Some history I wasn’t taught in school…
Again, if you are white, don’t get defensive about this. Just learn and be honest, and let that honesty shape your perspective on how and why things are. I’m not calling you racist (please read my “How To Talk About Racism” post), I’m asking that you see the systemic racism that still exists in the country we live in. Let’s start with the history:
Redlining – Redlining refers to marking on a map in red the area of a city that a bank would not invest in (see 1936 map of Philadelphia at right). Mortgages and loans were not given to people living in these areas. These areas were the inner parts of the cities where blacks lived. If you were in a redlined area, you were stuck in a redlined area. This was all legal. You could also, by law, be denied healthcare and insurance if you lived in these areas.
You may be wondering how blacks got concentrated into the inner cities of America in the first place…Because of WWI, foreign immigration slowed, but the demand for labor increased. Because of the opportunity for this labor, for the first time in history large numbers of blacks were now moving from the rural South to urban cities. This created shock and conflict for whites there, so the first black urban ghettos were formed.
Blockbusting and Steering – White Realtors and landlords would steer white people away from black neighborhoods and black people away from white neighborhoods. Why? Because if a black person moved into a white neighborhood, all of the white people on the block would move away, causing property values to go down. So to keep white property values up, they had to keep black people out (see redlining, above). If a black family did manage to move in to a white neighborhood, the Realtor would convince the white residents to move out and would pay them cash for their houses, at a very cheap rate. They would then sell the same house at a higher price to a black family with the Realtor pocketing the profit. This is called blockbusting.
The G.I. Bill of 1944 – The post World War II G.I. Bill was meant to give veterans benefits upon returning from the war. Benefits included low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, high school or vocational education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. The problem was that the G.I. Bill came out at the height of redlining laws. What good was a low-cost mortgage or low-interest loan to a black person if no banks would give them a mortgage or a loan? What good was money to attend college when the vast majority of universities wouldn’t accept black students? What ended up happening is that the white veterans were able to firmly establish themselves in the suburbs, a.k.a. “The American Dream”, giving further social advantage to whites that blacks were deprived of (as well as further segregating our society).
These practices were not deemed illegal until The Fair Housing Act of 1968, and banks were not held accountable about such things until the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975. This was not that long ago! This was 5 years after the Beatles broke up, and 2 years before the first Star Wars movie was released, things just outside of my 30-year-old lifetime, but definitely in the thick of my parents’ and recent pop culture events that shaped my childhood memories, as well as a large chunk of my current iTunes selection.
One of the many problems associated with these discriminatory laws is that if you are depriving someone of home, land, and business ownership, you are depriving them of the ability to build wealth for your family. If you don’t own these things, you can’t pass them along to your children. And if you don’t have a home mortgage, you can’t take a second mortgage out in order to send your children to college. It’s only logical and factual to see the extreme disadvantage these laws put blacks at in comparison to whites, and the massive “head start” many whites received (and receive) that many blacks did not (and do not).
Further problems that came from these discriminatory laws are the decay of urban schools and urban jobs.
The way our suburbs and inner cities were constructed leads into many other facets of America’s systemic racism, which I will save for other posts, but they are simple cause-and-effects of this very recent history.
Why does the Church in 2013, specifically white Christians, need to care about this? 1. Because this is unjust and the Bible repeatedly and very clearly tells us to stop injustice, 2. It is on our soil, 3. It was on our watch or our parents’ watch, 4. the white Evangelical church historically did very little to help with or stand for racial equality, 6. It has created an existing system that our black brothers and sisters have to continue to fight against, and 6. the thing we least want to admit: we have benefited from it! And with all these things, we need to realize that the Church is uniquely positioned to bring justice and reconciliation to the unjust sins of our society’s past.
If you are white like I am, just be a learner. Please resist knee jerk responses. Resist saying things like, “Well what am I supposed to do, sell my house and tell my parents to sell theirs, and give the money to a black person?” These types of evasive, shut-down responses will be a temptation to many whites as we discuss the racist systems we live in. Rather than deny the conversation, learn from it. Realize this stuff wasn’t taught to us in school, and it should have been! Don’t bury history, especially a history that has been so hurtful to so many, and a history we are called as Christ-followers to bring reconciliation to.
And learn not only from history itself, but from the experiences of our brothers and sisters of color, both blacks and other minorities who have grown up with very unique challenges we have not had to face. Don’t deny or bury their experiences, but learn from them.
This is the first step to not making things worse, and then maybe, just maybe we can make them better.
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