pittsburgh and displaced thousands of black people. The Hill District's population fell from approximately 44,000 in 1950 to approximately 9,500 in 2013. As a result, more than 400 businesses were lost. When you replace so many people, your target is basically the bloody neighborhood and the same goes for black people in the Hill District. Surprisingly, 40% of Hill District residents live below the poverty line[3].

As a final example, though countless examples exist, In Florida, Interstate 95 tore through the center of Over town, a large and powerful Black community considered to be the economic and cultural life for Miami’s Black population. One massive highway interchange alone took up 40 square blocks and took the homes of about 10,000 people. By the 1960s, Over town was dominated by the highway. Once called the Harlem of the South, sadly, no evidence of the community’s prior identity remained now. Additionally, studies have found that living near a highway in the US is associated with higher likelihood of suffering from heart attacks and asthma. The “asthma epidemic” in the Bronx was a consequence of the expressway, which is “both literally and metaphorically a structure of racism”.

The other form of racial segregation in America’s infrastructure can be visualized in Orland, Florida. Interstate 4 was built to provide a barrier separating black on the west side of the town from the central business district and white communities on the east side. This time, highway spared Black homes but became a permanent racial barrier between white and black neighborhood, further entrenching racial segregation and walling off economic opportunity and investment.

In the present times, racism in America’s infrastructure is a hotly debated topic. The 46th President of the US, Joe Biden has recently proposed a $2 trillion plan, if passed, would become the biggest investment in America’s roads, bridges and byways in decades to improve America’s infrastructure and is promising to address the racism ingrained in historical transportation and urban planning.


Racism is destroying America’s infrastructure but let’s be clear that this issue is not new. It had been heightened but soon thereafter forgotten countless times in America’s history by people in positions of power. Black people have been suffering since time immemorial and racism is ingrained in each and every corner of the great America. This time needs to be different and more sensitive towards the issue rather than swaying it away like any time before. This time, we have a unique opportunity to re-examine our institutions and systems and the chance to rebuild them from the ground up in a way that applies a racial lens to ensure that our policies are inclusive oriented. The $2 trillion plan by the President has created an unprecedented opportunity to repair the harm caused by systematic racism and unfair federal and state policies against blacks.


[1] FOTSCH, supra note 14

[2] Sam Ross-Brown, Transportation Secretary Foxx Moves to Heal Scars of Urban Renewal, AM, PROSPECT

[3] Quoting R Daniel Lavelle, a Pittsburgh City Council Member who represents the Hill District.

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