January 20th, 2013
Evolution and Expression of Racism
Prof. Joseph Schloss
Thomas Shapiro, in his book entitled The Hidden Cost of Being African American, reveals to the public why African Americans can be so disconnected from the economic mainstream in America during our time as a supposed “post-racial” society. Some proportioners of the post-racial ideology claim that since we have an African American president, and blatant racism has been made illegal it is clear that we as a country are devoid of racial prejudice. However, this is simply not true. Thomas Shapiro points out that there is a 20 to 1 wealth divide between African American families and white families? Also, African Americans face higher joblessness, poverty, incarceration than white people. Mr. Shapiro's explanation for this phenomenon is that African Americans inherit less from their parents due to the oppression their ancestors were subject to. Their lack of transformative assets, assets that are passed down from generation to generation are a direct result of our racially segregated housing markets. Thomas Shapiro believes unless housing policies change these inequities will never change and he proves his point not only with staggering statistical analysis that can't be argued with, but also with specific family case studies that tell the stories behind the numbers.
Although income levels are not much different between African Americans and whites, wealth levels are far from equal as I've mentioned before. Income is for paying expenses and doing day to day activities. Wealth on the other hand is accumulated and passed down. Wealth is something that can be dipped into it in case of emergencies or when an opportunity presents itself. The fact is that wealth begins at home. Homeowners have the luxury of taking out a home equity loan if they ever need to. To pay for their childrens school, or to use during a crisis. The reason African Americans are worse off today is due to the discrimination their family members endured that denied them equal housing which in turn denied them opportunities to get ahead. Due to the difference in wealth African Americans are more susceptible to shock and are be unable to capitalize on certain opportunities making the next generation inherit less to. The cycle continues, and at it's core is the racially segregated neighborhoods most of us call home.
African American homes do not grown as fast in value as white homes do. This is because people looking for a home generally look for amenities that would be found in white neighborhoods such as, parks, good schools, and nice views. This in turn raises the cost of living in those neighborhoods which means higher taxes which translates into better amenities. So the neighborhood just keeps getting better and more expensive. What's disturbing is that although most whites would consider themselves okay with a black family moving in next door, less and less whites would be okay when more than one black family moves into the neighborhood. Not because they are racist, but because they do not want their home value to go down. So what do they do? They sell. Which leads their other white neighbors to get scared about the value of their own home, so they sell as well. Before you know it “white flight” occurs and property values are half as much as they used to be. That's the hidden cost of being African American, and thats what Thomas Shapiro believes is the reason for these disparities. No matter what African Americans do their homes are not worth as much, and homeownership is the key to wealth.
Most whites feel no guilt for the hidden cost they've imposed on African Americans. They also fail to acknowledge the disparities between the races. People who've inherited thousands of dollars from their parents and whose parents payed for their school believe that there are self reliant and that anyone, if they work hard enough, could be in the same position. But that is simply not true. One story Thomas talks about that really shed some light on this issue for me was when an upper middle class woman didn’t concern herself with the local public school because she would never send her children there. These are just more obstacles we must face in order to close the gap on racial inequality. Although Thomas Shapiro might seem extreme to some, most will agree something should be done.
The first thing that must be done that Thomas Shapiro has done in many of his works is to bring these issues and disparities to light so Whites cannot hide from the truth and feel good about themselves. The truth is I used to be one of the ignorant Whites that figured that everyone has an equal shot. But the fact that so many white families not only do nothing to help solve these disparities (that would be too much to ask) but decide to ignore them and are blind to whats going on is a very serious issue. The issue wont solve itself, it hasn't for over 50 years. The existence of isolated and racially segregated housing has preserved racism, and unfortunately that racially segregated housing is very resistant to change. These unfortunate truths help further ignorant stereotypes that inhibit our society from attaining true racial equality. But the fact is that the emergence of the black “ghetto” did not happen by chance. It came from deliberate housing policies and projects that were designed to enforce legal racial segregation.
As a result, it is clear that this has had a lasting impact on American as a whole, and is at the core of the problem with the wealth disparities between African Americans and whites. Deliberate government policies helped create racial segregation. Therefore, policy makers should work towards dismantling the still existing housing segregation through a policy of integration. The fact that before the civil war, African americans and whites lived side by side in the same community, and now over a hundred years later we do not, is staggering. The problem with the integration policies is that even though most whites would support them, they are met with resistance due to the “Not in my backyard” syndrome. The struggle continues. The problems caused by residential racial segregation, and the benefits achieved by integration reinforce our duty to implement and enforce a practical and successful integrationist policy that will finally abolish racial segregation in the USA and allow for truly equal opportunity for every race.