walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

complaining about _Waiting on a Train_

If you choose to read this (and at 40% of the way through, I'll give it a qualified recommendation, high on readability, decent on communicating accurate information, excellent in terms of supplying ideas of what to research further), skip the introduction. It stopped me continuing. For months. If you are a Kunstler fan, you might like the introduction.

In any event, the chapter titled "Union Station, Washington, D.C. when railroads were bad to the bone" starts with the author discussing an elderly black man he met the day before on the train with historian John Hankey. This presents an opportunity to discuss segregation and railroads, and believe me when I say, this is a discussion worth having.

Unfortunately, here's what _Waiting_ comes up with:

Washington DC is where segregation started. The man the author met last rode a train in 1952, when it was not possible for a white man (the author) and a black man to sit next to each other or even in the same car. The author (months later) reads a copy of Virginia's "Jim Crow" statute (his term). The author adds, "If a person wouldn't state his [sic] race, the conductor was "the sole and final judge of a passenger's race." After Brown v. Board of Education, the ICC ruled segregation in transportation illegal, but many railroads, particularly those in the Deep South, ignored the ruling."

This is a _perfect_ example of how telling another part of the story tilts one's perspectives on railroads and race: Brown v. Board of Education revisited Plessy v. Ferguson's "separate but equal". Every time I've heard the Brown v. Board of Education story told, this is mentioned, but Plessy v. Ferguson was news to my husband, so clearly my reality is a little odd. What I _never_ heard until I started reading books about railroads was that Plessy v. Ferguson was a case that railroads made sure happened because the railroads _did not want to enforce segregation_ -- it was expensive and inefficient for them. That the courts came to "separate but equal" was not expected and was a setback in many ways.

I've blogged about this before, because I was so stunned. I believe this is a part of our history that we need to process again in our current era, for several reasons.

(1) Small l libertarian arguments that businesses will do what is in their economic interest and that won't include being racist jackasses need to digest this part of our history. They need to recognize that they've fought this battle once before and lost. Hard.

(2) Believers in states rights (who may overlap with category (1) in part) need to recognize that support for states rights has led to persistent regional injustice recently enough to have had repercussions in the lives of many people alive today. If you're sitting around looking at statistics that show black families at a particular income level having way less net worth than white families at a particular income level, Plessy v. Ferguson provides a really compelling explanation.

(3) Anyone trying to understand why railroads are so fucking defensive about politics needs to process this (along with an unending number of other examples) so they can get a sense of why railroad management culture is fully prepared to screw their own selves completely if they think they can prevent any element of any jurisdiction from having an excuse to go after them.


(4) Anyone who thinks business or the citizenry in general would welcome regulation because We're Just Trying to Make Things Better should probably pause for at least a millisecond to contemplate the things that have been done Trying to Make Things Better, if only to understand why there might be some cynicism out there on the subject.

I am _not_ asking for James McCommons to get into all this. However, I do feel that anyone who talks about trains and Brown v. Board of Education without touching Plessy v. Ferguson is asking for whining from the peanut gallery. And here it is.

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