Racial Justice Series: Week 4 Summary

–By Rev. Deacon Shancia Jarrett.
Many Americans assume that racial segregation was a political and socio-economic device of the South. However, many scholars contend that segregation was deeply rooted within the politics and socio-economic practices of the liberal North through legalized (de jure) policies of redlining and predatory lending. Last week’s session on The Politics and Socio-Economics of Racism explored the discriminatory policies which led to the segregation of northern urban cities. This session staunchly challenged assumptions of racial equity in the North by visiting accounts of racism within real estate markets and homeownership lending policies. The session drew on the historical and legal scholarship of Richard Rothstein, advocates of the Mapping Prejudice group, and Jonathan Kozol to demonstrate how the American government intentionally segregated urban communities through predatory lending practices and land use regulations.

Our first featured video, The Forgotten History of How the Government Segregated America, discussed how the federal government has historically protected the housing and homeownership rights of Whites and ensured their access to safe communities and affordable housing while disenfranchising Blacks’ efforts to achieve homeownership. Legal scholar and sociologist Richard Rothstein reasoned that federal, state, and local governments endorsed exclusionary deeds that restricted Blacks and people of color from moving into White communities from the 1930s to the 1980s. According to Rothstein, such policies directly violated Fair Housing laws and the Fifth Amendment (the Constitutional right to property). As a result, the government redlined communities populated by Blacks as the worst places to live and discouraged lending within redlined communities. These widespread violations of housing rights and laws resulted in the lack of housing resources (federal funding) and in a decrease in lender willingness to grant mortgages within communities populated by Blacks. Our second film, Jim Crow of the North, did an excellent job of illustrating segregation in the North. There are no words to describe the richness of this film. If you have not seen it, I invite you to watch it.

            To explore the claims of Rothstein and the advocates of Mapping Prejudice, we reviewed New Haven’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation Map from 1937 (pictured here). (See if you can find what grade your current neighborhood received in 1937!)

Numerous participants shared thoughtful and critical reflections of their understanding of housing in New Haven and of the differences between homeownership and tenant-occupancy rates. We discovered that neighborhoods such as the Newhallville and Fair Haven were redlined as hazardous and currently remain distressed communities with low homeownership rates. This suggests that residents of these communities continue to endure the disparate impact of historical housing prejudice. Secondly, we also noticed that the neighborhoods of Prospect Hill, Whitneyville, and East Rock were highlighted green as the “best,” neighborhoods for homeownership initiatives and lending policies. Therefore, banks were quite eager to grant loans in areas highlighted green. According to scholars and the Federal Housing Administration from the 1930s to the late 1970s, only White communities with exclusionary deeds received a green status. This reality made it difficult if not impossible for Blacks to integrate into the better neighborhoods of New Haven.

Nationally, numerous African American families attempted to challenge redlining by moving into White communities, but they were faced with the brutalities of violent protest, lynching threats, and KKK marches. For example, during the 1970s, the Spencer family of Rosedale, New York were victims of violence and housing discrimination. After relocating from London, the Spencer’s homes were bombed twice: first by their White neighbors and then by the KKK. According to journalists and legal advocates, New York’s district attorney and police departments did not conduct investigations against the accused bombers. We watched jarring footage of a report on a protest by White Rosedale residents who encountered an unsuspecting group of Black children on their path.

Due to these alarming and overtly racist policies, Black communities have historically experienced the disparate impact of housing discrimination. Contemporary scholars and advocates are faced with the challenges of knowing what to do. As Christians, we can-

  • Pray for and with communities who experience housing discrimination.
  • Educate ourselves on racism and housing discrimination within our communities.
  • Look into the difference in homeownership and the economics of racial groups within our state and local communities. This can be as simple as a driving through town or doing a Google search.
  • (For landlords and homeowners): commit NOT to discriminate against renters of color.
  • Become aware of housing initiatives within our community. For example, New Haven has St. Luke’s Development Corporation, an Episcopal housing ministry, and the CONECT, a coalition of religious leaders who lobby the state and local government for housing justice.
  • Determine NOT to be afraid to bear witness to the Gospel’s mission of healing and hospitality for all.

Lastly, I leave you with the brief but inspirational testimony of Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities. His words shed light on why so many have devoted their lives and their scholarship to fighting for racial justice.

“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Rev. Deacon Shancia Jarrett

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