“If you inquire into the history of the metropolitan area in which you live, you will probably find ample evidence of how the federal, state, and local governments unconstitutionally used housing policy to create or reinforce segregation in ways that still survive.” ― Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Segregation, even the group segregation we see in school-age-children, is a direct result of government planning, racist ideas, and capitalist interest. And while uncovering the truth is not a hard task, the policies and documents are available, recovering from centuries of segregation will take time, money, repentance, and direct action.
The United States government is directly to blame for past and present racial segregation. Post-reconstruction, the policies and practices of the federal government have supported the separation of black and white citizens. “Practices such as redlining, restrictive covenants, and discrimination in the rental and sale of housing not only led to residential segregation by race but also continue to shape Whiteness and frame narratives about what constitutes Blackness.” These practices do not accuse but outright convict the US government of creating a racially stratified society in lieu of its promise of democracy and free-market capitalism. The actions of which have led to generational poverty for some and wealth for others. Furthermore, such actions have negatively impacted the “educational opportunities and life outcomes” of people of color.
No group aware of such consequences, would intentionally separate itself from the very lifeline of freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. The government’s segregation policies did more than just keep the status quo; it created an even wider chasm between the two races. “The isolation of communities of color from members of the dominant group often means that communities of color [were] subject to more environmental hazards, aggressive policing tactics, under resourced schools, greater stressors that lead to lower life expectancies, as well as the exacerbation of existing chronic health issues, limited life chances and opportunities, and ultimately even greater premature death, relative to Whites.” Hence, while self-segregation was the narrative of myth the government used to enact its policies, federal segregation was the arm that guided some away from the American dream and others closer to it.
To fully understand the ramifications of the US policies and laws, clarity between defacto and dejure segregation must take place within the American consciousness. Black Americans did not practice tribalism, choosing to separate themselves from white society; white Americans did. In The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, author Richard Rothstein writes that it is, “A common explanation for de facto [natural] segregation is that most black families could not afford to live in predominantly white middle-class communities and still are unable to do so. African American isolation, the argument goes, reflects their low incomes, not de jure [legal] segregation.” However, de facto segregation is a lie, even in incidences where African Americans could afford homes, they were not allowed to purchase them due to racial contract clauses on housing deeds. Rothstein goes on to write, “But we cannot understand the income and wealth gap that persists between African Americans and whites without examining governmental policies that purposely kept black incomes low throughout most of the twentieth century. Once [the] government implemented these policies, economic differences became self-perpetuating.”
the government policies of the past continue to plague the future. Rothstein continues his argument by stating, “So an account of de jure residential segregation has to include not only how public policy geographically separated African Americans from whites but also how federal and state labor market policies, with undisguised racial intent, depressed African American wages”. Thus de facto arguments such as tribalism and wealth were and are still not valid in any discussion where the segregation seen today was a result of choice. One again, self-segregation among black and whites in the United States is a lie that allows the United States government not to repent and take responsibility for the psychological, economical, and physical depression of black people and other minority people.
Memphis, Tennessee breaks through the lie of self-segregation. The color lines are apparent in every road made wide and every valley laid low, especially in the area of housing. Seeing Red, A special report by High Grown News in 2019, expounded on how, in Memphis, “housing has been a tool to suppress Black wealth, not grow it.” Housing in Memphis, Tennessee remains deeply rooted in de jure segregation. In Memphis, “the poverty rate for Black Memphians is an estimated 24.5 percent compared to 8.1 for white Memphians. Despite an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 vacant houses in the city, Black homeownership dropped 18 percent from 2005 to 2017, putting Memphis in the top third of declining cities in the U.S.” As stated above, home ownership and generational wealth are tied together. However, the trend declines when government lending practices and bank-issued-mortgages terrorize rathan than assist one the basis of race. This practice of terror was known as redlining.
Redlining in Memphis created maps where “federal and local governments worked with banking and insurance industries to develop practices and policies that undermined Black wealth at the neighborhood level by gutting investments and concentrating poverty in redlined communities.” To be clear, this practice combined the racist sentiments of private institutions with the power and might of the United States government. The lie is that segregation happened naturally, the truth is that the U.S. government and those in power designed it as such. In the years to come, “Residents in “undesirable” neighborhoods like South and North Memphis saw home values plummet. Builders, developers, business owners and residents with means followed the money to greener neighborhoods. The exodus was used as further evidence redlined neighborhoods were dangerous for investment. It was the beginning of a 90 year cycle meant to maintain white wealth and social superiority.” This cycle created food deserts, opportunity gaps, and poverty maps which still align to past redlined communities. We can say that individuals have choices but what we also have to say is that for some, those choices have been taken away.
focused on education, economic, race, and class equity in the city. Memphis Area Legal Services provides civil legal representation to low income families facing mortgage foreclosure, eviction or homelessness. Agape Child and Family Services address the spiritual needs of Memphis families, in addition to their physical needs such as housing. There are many more truths being told in Memphis. Self-segregation may be the lie but questions we must all ask ourselves is, why did we need the lie in the first place.
Resources and Citations
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