SO, I know this post is a few weeks late but adjusting to my new job and working so many hours hasn't allowed me to read as often as I would like. Sometimes I get some reading done on the subway on the way home but usually when I get home I eat, shower, and go straight to bed. Life as a social worker is tough but it's so worth it!
I'm determined to keep my social justice book club series going but I'm not sure that it'll be as often as I originally hoped, which is fine. I just want to be spreading the word about these books and the knowledge that they share. This month, I read "The Color of Law" by Richard Rothstein. The premise of this book is that the American government had policies which segregated housing in a manner that kept people of color down, while allowing white people to rise in the class ranks. This book is pretty dense and offers a TON of information so I am likely barely going to touch upon a good portion of Rothstein's points in this post.
As I said above, Rothstein argues that the American government PURPOSELY segregated housing to allow white members of society to build wealth, while people of color were unable to do so. One example of this is, after World War II, the G.I. Bill allowed for white veterans to get mortgages at extremely low rates, while black veterans were not able to do so. After the war, owning a home was a primary way that families built up wealth, allowing them to possibly purchase other homes, and send their children to college. Another policy was that the government gave money to or guaranteed bank loans for developers if they promised to ONLY sell their houses to white families.
Additionally, black families were segregated in certain areas of town. These areas were often zoned for landfills and industrial plants, things that nobody wants to live near. However, families of color had no other choice because these were the only areas they were permitted to live. This is called environmental racism. Individuals who live near these types of structures are more likely to be sick and unhealthy.
Rothstein talks a lot about the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) being one of the major culprits of racist policies. FHA buildings are now those that we would consider "projects" but back in the day, they were built for white families only, and were subsidized by the government. The book tells a story of a group of people in California that was trying to get money from the government to build a housing cooperative. However, the group had three black people, and the government downright refused to lend money to a group with black people. So the group had to find money elsewhere.
It's crazy to me how much of an effect these policies still have today. According to a recent New York Times Article, for every $100 that a white family has, a black family has just $5.04. That statistic is absolutely astounding in my opinion. That means that, on average, white families have TWENTY TIMES what black families have. I would argue (and actual historians and researchers have argued as well) that this disparity can be traced back to discrimination in housing policies.
Housing disparities are still so clear in today's society, especially in a city like New York. I live in Crown Heights, which is a historically black neighborhood in Brooklyn. However, as more and more white people have moved into the city, prices have risen and black people have been forced out of their neighborhoods; AKA gentrification.
The FHA facilities, which were once full of white people, are now essentially full of people of color. My new job requires me to do home visits to my clients, many of whom live in the projects in The Bronx- part of New York City Housing Authority or as we call it for short NYCHA. Many of these buildings are not well maintained and are unsafe. It also takes SO LONG to be approved for NYCHA housing, people wait YEARS for apartments to become available.
Clearly, housing segregation is still happening and it probably will continue to happen for quite some time. In my opinion, this country is currently going backwards in any progress that has been made over the last few years so I'm not feeling optimistic about this whole situation. However, I do believe that spreading the word about the "forgotten history" of governmental segregation is really important. If you're not going to read the book, which I TOTALLY understand if you don't, it's quite long and very detailed, I would recommend that you listen to this NPR interview (or this one!) with Richard Rothstein. They're both really interesting and Rothstein is so knowledgeable on this topic.
Stay tuned for next month's read!