It will come as little surprise to most listeners that America’s metropolitan areas are racially segregated and unequal. While the suburbs surrounding American cities tend to be relatively affluent and white, many urban areas, especially those with large non-white populations, remain under-resourced and under-served in comparison to their white suburban counterparts. Even as gentrification and other forces have increasingly forced poorer non-white residents to seek housing on the city’s periphery, suburbs continue to be associated with wealth and whiteness.
Existing explanations for this political geography tend to focus on governmental policies and consumer behavior during the time period spanning the New Deal through World War II and the immediate post-war period; Once considered obscure academic parlance, terms like red-lining, white flight, and government-backed mortgages now regularly appear as part of popular discussions of housing inequality. While not refuting the importance of these events, Paige Glotzer situates American suburbs in a longer history of exclusionary practices dating back to the 19th century. In doing so, she also ties the American suburb to a broader history of racial capitalism and white settler colonialism.
Paige Glotzer is Assistant Professor & John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Chair in the History of American Politics, Institutions, and Political Economy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of How the Suburbs Were Segregated: Developers and the Business of Exclusionary Housing, 1890-1960.