Living in a Bubble: White Neighborhoods, White Schools, White Thinking
The French sociologist Emile Durkheim claims that, “We are born into a society that defines us”. Guest speaker Dr. Lisa Nunn quotes Durkheim to make an assertion on the state of systemic racism in the United States today. Modern society is a result of the combination of previous events, cultures, and actions of a preexisting population. Consequently, those that are born today may be subject to poor economic conditions and environmental factors out of their control. For instance, although the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950-60s granted social justice and equality for African Americans, the African American community continues to suffer from the lingering effects of racism and segregation to this day.
Firstly, Dr. Nunn makes an observation on the stark contrast of socioeconomic status between predominantly white neighborhoods and neighborhoods with significantly higher population densities of African Americans. In contrast with black communities, white neighborhoods tend to have better funding for infrastructure: public facilities, parks, roads, etc. Additionally, Caucasians have significantly higher income, continue to pursue more years in education, hold higher value assets, and live with higher life expectancies. As a result, according to the Brookings report of March 2020, “Even as metropolitan areas diversify, White Americans still live in mostly white neighborhoods”. In spite of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting racial segregation, communities continue to remain divided due to socioeconomic factors out of one’s control. With this in mind, it can be said that the members of the black community begin life with unfair disadvantages compared to their white counterparts. Once again this illustrates how the past affects the present, thus, raising the question of how to tackle such deeply ingrained issues.
In addition to uncontrollable circumstances, there are other preventable and more apparent factors that play a role in the segregation of black communities. Research shows that the black community are often subject to racial profiling and redlining, both of which play a significant role in preventing African Americans from improving their socioeconomic status. Racial profiling is defined as the practice of targeting individuals based on race in the belief that some minority groups are more likely to committ a crime. For example, a study conducted in 2007 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be searched, arrested, and threatened by force. Additionally, in a study in Maryland from 1995 to 1997, despite African American composing 17.5% of motorists on state highways, 72% of the motorists were pulled over by the Maryland State Police. These unreasonable numbers suggest suspicions of whether the police officers had probable cause in the arrests, whether skin color played a role, and raises questions of whether racial profiling is an unreliable, biased, and unfair crime fighting strategy. Not only is racial profiling counter productive, but it leads to an ugly perception of the police and a hit in the trustworthiness of the justice system.
As a matter of fact, racial profiling dates back all the way to 18th century Charleston, South Carolina, where slave patrols were created in response to Nat Turner’s Revolt. During this time, white slave owners “used repressive slave codes, vigilant slave patrols, brutal punishments, and the threat of sale” (Ch 5: Black Life in the Slave South – Everyday Resistance to Slavery, ebook). Both the modern police force and the slave patrols are alike in the manner in which they discriminate against the black community; some people share the opinion that the continuance of chasing down and arresting black people may be a method of intimidation and serves to “keep black [people] in their place, protecting the interest and social privilege of white people” which is still evident today. Astoundingly, such inhumane practices continue to persevere in today’s society despite the passing of several centuries. Again, this emphasizes Dr. Nunn’s assertion that traditions and ideas from the past persists today, raising the question of why they continue to exist despite new legislation and ongoing protests for equal treatment.
Another area in which the black community suffer discrimination is that of financial services; financial institutions employ various methods such as redlining/steering and subprime loans to take advantage of African Americans and other low income minorities. These methods can almost certainly be described as predatory for the following reasons: high penalties, increasing fees, high interest rates, etc. Within a few years, the borrower will be unable to pay a portion of the interest, much less the actual loan, and banking corporations were fully aware that the other party wouldn’t be able to pay the loan. “When the Federal Reserve Board analyzed pricing data … researchers found that in 2006, 53.7% of blacks, 46.6% of Hispanics, and 17.7% of whites received high-priced loans” (Squires, Gregory D. Urban Development and Unequal Access to Housing Finance Services). Inevitably, this would lead to defaults and foreclosures, loss of life savings and homes, and homelessness. As a result, there is an influx of homeless families which facilitates the growth of ghettos and barrios in metropolitan areas which causes several issues such as: political instability, lack of social development and economic growth, high levels of concentrated poverty, increasing costs for public services which increases taxes, and this increase in tax deters middle class families from moving in with much needed resources. In essence, the upper class, consisting primarily of White Americans, take advantage of African American families with low incomes and other minorities to solidify racial segregation and wealth gaps between ethnic groups.
To summarize, although not immediately visible from the surface, African Americans across the United States continue to suffer from discrimination and denial of equal rights comparative to the period of slavery. These acts of systemic racism include socioeconomic disadvantages, unreasonable treatment from the police force, and classism from financial institutions. A recurring question throughout this essay is what can be done to address these issues. Firstly, members of law enforcement must be diversified to include perspectives from all races and to prevent prejudice against a certain minority. Secondly, legislation concerning redlining already exists and for this reason, rather than new policies, financial institutions need better enforcement of existing laws. For example, the CRA, a federal ban on redlining that requires mortgage lenders to ascertain and be responsive to the credit needs of their entire service areas, including low- and moderate-income communities, needs to be strengthened to catch those that engage in predatory financial practices. Furthermore, to address subprime lending, the government should enforce laws to place responsibilities on lenders that require them to recommend loan products that are most appropriate for borrowers given their financial situation, which would reduce defaults and foreclosure. Federal subsidies for homeownership (e.g., income tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes paid) should also be taken into consideration for segregated communities. Overall, the Baked In Series and the assignment as a whole was an eye-opening experience for me. The event’s name, “Living in a Bubble” is appropriate to my current situation of being unaware of the persevering effects of systemic racism. Hopefully, pessimistic historians are wrong in concluding that this circumstance will never be resolved.
Nunn, Lisa. Baked In: Systemic Racism Around and Within Us Series. Living in a Bubble: White Neighborhoods, White Schools, White Thinking. School of Law – University of San Diego, 3 Mar. 2021, www.sandiego.edu/events/law/detail.php?_focus=79255.
National Research Council (US) Panel on Race, Ethnicity, and Health in Later Life; Anderson NB, Bulatao RA, Cohen B, editors. Critical Perspectives on Racial and Ethnic Differences in Health in Late Life. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 9, Race/Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, and Health. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK25526/
Jones, Derrick Paul. The Policing Strategy of Racial Profiling and its Impact on African Americans. 2017. Walden University, PhD dissertation.
Squires, Gregory D. Urban Development and Unequal Access to Housing Finance Services. 2008. George Washington University. PhD dissertation.
Squires, Gregory D. Racial Profiling, Insurance Style: Insurance Redlining and the Uneven Development of Metropolitan Areas. 2003. George Washington University. PhD dissertation.
“Chapter 4: Slavery and Freedom in the New Republic, 1775-1820.” Freedom on My Mind, by Deborah Gray White et al., 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017, ebook.
“Chapter 5: Black Life in the Slave South, 1820-1860.” Freedom on My Mind, by Deborah Gray White et al., 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017, ebook.