Anger at Black Lives Matter protests misunderstood
To the Editor:
The anger and rage being shown at BLM protests across the country is difficult to understand without knowing the history that is not taught in our schools. Without knowledge of this untaught history, we can’t understand what is meant by claims of “systemic” and “structural” racism. But our public records show how our government has treated racism.
Richard Rothstein is one of several scholars that have recently brought attention to parts of our untaught history. In his book, “The Color of Law,” Rothstein describes the Federal Government’s key contributions to encouraging a racial system through Federally funded housing that was designated for whites only or for blacks only, with fines and imprisonment for violators. Racially-based laws and rules in the first half of the 20th century established housing and job patterns that persist today, particularly in our cities. Since blacks were largely excluded by law from purchasing homes in the suburbs when many industries moved out of the cities in the ’50s and ’60s, the job opportunities for blacks were limited by the lack of housing near jobs. Local tax support for public schools and quality of education dropped as black neighborhoods became poorer, which made escape from black housing projects difficult. Over time, this entrapment led to despair, drug use, and crime.
The Federal Government’s key role began with the construction of public housing during housing shortages in the 1930s and ’40s. These projects were for middle-class families, not low income. Housing shortages were due to the rapid development of industries in cities. For example, to support the rapid building of ships for our Navy during WWII, the population of Richmond, CA, a ship-building town, swelled from 24,000 to more than 100,000 in just five years. Government funding was the only way to build so much, so fast. But the only way to get Congressional passage of funding for these projects was to include the requirement that housing be racially segregated. Prior to public housing, many of the working-class neighborhoods in cities, particularly outside the South, had been racially mixed. That changed with public housing.
In the 1950s, as highways developed and industries moved out of cities for more land, construction of suburban housing was needed, but the financing industry was not willing to provide so many loans without government-backed loans to assure repayment. The Congressional legislation to approve FHA loan insurance included the explicit condition that the housing was for whites only, and restrictions attached to the deeds for these homes stated that they could not be sold or rented to blacks. This had the effect of trapping many blacks in cities with dwindling jobs and poorer school systems.
Racial restrictions were removed from FHA-insured loans in 1968. But decades of racial assumptions in the white suburbs made moving to these neighborhoods difficult for blacks, in addition to subtle forms of lending discrimination that have continued into the 21st Century (as shown by multiple studies).
Is it any wonder that today, the average income of blacks is only 60% of the average income of whites? Shouldn’t we all feel anger about this? Shouldn’t we all want to talk about solutions, if for no other reason than to prevent riots across the nation every few decades?