White Folks Facing Race: Housing is the Foundation for Everything
[This is part of my White Folks Facing Race series, originally written on July 10, 2020 to an email group created for community members in the Washington, DC area.]
I don’t know if it’s the oppressive heat and humidity July has produced, but I’m feeling tired this week, friends. It is so uplifting to me to see the resources you’re finding and hear your thoughts about what you’re reading and learning. Thank you for sharing your journey with me.
Also, a warning — waiting until Friday to send you an update means this one is extra long. Enjoy!
One of you gave me permission to share your thoughts after my update a couple of weeks ago. They said, “I would add hopelessness to the pitfalls of confronting racism and trying to figure out what to do about it. In my own case, as I reconnected with this struggle after many years of largely ignoring it I found myself falling into periods of hopelessness. After expressing this to friends and colleagues who are people of color and getting back the consistent message that one must always remain hopeful I reflected on what my feelings were about and discovered yet another layer of white privilege. As a white person my hopelessness was really a defensive mechanism to allow me to emotionally distance myself from the struggle and that is something I could only do because I am white. And sharing it with people of color was just a selfish act that caused them to spend energy to prop me up. There is so much to be hopeful about and most are in accounts of people of color enduring despite all the systemic and other barriers.”
One of our partners in this work, Whytni H. Kernodle, had her op-ed published in the Washington Post, “Arlington has to do more to improve the lives of its black children” (6/26/20)
Congratulations to Samia Byrd in her appointment as the Chief Race and Equity Officer for Arlington County! I am very excited to see her impact on the work the County is doing. It will also be interesting to see how she coordinates with Arron Gregory at APS, who holds a similar role.
A friend shared a museum created by one of his previous professors called the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which includes a resource list and educational/curriculum materials.
I wanted to share the National PTA’s Diversity & Inclusion Toolkit information again because I believe its guidance can be used in many kinds of organizations. PTAs are not known for their diversity or inclusion, and there are steps we should be taking to be more representative of our school communities and to be more aware of the barriers preventing marginalized groups from participating. Simply inviting more people to attend doesn’t make your organization more welcoming.
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I was lucky enough to manage to listen to the webinar hosted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition with Nikole Hannah-Jones on July 7. It wasn’t recorded, unfortunately, so I wanted to share some of my major takeaways paraphrased from what she said:
- Housing is the foundation of well-being and opportunity. There’s a reason real estate agents focus on location. People with choices will forego a larger/nicer house for the advantages of location. That’s because your neighborhood comes with opportunities, resources, schools, shopping, parks, etc. This is why segregated housing has such a big impact over so many aspects of people’s lives. Controlling where Black people could/can live controlled everything else about their lives.
- Housing is more segregated in northern states than southern because the South had Jim Crow laws to control its very large Black population, whereas the North had a much smaller Black population (before the Great Migration at the turn of the 20th century). This meant that the North worked to contain Black people, largely through housing rules, led by the federal government. These mechanisms of social control avoided explicit laws enforcing segregation like the South had. But that meant that when segregation was outlawed, the South was more integrated than the North because they had never segregated their housing.
- The federal government and local governments have generally never enforced the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which is why housing and school segregation persists. White northern liberals have been a huge part of the resistance to the lack of enforcement, which continues today in opposition to low income housing as a method of integration — the resistance is too great in areas where there is not currently mixed income level housing, so it ends up being increased in areas where it already exists, furthering the persistence of segregation. Redlining harmed everyone — white people with choices moved out of integrated neighborhoods because the redlining laws limited their options for growing their wealth through housing.
- A tension exists between low-income housing advocates and fair housing advocates. Low-income housing advocates focus on the short-term immediate needs of low-income people who need housing. Fair housing advocates focus on systemic segregation and put their resources towards a smaller number of housing units built and take the time to fight to get those units in areas that resist integration. We need both efforts, but I imagine that they are sometimes at odds with each other.
- Most white Americans are fine with about 10% of Black people in neighborhoods and schools. The tolerance for low-income Black people is even lower. Black people currently make up about 13% of the American population. In order for integration to happen, a large population of white people has to decide that the change is worthwhile and has to work to make this change happen.
- Housing is directly connected to the wealth gap (separate from the income gap) because housing is the biggest generator of modern wealth. Home values in white and Black areas of a community are artificially controlled. And a lack of wealth means that income loss is particularly devastating for people because there is no safety net for covering basic costs.
- This is where the call for reparations comes from. The federal government has a societal debt to Black people in this country because of its theft from generations of their ability to build wealth — funds should be transferred to those communities to rectify this. Reparations means repair. It doesn’t mean that every white person has to get out their checkbook or lose something they have. Her three priorities for reparations are: (1) targeted investment in Black communities and schools; (2) commitment to enforce existing civil rights laws (including the Fair Housing Act); and, (3) individual cash payments to replace the wealth that was stolen and to give people the freedom to choose how to spend the funds. Opposition from white people is what is standing in the way of making this happen.
- When the face of a crisis becomes Black, there is a loss of sympathy for those affected by the crisis. We saw this happen with the current pandemic as well.
- White Americans are very fickle about supporting change. There have historically been periods of retrenchment after racial progress, including the 2016 election. She appreciates that individuals are trying to help, but believes that lasting solutions have to happen through the federal government. HR40 is a bill for reparations that has been in committee for 30 years. Local/municipal laws can address some of these issues, like segregated housing. Her suggestion was to mandate an equitable % of housing choices throughout the county/municipality, connected to new housing construction having to build multiple income levels of housing (not just a community of single family homes).
ADDITIONAL HOUSING RESOURCES:
- Andrew Van Dam writes about how “Black families pay significantly higher property taxes than white families, new analysis shows” (Washington Post, 7/2/20)
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published “Worst Case Housing Needs: 2019 Report to Congress” (June 2020)
- Zach Tilly at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) writes “New analysis from CDF: Housing Is a Racial Justice Crisis: Solutions for Children and Families During COVID and Beyond” (6/17/20)
- Watch a recording of the June 29 “National Call on COVID-19 Homelessness and Housing” from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and read their statement supporting “Calls to Divest from Criminal Legal Systems, Invest in Black Communities” (7/6/20)
- Ailsa CHange and Jonaki Mehta talk about “Why U.S. Schools Are Still Segregated — And One Idea To Help Change That” (NPR, 7/7/20)
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- The Hechinger Report has a series called “Critical Condition: The Students the Pandemic Hit Hardest”
- Joe Heim writes about a “Nonprofit project offers cash lifeline to District’s poorest” (Washington Post, 7/7/20) — I’m working to learn more about a similar effort here in Arlington, at least in the coordination of nonprofit organizations, and maybe even moving forward with a model like this one!
- Until We Are All Free — Racial Justice Art & Story Sessions activity guide
- From a recent Black Lives Matter email blast:
— Support Black Owned — listings of black-owned businesses in the country, organized by state and searchable by type and zip code
— EatOkra app — listings of black-owned restaurants
— Caroline Bologna collected a list of “50 Amazing Books By Black Authors From The Past 5 Years” (HuffPost 2/21/19)
— Njera Perkins collected a list of “10 Black-Owned Online Bookstores to Support White at Home” (AfroTech, 4/7/20)
- Leslie Mac is offering Allies in Action Virtual Bootcamp starting July 28
- White Awake is offering an online course for white men beginning August 16
- Jeannie Oakes, Anna Maier, and Julia Daniel at the Learning Policy Institute share “In the Fallout of the Pandemic, Community Schools Show a Way Forward for Education” (7/7/20)
- Black Lives Matter at School has released a 2020 National Student Voter Toolkit, in collaboration with The Electoral Justice Project (EJP), which is also sponsoring The Breathe Act.
- The John Mitchell Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race has recorded videos from their Mondays in June series of conversations, and is a great resource.
Dig in and learn something new.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.