Segreation and Civil Rights Movement in the United States
Following the Civil Rights Movement within the United States, several pieces of legislation were enacted in order to better protect minority rights. This included the Fair Housing Act, implemented in 1968 in an effort to better provide equal housing opportunities and reduce the effects of housing segregation. Decades later, housing segregation remains rampant and widely unregulated within society, still disproportionately affecting the black community. The effects of housing segregation are evident in all aspects of life, from policing and healthcare to education and economic status. Historically and currently, housing segregation continues to disenfranchise racial minorities and service white supremacy in a society already catered to the white advantage.
In an effort to combat the banking crisis of the 1930’s, Congress introduced the National Housing Act of 1934 with the hope that it would increase home ownership. This act established the Federal Housing Administration, (FHA), as a regulatory agency of interest rates and mortgage terms, effectively creating the traditional thirty-year mortgage. After WWII, the FHA offered incentives to American soldiers returning home to start families, promising affordable homes with newly secured mortgages. At this time, ninety-eight percent of the loans issued by the FHA were to exclusively white borrowers. In 1933, another government agency was established to assist in the stabilization of the real estate market, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, otherwise known as the HOLC. Eventually, the HOLC was regulated by the FHA, issuing long-term loans to nearly one million prospective homeowners. More importantly, the HOLC has been credited with creating residential security maps, through which the process of redlining is derived. In practice, redlining is the systematic monopolization of the real estate market to favor a specific racial group, white people. Through the process of redlining, residents of certain communities or members of specific racial groups deemed undesirable are denied loans, mortgages, home refinement, and even prevented from buying property in residential areas such as the suburbs.
Although the relevance of redlining has only recently garnered public interest, redlining has been practiced for centuries. In their scholarly article, The Historical Demography of Racial Segregation, author Angelina Grigoryeva uses census data, housing licenses, and property tax records to determine the historical extent of housing segregation within the United States. Through their research, Grigorieva found that housing segregation followed a pattern predating the Civil War when slave residences were structured in proximity to the homes of their white owners. Presently, Grigorieva notes a similar pattern in the way metropolitan areas are organized, writing, Whereas northern cities developed segregation via racialized districts, southern cities were more susceptible to micro-segregation, through the backyard pattern and other forms of tertiary segregation, (2). Here, Grigorieva refers to the backyard pattern, a term she coined referencing the way in which white residences dominate front and main streets while black communities are forced into alleys and smaller streets, living behind white people. Therefore, Grigorieva findings outline a historical precedent of housing segregation, presently reinforced through federal legislation that favors the interests, and perceived superiority of white people.
Presently, the black community remains the most segregated of all racial minorities. In his opinion piece titled, The Ghettoization of Black Americans Hasn’t Been Reversed, author Charles Lane claims, It is to a large degree a legacy of conscious federal actions that helped ghettoized blacks as they migrated from south to north in the mid-20th century. Although they are correct in their assertion, it is important to acknowledge the private practices of the real estate market that facilitate this segregation as well. Even in Northern areas classified as progressive and tolerant, prospective black homeowners face additional difficulty in purchasing real estate and predominantly white neighborhoods. In the documentary, A Matter of Place, filmmakers followed the stories of several minority homeowners and their attempts to secure adequate housing in New York City. For one black couple, the line, Discriminate with a handshake and a smile, became especially relevant as they pursued apartments in predominantly white buildings. Their story emphasized a common philosophy perpetrated by the housing market, that minorities should live exclusively with other minorities.
Recently, several federal initiatives were proposed by the Obama administration to address the lasting impacts of housing segregation. In Charles Lamb’s scholarly article, HMDA, Housing Segregation, and Racial Disparities in Mortgage Lending, Lamb review recently proposed legislation to offset housing inequality. Lamb writes of a bill proposed in the Senate in 2015, writing, Thus, these opening statements, (of the bill), implied that Congress intended to make communities, at least in part, responsible for deterring lending discrimination by publicly examining bank lending policies and the statistical data made available by HMDA, (page ?). The HMDA, or the Housing Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975, required financial institutions to disclose mortgage data to the public, and this proposed bill proposed to expand its power along with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Such legislative action has been reluctantly enforced by current political administrations. In Walter Mondale’s opinion piece, The Civil Rights Law We Ignored, he writes that The Trump administration has sought to delay enforcement of the 2015 HUD integration rules by as much as seven years. Ben Carson, the HUD secretary, has referred to these rules ” essential to the act he is supposed to safeguard ” as mandated social engineering. Therefore, progress against housing segregation has been diminished by an administration willfully upholding a negligent practice that promotes white supremacy.
The centuries of housing segregation have left lasting effects on the black community. In Terry Gross’s NPR piece, A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America, he writes that,
Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth. Most middle-class families in this country gain their wealth from the equity they have in their homes. So this enormous difference between a 60 percent income ratio and a 5 percent wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century.
Here, Gross notes the disparities between the incomes of white and black people. An important part of housing segregation was ensuring that white middle-class Americans would receive affordable mortgages so they would eventually be able to own their homes. In this way, housing segregation established that white wealth would be predominantly evident in their home equity, disenfranchising the black community that was not issued loans or able to purchase adequate housing that would one-day garner wealth.
Unfortunately, housing segregation has not only hindered black wealth, but education, health care, and policing as well. Given that public schools are primarily funded through property taxes, schools with better facilities, teachers, and resources are likely to be located in more affluent areas. The better the school is, the more the homes cost, the more money there is to fund the schools, creating a cycle of exclusion. Federal and private initiatives that denied mortgages to black families and urban planning that used geographic barriers such as highways and bodies of water to isolate black communities has prevented access to these affluent areas. In some cases of racially charged urban planning, school districts have been drawn to purposefully exclude black residents.
In addition, urban planning has resulted in black people being more likely to live near industrial plants or factories that release toxic fumes. Black homes are more likely to have toxic paint and undrinkable water. Furthermore, areas designated for black residents are historically farther away from grocery stores, creating food deserts wherein there is limited, or no, access to fresh and nutritious food. Collectively, these conditions have contributed to black people having higher reported cases of asthma, cancers, and heart disease. Most relevant to our current political climate would be racial profiling disguised as spatial profiling, meaning that living in a certain area, (one with a large black population), makes the likelihood of being stopped by the police, or having frequent interactions with them all the more likely. The practice of spatial profiling has resulted in heavy policing, manifesting into the use of extreme violence and the murder of black people.
In synopsis, housing segregation was primarily that of federal motive, and remedies to the epidemic or solutions are reluctantly if at all, enforced. The consequences of housing segregation are evident in the disparity in wealth between black and white citizens, as well as the inadequate living conditions and education that have proven detrimental to the black community. Through the monopolization of the real estate market and present discriminatory practices, housing segregation has fostered white supremacy. Given access to better housing, and subsequent wealth and education, white citizens retain a distinct advantage over their black counterparts and continue to reap the benefits from centuries of discrimination.
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