The Web of Urban Racism

Hal understood racism as a complex, systemic vicious cycle that he dubbed "the web of urban racism."

Hal Baron's work focuses on five themes (history, housing, labor, education, politics), which all represent different aspects of what Baron terms the “web of urban racism.” The web of urban racism, a phrase Baron uses in his writings from the late 1960s onwards, denotes the network of institutional racism intrinsic to American society. Baron explains: 

 "The impersonal institutions of the great cities have been woven together into a web of urban racism that entraps Negroes much as the spider’s net holds flies – they can wiggle but they cannot move very far. There is a carefully articulated interrelation of the barriers created by each institution. Whereas the single institutional strand standing alone might not be so strong, together the many strands form a powerful web. But here the analogy breaks down. In contrast to the spider’s prey, the victim of urban racism has fed on stronger stuff and is on the threshold of tearing the web."

Baron sees clear intentionality in the web, and argues that it is an integral feature (not an unfortunate result) of American society.

"For examples: the school system uses the neighborhood school policy which combined with residential segregation operates as a surrogate for direct segregation; suburbs in creating very restrictive zoning regulations, or urban renewal developments in setting universally high rents can eliminate all but a very few Negro families on the basis of income; given the racial differentials produced by the school system, an employer, by using his regular personnel tests and criteria, can screen out most Negroes from desirable jobs."

Harold Baron, "The Web of Urban Racism," Chicago Urban League Report, 1968.