Joined: Oct 10 2010
Topic: The Ghetto is Public Policy
Posted: May 05 2013 at 12:13am
The Ghetto Is Public Policy
The wealth gap is not a mistake. It is the logical outcome of policy and democratic will.
spent the last week interviewing men and women, and the children of men
and women, who bought their homes on contract in Chicago during the
1950s. Contract buying sprang up in Chicago after the federal government
effectively refused to insure mortgages for the vast majority of black
homeowners, even as it was insuring the mortgages of white homeowners,
and encouraged banks to redline black and integrated neighborhoods. The
import of mid-20th century housing policy -- along with private actions
(riots, block-busting, contract lending, covenants) -- has been devastating for African Americans.
on contract meant that you made a down-payment to a speculator. The
speculator kept the deed and only turned it over to you after you'd paid
the full value of the house -- a value determined by the speculator. In
the meantime, you were responsible for monthly payments, keeping the
house up, and taking care of any problems springing from inspection. If
you missed one payment, the speculator could move to evict you and keep
all the payments you'd made. Building up equity was impossible, unless
-- through some Herculean effort -- you managed to pay off the entire
contract. Very few people did this. The system was set up to keep them
from doing it, and allow speculators to get rich through a cycle of
evicting and flipping.
I spent some time talking
to a 90-year-old man who'd come up from Mississippi. His family had been
reduced to sharecropping after the county government took their land.
"In Mississippi, there was no law," he told me. There was no law in
Chicago either. The gentleman purchased his home for $26,000. He later
found out that the deed-holder had purchased the same home -- only weeks
before -- for $9,000.
Above is a picture I
took of a chart showing how the scheme could work. The chart was
produced by activist lawyers in the late 60s trying to demonstrate the
effects of contract buying. There are four columns "Documented Price
Paid By Speculator," "Documented Price Change To Negro Buyer," "Markup,"
"Approximate Additional Interest," and "Total Additional Charges." In
that chart you can literally see black wealth leaving one neighborhood
and migrating to another. It was not just legal. It was the whole point.
Crow -- Northern or Southern -- is usually rendered to us as an archaic
system in which people irrationally decide to separate from each other
just based on skin color. There's a reason that so many of us remember
Martin Luther King's line about little white boys and little black boys
holding hands. It's comforting to us. Less comforting is that fact that
Jim Crow amounted to the legal pilfering of resources from the black
communities to advantage white people across generations. In
Mississippi, it meant the right to reduce someone to sharecropping, or
to benefit politically from their census numbers while not giving them
any representation, or to tax them for services they did not enjoy equal
access to. In Chicago, it meant the legalized theft of black wealth by
It is very hard to accept this
-- the wealth gap is not a mistake. It is the logical outcome of policy
and democratic will. From the streets of Cicero on up, the point was to
imprison black people in the black belt and then exploit them. The goal
was pursued through public policy, private action, and open terrorism
. The goal was accomplished.
Joined: Jun 05 2009
Posted: May 05 2013 at 12:17am
Joined: Aug 08 2010
Posted: May 05 2013 at 12:20am
Joined: Oct 10 2010
Posted: May 05 2013 at 12:28am
Goodness grief... this White man in the comments section is preaching
| BetweenTwoWorlds wrote:|
A) This isn't bashing. This is descriptive (h/t to Jamelle above)
B) My folks are from Eastern Europe and the upper Midwest. I've
traced my lineage back quite a few centuries. No one in my direct family
owned people. So I'm free of that sin. (I do have side-ancestors who
were slaveowners & who fought for the Confederacy. But distant
But the point isn't whether what my ancestors did directly afforded
me gain. It is that the behavior of the majority in the U.S. directly
affected millions of people by keeping them in substandard housing,
forcing them to pay much, much higher rates and amounts for that
housing, and then stealing their homes away before their contracts were
complete. (This is just one of the issues.)
People like me have lived in a wonderfully rich, free society because
people not like me--people who had dark skins--were not just kept from
being free like me, but had their income and their assets robbed to make
society in general richer and freer.
Satter's book is instructive. The people doing the speculating stole
money and other assets from hard-working middle-class blacks in order to
fund their upper-middle class white lifestyles. Those people directly
benefited, and the methodology used to keep black Americans in their
ghettos and substandard housing robbed generations of Americans from
their ability to get ahead and prepare a better life for their children.
Did you directly benefit? Maybe not. But you walked into a country
where you, by your fortunate skin, have access to nearly every benefit,
while those who are here without that one factor have not benefited.
Whether you feel bad or guilty about this isn't really relevant. It's
not about what you feel. It's not about you. It's about what actually
happened, and how you, and I, and tens of millions of other white
Americans have benefited from these circumstances.
It would be simply a start to admit this.
| BetweenTwoWorlds wrote:|
"Less comforting is that fact that Jim Crow amounted to the legal
pilfering of resources from the black communities to advantage white
people across generations."
This. This was the eye-opener for me. Not just poor people being poor
because of lack of resources. But poor because they were robbed, over
and over again.
And if you look at the figures--not just that there was robbery by not
allowing the completion of a contract, but that there was robbery of
grossly inflated prices, so that the most poor among us ended up paying
far more for housing.
| BetweenTwoWorlds wrote:|
They are not better off because
they were slaves here. Unknowable is how much better Africa might be if
they were left unmolested to live out their lives and build their own
communities, have their own schools, develop their own riches, raise
their own kids and teach them the sciences borrowed from other cultures
as surely as America has borrowed. (Recall how much of Africa's mineral
wealth has been exploited by Europeans and the United States with very
little of that wealth returning to Africa.) Or how much better
African-America chattel slaves and their descendents might be if they
had come here willingly with the freedom to acquire land, property,
families, and other assets with the same liberty as all other
Being brought here as slaves, having their labor stolen from them,
having their sweat equity turned into the riches of their owners and
their owners' society meant that they were left, after 400 years, with
nothing but the privilege of living here.
They are better off because America is, over all, a richer, more
prosperous, and safer place. But it is not in spite of their presence,
and their presence is arguably a large part of why America--or rather,
certain Americans--are more prosperous than others around the world.