Today, the net worth of the average black family is about 1/8 that of the average white family. Much of that net worth derives from the value of the family’s residence. As homes get passed from family to family through generation after generation, the real legacy of race is felt. The houses in predominantly white areas sell for much more than those in black, Hispanic or integrated neighborhoods, and so power, wealth, and advantage – or the lack of it – are passed down from parent to child. The starting line for the next generation is drawn at different points on the field. Surprising new studies reveal that the performance gaps in test scores, graduation rates, welfare usage and other measures between white and black people disappear once this “family wealth gap” is taken into account. This is one reason why ‘color-blind’ policies that pretend race doesn’t exist are not the same thing as creating equality. It is why Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in the Bakke decision, “To get beyond racism we must first take account of race. There is no other way.”
Here in Michigan, the majority of voters this past November voted to outlaw Affirmative Action in public institutions. I would have no problem with this if we had a truly level playing field for everyone. But this wealth gap that divides largely along racial lines means that a black (or Latino or Native American…) child is much less likely to receive a decent education, because parents don’t have access to the same kind of equity that their white counterparts have to finance this education. Less education means lower-paying jobs, whch means lower levels of home ownership, and the cycle continues.
If students in poorer neighborhoods had access to the same quality of public education that students in wealthy school districts had, I imagine that the wealth gap would start to shrink within a generation or two. Why is it then that some school districts have every new technology and the highest paid faculty, while poorer school districts struggle to keep a supply of toilet paper in their buildings?
The episode discusses discriminatory housing practices, and how the Federal goverment actually endorsed these practices. The concept of “redlining” comes directly from color-coded maps created by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), to identify various levels of security for real estante investment. Red areas were considered the most “hazardous” regions. (Guess who lives in the “redlined” areas?) The 1936 Federal Housing Administration’s Underwiting Manual set forth highly racialized standards that lenders were encouraged to consider if they wanted to receive FHA insurance.
There are a number of racial provisions in this version of the FHA Underwiter’s Manual. I’ll just cite one of them here (emphasis added):
233. The Valuator should investigate areas surrounding the location to determine whether or not incompatible racial and social groups are present, to the end that an intelligent prediction may be made regarding the possibility or probability of the location being invaded by such groups. If a neighborhood is to retain stability it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes. A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and a reduction in values. The protection offered against adverse changes should be found adequate before a high rating is given to this feature. Once the character of a neighborhood has been established it is usually improssible to induce a higher social class than those already in the neighborhood to purchase and occupy properties in its various locations.
Yup, that’s our Federal Government at work… It’s funny how people will say that black families moving into a white neighborhood make the property values go down. I think they have it wrong! It’s the people moving out of the neighborhood that makes the values go down, not the people moving in.
Sorry for the long post. There’s a lot to digest here. I do hope some of you will join the conversation, so I’m not just talking to myself. Whether or not you agree with me, I welcome your input. All I ask is that we have civilized discourse and refrain from personal attacks.
My next installment in this ongoing discussion thread will be about a lecture I attended by Kevin Boyle, author of the award-winning book: Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age.
Also, if you are in the Detroit area, please consider attending a perfomance of “Malice Aforethought: The Sweet Trials”, produced by UDM’s Theatre Company. It opens tonight and goes for about three weeks.