Day 17 of White History Month: De Facto Residential Segregation
I live in a place called Alpine, New Jersey, I live in Alpine, New Jersey, right. My house cost millions of dollars. In my neighborhood, there are four black people - hundreds of houses, four black people. Who are these black people? Well, there’s me, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Eddie Murphy, only black people in the whole neighborhood. So let’s break it down, let’s break it down.Me, I’m a decent comedian, I’m all right. Mary J. Blige, Mary J. Blige one of the greatest R&B singers to ever walk the earth. Jay-Z one of the greatest rappers to ever live. Eddie Murphy one of the funniest actors to ever, ever do it. Do you know what the white man that lives next door to me does for a living? He’s a (beep) dentist. He ain’t the best dentist in the world. He ain’t going to the Dental Hall of Fame. He don’t get plaques for getting rid of plaque. He’s just a yank-your-tooth-out dentist. See, the black man got to fly to get something the white man could walk to. - Chris Rock
Most Americans are aware of segregation that was legally enforced during the time of Jim Crow laws, yet they remain unaware of modern-day residential segregation.
While no longer legally enforced, residential segregation persists due to policies of the past, institutional discrimination, and the prejudice of individual white people. White Americans may believe that segregation is over, but neglect to notice that they probably do not have Black friends, Black neighbors, or Black coworkers. They probably did not have very many Black classmates, but may attribute this to coincidence or the personal failings of individual Black people. White preferences, white violence, and institutional discrimination have led to residential segregation, which continues today between Black Americans and other groups.
While the South was legally segregated due to Jim Crow laws, this was not the case in the North. Northern cities were not segregated even when there were ethnic enclaves and ghettos. There were neighborhoods where some Black people live, but they were not composed mostly of Black people, and most Black people did not live in those neighborhoods. In the 19th century, Black people were overrepresented in poor areas but lived in circumstances similar to poor whites and European immigrants. Black and white people in the North lived among each other, went to church together, worked together. There was a clear Black upper and middle class.
Formation of the Ghetto
Everything changed around the turn of the century. As Black Southerners began to move to Northern cities, and as European immigrants arrived, problems started. Race riots, violence, and intimidation (with Black people as the targets on the East Coast and Asian Americans on the West Coast) were commonly used by white Americans to force people of color out of their neighborhoods or to keep their neighborhoods white. White Americans used violence and intimidation to confine Black Americans to certain areas. White Americans even threatened and used violence against upper class and middle class Black people - this was not at all an issue of class. Black Americans were safer in areas where they were concentrated, but this was not a voluntary decision. White preferences irrationally led to violence that kept Black Americans out of neighborhoods - threatening letters, gunshots, rocks being thrown, crosses being burned, houses and offices being burned, and more.
White home owners began to form neighborhood “improvement associations” in order to prevent Black people from entering their neighborhoods. These associations would also collect funds to purchase houses from Black home owners (such as in A Raisin in the Sun). The active creation of the ghetto led to the disappearance of the Black elite. Hypersegregation was harmful and concentrated poverty in Black areas. Additionally, in hard times, communities and neighborhoods can often benefit from having middle class neighborhoods, but Black Americans had and have no such benefit.
No other group has been hypersegregated to the extent of Black Americans. Even Hispanic Americans are not segregated to the same extent as Black people, despite similar poverty and socioeconomic status shared by the two groups.
Restrictive covenants did not exist before the turn of the century. By 1910, they were very commonly established by real estate boards. White home owners and real estate associations continued to use them to keep Black Americans out until they were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1948 (Shelley v. Kraemer).
The suburbanization of America is largely a result of HOLC (Home Owners Loan Corporation), FHA, and VA loans. White couples started having families and left inner cities which made home prices drop. In 1940, only one-third of residents in metro areas lived in suburban areas, but by 1970, the majority of those in metro areas lived in the suburbs. Now, instead of relying solely on intimidation and violence against Black people to keep them out or force them out, white legislators and planners forced Black Americans into the ghetto, while white home buyers moved to the suburbs. By 1960, 90% of all neighborhoods where Black people lived were either all Black or close to it. Redlining contributed to white flight by devaluing the inner city and investing in white suburbs.
Redlining and Loan Denial
HOLC granted low-interest loans to home owners who had their homes foreclosed during the depression. During this time, HOLC started the process of redlining through its risk evaluation system. The areas that were considered the highest risk and lowest quality were coded with the color red. Racially mixed neighborhoods were believed to be unstable and thus coded as red. This was due to racial violence which ironically was initiated by white people. Black neighborhoods were always red. Even neighborhoods with small percentages of Black people were considered at risk and thus coded red.
The HOLC coding in itself was problematic, but it was downright devastating due to the fact that HOLC’s system was also used by the FHA, VA, and private banks to determine worthiness for loans. The FHA and VA accounted for one-third of mortgages after World War II. FHA loans were mostly distributed to suburban home buyers, and particularly to white home buyers. Black home buyers received only 3% of home loans underwritten by the FHA and VA in 1960. A study by Kenneth Jackson showed that 5 times the number of loans went to St. Louis County than the city it surrounded (St. Louis).
As early as 1950s, Helper (Racial Policies and Practices of Real Estate Brokers) showed that banks were reluctant to give loans to Black Americans. Sixty two percent of realtors in her study felt that few or very few banks would loan money to Black Americans, and 50% said that banks would not loan money to people in areas were there were Black people, where Black people had increased in number, or where there was the possibility Black people would move in. In recent years, there were many studies that proved that loan rejection rates could not be explained by income alone.
Realtors Still Discriminate (Even If It’s Illegal)
Although realtors can no longer bar Black people from seeing homes, they still discriminate against them and enforce white preferences. Black people may be told a house or apartment was just sold or rented. They may be told that only the advertised unit is available and shown no others. The neighborhood is less likely to be spoken off in positive terms with Black home buyers, but is likely to be spoken highly of to white home buyers. Realtors may attempt to steer Black home buyers toward areas that are poorer and with high concentrations of Black residents.
Realtors may say that they are busy, may take phone numbers and never make contact. Black people are more likely to be told a higher advertised price than white people, and may be shown units but receive no help with financing. Most of all, realtors may just treat Black home buyers rudely in hope that they will leave.
While this experience is known to Black people, housing audits confirm this. From the 1960s to the present, these patterns have been found. A 1987 study showed that Black people have a 20% chance of experiencing discrimination in home sales, and a 50% chance of experience discrimination in rental markets.
White Preferences Continue
White people value the absence of Black people over low crime and the presence of good schools and home values. When a neighborhood reaches a composition that is 65% Black, virtually no white people are willing to move in. Even when the schools are wonderful, crime is low, and home values are high, white people simply do not want to live among Black people. This does not reflect Black preferences, either. Black people would actually prefer a 50/50 mixture of white and Black in their ideal neighborhood, more often than not. This is not simply wanting to stay among their own group, as no other group has this preference. White people also do not avoid neighborhoods as the percentage of Asian and Hispanic home owners increases.
White people stay away from Black areas and even away from neighborhoods near Black areas. In surveys over the past 3 decades, a large percentage of white people think that Black people are less likely to take care of their homes and yards, are prone to violence, are likely to cheat and steal, are immoral, and are loud.
De facto segregation is a major factor in why white people simply don’t have Black friends, Black neighbors, or Black classmates. Until white people go to college, they are unlikely to encounter Black people in their neighborhoods, schools, or social circles. It is partially a result of past legal segregation, but in reality, de facto segregation - racial covenants, redlining, loan denial, and white violence and intimidation have led to residential segregation. White preferences have controlled (and often still control) the housing opportunities and life chances of Black Americans due to their own anti-Black racism.