Reddit user asks someone to “change his view” that “Black people need to begin accepting their own responsibility for their problems, it is black criminality/culture that is causing the black community’s problems. NOT white racism.” User WiiBiiz has a great response:
“You can’t interpret the economic and social situation of the African American community in a vacuum without considering the broader history of racism in America. We know from centuries of research that the most important type of wealth is generational wealth, assets that can pass from one generation to another. You wouldn’t have the opportunities that you have today if your parents didn’t have the opportunities they had, and they in turn wouldn’t have had their success in life without the success of your grandparents, etc.
Considering that we know this, consider the economic plight of the average African American family in America. When slavery was abolished, there were no reparations. There was no forty acres and a mule. There was no education system that was both willing and able to accommodate African American children, to say nothing of illiterate adults. With the exception of a brief moment of Reconstruction, there was no significant force dedicated to upholding the safety and political rights of African Americans. Is it any wonder that sharecropping became such a ubiquitous system of labor? For many freed slaves, they quickly wound up working for their masters once again, with very little changes in their day to day lives. And through all of this, white America was profiting off of the work of black America, plundering their property and labor. When slavery was abolished, it was a more lucrative field than all of American manufacturing combined, including the new railroad. The American industrial revolution/rise of big business was already booming, but it was overshadowed by the obscene wealth of plantation slavery. By 1860, one in four Southern Americans owned a slave. Many southern states were majority black, up to 70% black in certain counties of my home state Virginia, the vast majority of them unfree laborers. Mississippi and South Carolina were both majority black. There’s a reason that the South was able to pay off its debts after the Revolution so quickly. When you consider just how essential black uncompensated labor was to this country, it’s no exaggeration to say that slaves built America.
From this moment onewards til about the 1960s, racism was the law of the land. Sharecropping was slavery by another name and “separate but equal” was an offense against human rights, and those two institutions alone created a massive opportunity gap that has continued repercussions in the today. But what very few people consider is the extent to which the American government empowered people to create or acquire wealth during this time, and the extent to which they denied black Americans the same chances. There was no “Homestead Act” for black people, for instance. When FDR signed the Social Security Act, he specifically endorsed a provision that denied SS benefits to laborers who worked “in the house or the field,” in so doing creating a social security net that the NAACP described as “a sieve with holes just big enough for the majority of Negroes to fall through.” Black families paid far more than their white counterparts trying to support past generations instead of investing in the future. During the Great Depression, elder poverty was above 50%. Consider on top of this how expensive it is to be poor, especially when you are black. If your son gets sick but you are white and can buy insurance, you will be set back the deductible and copay. If you are black and shut out of an insurance market, you may burn your life savings on care and still not find an good doctor willing to help a black patient. This idea that the poor and socially disadvantaged are more vulnerable is called exploitation theory, and it’s really important to understanding race in America.
Nowhere is exploitation theory more important than in housing. It’s obvious that desegregation was never a platform that this nation embraced wholeheartedly, but the extent that segregation was a manifestation of formal policy is something that often gets forgotten. The home is the most important piece of wealth in American history, and once you consider the home ownership prospects of African Americans you’ll instantly understand how vital and essential the past remains in interpreting the present when it comes to race.
During the 1930s, America established the FHA, an agency dedicated to evaluating the worth of property and helping Americans afford homes. The FHA pioneered a policy called “redlining,” in which the worth of a piece of property was tied to the racial diversity of its neighborhood, with more diversity driving down price. When white homeowners complained that their colored neighbors drove down prices, they were speaking literally. In addition, the FHA and other banks which used their ratings (which were all of them, more or less) resolved not to give a loan to any black family who would increase the racial diversity of a neighborhood (in practice a barrier of proof so high that virtually no black families received financial aid in purchasing a home). These practices did not end until 1968, and by then the damage had been done. In 1930, 30% of Americans owned homes. By 1960, 60% of them did, largely because of the FHA and the lending practices its presence in the market enabled.
Black families, cut out of this new American housing market and the government guarantees which made it possible, had nowhere to go. This was all taking place during the Great Migration. Black families were fleeing from old plantation estates where they still were treated like slaves, and traveling to the North in search of a better life. When they arrived, there was nowhere to live. White real estate owners quickly realized how to exploit the vulnerability of the black community. They bought up property and sold homes to African American families “on contract.” These contracts were overpriced, and very few could afford to keep their homes. To make matters worse, these contracts were routinely broken. Often contracts guaranteed heating or other bills, but these amenities would never be covered. Even though black families “bought” these houses, a contract is not like a mortgage — there was little to no expectation of future ownership. The owners of these contract houses would loan the property, wait for payments to cease, evict the family, and open the house up to the next gullible buyer fleeing from lynching in the south. None of it mattered. By 1962, 85% of black homeowners in Chicago lived in contract homes. And these numbers are comparable to cities all across the country. For every family that could keep holding onto the property til these practices were outlawed, a dozen spent their life savings on an elusive dream of home ownership that would never come to fruition.
This practice of exploiting African Americans to sell estate had real consequences. As black contract buyers streamed into a neighborhood, the FHA took notice. In addition to racist opposition to integration from white homeowners, even the well-intentioned had difficulty staying in a neighborhood as the value of their house went down. How could you take out a loan to pay for your daughter’s college or finance a business with the collateral of a low-value piece of land? White flight is not something that the U.S. government can wash its hands of. It was social engineering, upheld by government policy. As white families left these neighborhoods, contract buyers bought their houses at a fraction of the cost and expanded their operation, selling more houses on contract and finally selling the real estate to the federal government when the government moved into public housing, virtually ensuring that public housing would not help black families move into neighborhoods of opportunity. And the FHA’s policies also helped whites: without the sterling credit ratings that businessmen in lily-white communities could buy at, there would be no modern suburb. All of this remains today. When you map neighborhoods in which contract buyers were active against a map of modern ghettos, you get a near-perfect match. Ritzy white neighborhoods became majority-black ghettos overnight.
I said that this was all going to be a history lesson, but there’s an important facet of sociology that you need in order to complete the story. There’s a certain type of neighborhood that’s known as a “nexus of concentrated poverty,” a space where poverty is such a default state that certain aspects of economic and social life begin to break down. The level is disputed, but for the purposes of the census the U.S. government defines concentrated poverty as 40% or more of residents living below the poverty line. At this level, everything ceases to function. Schools, funded by taxpayer dollars, cannot deliver a good education. Families, sustained by economic opportunity, cannot stay together. Citizens, turned into productive members of society through ties to the economic well-being of that society, turn to crime out of social disorder. In America today, 4% of white adults have grown up in such neighborhoods. 62% of black adults were raised in them.
You are right to note certain facets of black society: the drug use, family anarchy, etc are not imaginary, though they certainly are not policed fairly or represented honestly in the white American consciousness. But these are the symptoms, not the causes of black poverty. Go to the spaces of concentrated white poverty, and you will find similar statistics. The reason that black society is the way it is is that black families have been systemically cut out of the normal avenues of upward mobility, and that has more to do with white supremacy than with saggy jeans or rap music.”
Link to the thread: