Lesson Outline (I)

Marguerite Mills



Begin by priming students with a discussion of neighborhoods. The aim of this conversation is to tease out the ways in which neighborhoods – or our concept of neighborhoods – vary from one another. What separates one neighborhood from another, and how did these boundaries (material and imagined) emerge? How do we decipher the reputation, “desirability”, and “quality” of a place? Are these ideas about place stable or organically occurring?

The Neighborhood Discussion Prompt:

    • Neighborhood discussion: “What makes a neighborhood? How can you tell neighborhoods apart? How do you think the city got this way?”
        • Facilitating the discussion to ensure students touch on 4 main neighborhood characteristics (though they will certainly have many more insights into neighborhood differentiation and construction):
          • Amenities/accessibility
          • Housing types
          • Reputation / ‘desirability’
          • Racial demographics
        • *Do you think that the development of neighborhoods is natural (or in other words, what outside influences do you think to affect the development of a neighborhood if any)”?


Our neighborhood discussion leads to revealing that: “no, in fact, the development of neighborhoods, and the things that make them up – including people – is far from ‘natural.’ Neighborhoods, as we know them today, would be unrecognizable in the not-so-distant past. The areas where we live were shaped and changed by a variety of formal and informal structures and policies that dictated where people could live and what their environment was like.”



      • Systematic disinvestment (redlining, urban renewal, real estate steering) 
        • Very briefly mention and define these concepts – they can be discussed in-depth — time permitted — after the explanation of racial covenants. The point of this mention is simply to allude to the existence of multiple types of policies and structures that shaped neighborhoods.
        • Define redlining, urban renewal, and real estate steering. 
        • Background resources on this topic:

Mapping Inequality: this rich resource contains all of the HOLC “redlining” maps for the country along with the narrative descriptions that accompanied the original maps. Each city’s map is downloadable as a georeferenced .tif file, image scan, or you can download polygonal data as a Shapefile or GeoJSON.

Renewing Inequality: the practice of urban renewal extended the spatial trauma of covenants and redlining by issuing federal funding to projects that razed “blighted” areas of the city. The practice took its geographic cues from the patterns established by racially restrictive covenants and the HOLC redlining maps. In this resource, you can explore urban renewal projects across the country, their impact on and displacement of families, and compare the location of these areas to the HOLC maps and contemporary demographics.


      • Racially Restrictive Covenants
        • Show the 1910 demographic map. Where are black people living? The answer is: all over. Particularly when we consider the extremely small number of the total black population at this time, this type of distribution across the city indicates a fairly high level of integration. It is also important to consider the degree of developed land when looking at a map that represents where people were living over 100 years ago. Minneapolis looked quite different then. Many of the buildings, roads, and infrastructure that seem so established, simply weren’t there in 1910. Next show the 1940 Demographic map. Call student’s attention to the change that occurs over this time. Where are black people living in 1910 vs 1940? Unlike in 1910, the total area of land that is available to live has increased, yet the areas where black people live has decreased. It certainly has not expanded to the newly minted developments on the periphery of the city.




        • So how did this happen? Was it the result of the actions we discussed earlier? How did white people exercise control over racial geography in the early 20th century when Minneapolis was developing as an integrated city? They used the informal means which we talked about (i.e. violence, intimidation, and threats). But in the early 20th century, white people were looking for something more official, or more formal. And the more formal mechanisms that we have mentioned so far (redlining, urban renewal, and even real estate steering) have something important in common: they only work on an already segregated city. It isn’t practical to create policies that target people on a house by house basis. In other words, if white people wanted to do something to a racialized group of people, it is easier to target space than race. Today, when a policy or action is spatially targeted, it almost always has an inherent racial target as well (whether that is intended or not). This is because our space has already been racialized. But how>


  • Racialized Space – space which has been designated with a particular racial caricature. Through social discourse, this spatial-racial connection is accompanied by a perception of value and desirability.


Segregation and spatial racialization are what allows for policies that claim to target space (and not race) are able to disproportionately affect people of color without explicitly naming race.

But how did space become racialized?

        • In Minneapolis – and most northern cities – the process off racial segregation and spatial racialization occurred through a legal mechanism of removal, exclusion, and enforcement that artificially created white neighborhoods. This mechanism was the racially restrictive covenant.  (the following definitions should be broken down with the class – dependent on time, it may be helpful to ask for classroom input on their meaning and then provide clarification based on the explanations below)
          • Removal – this development in housing and real estate policy forced emerging black communities out of areas deemed ‘destined for whiteness”
          • Exclusion – above all, this mechanism ensured that new development would be reserved for white people. Black people and other people of color were explicitly kept out of these areas by this policy.
          • Enforcement – in addition to laying out parameters of who could live where a system of enforcement was built into the mechanism. There was a severe legal and financial penalty for anyone who chose to break the segregation rules outlined by racial covenants.
        • Now that we understand a little about what covenants did, let’s talk about what exactly racial covenants were.


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The Mapping Prejudice Curriculum Copyright © by Marguerite Mills. All Rights Reserved.

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