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Were there racial concerns in or with the New Deal?

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tessakamme | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 19, 2012 at 1:22 AM via web

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Were there racial concerns in or with the New Deal?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 19, 2012 at 2:59 AM (Answer #1)

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The New Deal was the name for the economic strategy implemented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration following the Great Depression. It was intended to create financial equality through social programs and taxation, helping to ease the burden of low-paying or unavailable jobs.

The Civil Rights movement was in the future, and slavery was still a relatively recent phenomenon. Because of the generally low economic conditions nationwide, blacks and other minority groups were considered "at-risk" or unfit for loans, social charity, and other benefits. The New Deal claimed equal access to all government social programs for all citizens. However, in practice it contained no measures for actually ensuring minority access (the 1961 Affirmative Action policies were put in place to fix that disparity).

For example, federal housing regulations for whites tended to focus on home ownership, while the same regulations for non-whites focused on public housing projects; this created a first-and-second-class system weighted against minorities. The Federal Housing Administration printed area maps for banks to follow when giving loans, showing which areas were at high-risk; intentionally or not, these often placed minority communities in a "red" zone, making it difficult to allocate money or take loans for improvement. Some scholars say this aspect of the New Deal was directly responsible for the increase in ghetto and slum areas.

Other racial aspects came through in government entitlement programs; Professor Adolph Reed Jr. writes:

Some, like the initial Social Security old-age pension program, were established on a racially invidious, albeit officially race-neutral, basis by excluding from coverage agricultural and domestic workers, the categories that included nearly 90 percent of black workers at the time.
(Reed, Race and the New Deal Coalition, thenation.com)

Small details like that one ensured that minorities remained unofficially in "the lower-classes." The New Deal also contained no language prohibiting segregation, although Roosevelt led by example by appointing a great number of African-American positions in his administration.

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