Migration and the Geography of Racism in the United States

Awarded Scholars:
Samuel Bazzi, University of California, San Diego
Martin Fiszbein, Boston University
Project Date:
Mar 2021
Award Amount:
$111,195

The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020 sparked mass demonstrations against police violence and racism across the country. While racial violence and racist ideology are associated with the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in the South, such violence is pervasive outside the South as well. Protesters across the country were motivated to join demonstrations against systemic racism in their communities. To better understand the origins of racist institutions and ideologies across the nation, economists Samuel Bazzi and Martin Fiszbein will investigate whether and how white migration from the postbellum Confederacy influenced racial norms elsewhere at a time of westward expansion and frontier settlement. They hypothesize that postbellum migration left a lasting cultural imprint in newly settled areas and that racism persisted through local institutions, intergenerational transmission of racial norms, and the arrival of like-minded migrants. To explore the links between southern White migration and systematic racism outside the South, Bazzi and Fiszbein will first examine selective migration and sorting across destination counties out of Confederate states. They will describe who these migrants were, where they came from, where they settled in the U.S. and what occupations they chose upon arrival. They will pay particular attention to migrants’ personal experiences with slavery and Confederate military service, male children naming practices, and their representation in law enforcement. Their assumption is that migrants with greater exposure to slaveholding and those who were Confederate soldiers were motivated to create similarly coercive institutions and drawn to law enforcement for the purposes of controlling black and immigrant labor.

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