When someone in the United States brings up the idea of reparations, there are immediately strong opinions thrown about. “Why should we have to pay for something we didn’t do?” is heard from white people, alongside “You weren’t a slave, so why should you get anything from it?” What these arguments fail to realize or steadfastly ignore are the foundational inequalities still pervasive in the country to this day that put people of color at an unfair disadvantage, and how white people have directly benefitted from that disadvantage.
One of these disadvantages comes from the continued housing segregation that exists around the country. With the abolishment of slavery and the hope for better opportunities in America’s cities, many Black people ventured north into places like Chicago. Since there were no laws against housing discrimination of any kind, these people were forced to live in the oldest and poorest-condition areas of the city, as wealthier areas refused to sell to Black people. So Black people and other minorities were sequestered into their own areas of the city, and often overcharged for subpar and downright hazardous homes.
Then, in the 1930s, the federal government had many cities in the United States evaluated based on the level of security for investors. The best areas for investing were marked in blue and primarily consisted of housing in suburbs, and the areas deemed the worst for investing were marked with red. This practice, now commonly referred to as redlining, led to many sections of cities, primarily those with minorities and people of color, to be labeled dangerous for investments and loans. Areas that had Black people nearby or that Black people moved into were described as contaminated and treated with lower designations in the charts as well.
Because they were labeled as risky to give loans to, most banks wouldn’t provide loans to help Black people get better housing or achieve home ownership, or if they did, they only offered loans with high interest rates and predatory practices tied to them, causing many to lose what little they had to begin with.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made it illegal to discriminate against people in the housing industry, but by then it was too late. A pattern had already been created, and de facto segregation was put into place. Flashing forward to now, areas redlined by the federal government in the ’30s still face economic problems alongside a predominantly minority population. This is where reparations can make amends. Evanston’s recent reparations resolution is an attempt to bridge the gap in homeownership and wealth between white and minority Americans caused by practices like redlining.
But Evanston shouldn’t be standing alone. Reparations, at the very least in the form of housing reform, is something that should be taken up on a national scale. Monetary incentives to help move Black people, other minorities and the poor into better housing that they can afford and tax incentives for companies to invest in areas devoid of certain resources would be a great start to eroding some of the systemic inequality that is pervasive in this country.
April is national Fair Housing Month, celebrating the 1968 act. To celebrate, look at your area or the areas near you on a redlining map and see the mark left behind by racist housing practices. Then reach out to your local, state and national representatives to make moves for change, by instating resolutions like the one in Evanston or supporting bill H.R. 40 to start making reparations — and more importantly, to start healing the soul of America.
April 7, 2021 at 10:34AM