America is currently in the midst of a national conversation about race relations and inequality. While many are calling on government to solve these problems, it is important to remember many of these issues stem directly from government itself. In his most recent research brief, JLF’s Joe Coletti writes:

Few people would question that some systems and institutions in America were developed with the explicit goal of protecting the rights and privileges available to whites and denying those rights and privileges from blacks, Hispanics, and people from all corners of Asia (not to mention Jews, Arabs, Poles, Italians, and other groups who were at various times on the wrong side of the cultural divide). Other policies, programs, and institutions were created to help some of those populations but unintentionally erected new barriers and imposed new stigmas.

Whether intended for good or ill, policies enacted in the past have lingering effects that may limit the opportunities available to African Americans. 

There are various methods the government used to oppress minority Americans. Coletti writes:

Housing restrictions from redlining to zoning have often had a racial component, particularly in Northern cities…

Work restrictions like the minimum wage, occupational licensing, and unions were intended to limit opportunities for African Americans…

Highways cut through African-American neighborhoods with eminent domain and allowed whites to move into segregated suburbs.

Even the government’s more well-intended policies had negative impacts on black Americans. Coletti explains:

Even the best intentions ended up harming African Americans. Integration for all its benefits ended many black businesses, as it put them into a single market to compete with the largest white companies that could pay more for the best workers and otherwise use their advantages of size and money. Affirmative action led some to question whether African Americans earned their place and other programs created a separate process for minority students. Urban renewal displaced black families, disrupted black neighborhoods, and forced cities to adopt zoning rules. All told, housing policies have left families in predominantly black neighborhoods with a fraction of the wealth of similarly situated families in white neighborhoods.

Read Coletti’s full brief here. Learn more about how occupational licensing has harmed African Americans in this research update from JLF’s Jon Sanders.