Passing Down Trauma Through Generations

Home ownership: The American dream. Your grandparents owned a house, your parents owned a house, now you own a house. Through all those years you were able to live securely and build upon the equity in those homes for things like college and emergencies and travel, things that made you the solid middle-class citizen you are.

Unless you couldn’t: 

Levittown gave white families all the early draws, but so did most communities. All across America, exclusionary zoning kept blacks out of white neighborhoods, and where it didn’t, the white neighborhoods put restrictive covenants in the deeds to the same effect. Even in the absence of legal constraints, real estate brokers steered blacks into poorer neighborhoods. The National Association of Real Estate Boards explicitly instructed their members to keep blacks out of white neighborhoods.

And if they overcame all those obstacles and found a house they could actually buy, blacks found it nearly impossible to get the mortgage they needed to afford it. The FHA drew a red line around black neighborhoods to warn banks not to lend there. Their appraisal manualstold them to stay away from “inharmonious racial groups.” Out of 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. bill, less than 100 went to blacks.

There is so much smug shit that goes on when white commentators talk about black communities. You know, the “just move out of there” line, the “just sell some bling and buy a suburban house near good schools” conceit. Our Contrarian Columnists who are in no danger of missing a meal are sure it’s a lack of willpower that keeps black families living where they live: 

Recently Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass suggested suburban taxpayers would be the ones to foot the bill for a CPS bailout. His idea rests on the notion that if the State of Illinois bails out CPS, it will be on the backs of more affluent suburban homeowners. Kass wrote his soliloquy to suburban taxpayers: “You don’t need me to tell you how much they’ve sacrificed. You know what you’ve given up, or delayed – from that car you didn’t buy to the vacation you never took – to put that down payment together. You know how hard you looked to find the right schools, the research you did on test scores.”

Yeah! You worked hard, Googling those test scores! You deserve those good schools!

Bill McDonald demolishes that cluelessness with the force it deserves:

How do local policies further the divide? Kass seems to think that if poor families simply do their research and postpone a vacation, they could choose to live in the suburbs. Putting off a vacation – is that enough to move to a community where housing prices average $400,000? How often do wealthy suburbs demand developers add affordable housing? Rarely, if ever.

The inequity is compounded because, for most of the 20th century, minorities were not allowed to live in many communities due to redlining and other racist practices. Minorities were relegated to communities where poverty was concentrated, property values were minimized, and generational wealth was nearly impossible to develop.

It’s not like poor families are so dumb they choose not to live in wealthy suburbs. They don’t live there because they can’t afford to move to such fairy tale towns. If they’re black or brown, they only recently gained the right to move to many of these places.

And in many neighborhoods, they wind up with their windows broken, swastikas painted on their sidewalks, their kids spit on at school, in the 21st goddamn century. But hey, maybe they just lack the imagination to see if they wouldn’t go on that cruise this year, they could buy a whole corner lot with a foursquare on it!

Do middle-class families make sacrifices for their children’s education? Absolutely. But do those sacrifices come from a place of security already, wherein there’s a roof over their heads, nobody’s throwing bottles at their cars, and their grandparents enjoyed the same basic freedoms they do? Absolutely as well. So to pretend everybody started from the same place is at best dishonest, and at worse historically ignorant and deliberately stupid.


2 thoughts on “Passing Down Trauma Through Generations

  1. A stunning post and a strong reminder that inequity has always been part of the “American Dream.”

  2. Great post!

    Willful ignorance is almost always accompanied with amnesia of American history …past and present.

    white supremacist ideology is the source and foundation of American racism.

    It started with the Declaration of Independence, then The US Constitution, then the Bill of Rights, then Congressional representation (3/5 person rule), etc, etc ..

    white privilege is not an accident …but deliberate social engineering in the USA!

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