The Language of Segregation Under Social Sanction

Continuing from our conversation around housing segregation and the language employed by those with power I think it's worth thinking some about the text of this petition:


"As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community ... to protect our own."
The petition was put out in 1957, as Levittown sought to stave off integration. What's important to note is that we are well into post-war America and there is some social sanction emerging against prejudice and discrimination. What the petition does is effectively endorse prejudice and discrimination while claiming not to. Another example:

"We favor racial integration, but only at such time the negro shows he is ready for it."
Anyone familiar with the popular notion that talking about racism makes one racist will recognize the tactic. It's important to understand that the form is old. As social sanction emerged against slavery after the Civil War, you found former slaveholders insisting that the War actually wasn't about slavery--even as they sought to erect Black Codes which effectively perpetrated slavery.

I need to read Orwell. Like yesterday.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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