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Unfortunately, what happened to Richard’s father is not a single anecdote, but the reflection of national housing policy at that time for all black Americans. In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. By insuring private home loans, FHA allowed many more people to buy a home with lower interest rates and lower down payments. However, the FHA would only lend for homes in “A” or “B” rated neighborhoods. What was an “A” or “B” rated neighborhood? One that had exclusionary zoning policies prohibiting immigrants or African-Americans from living there. Because of legal segregation in almost every American city, black people could only buy under usurious terms in poor neighborhoods that received second-class city services, even if they themselves made good incomes. They were therefore far less able than white people working the same jobs to enter the middle class.

These are all well-documented pieces of history, not anecdotes, and affected the entire population of the country. These policies didn’t change until the late 60s during the Civil Rights Movement, paving the way for our current President to be successfully sued for housing discrimination in 1973. Of course, the repercussions echo down to this day.

You simply can’t say “the middle class is the middle class, there is nothing racial or ethnic about it” when these discriminatory policies determined who was and was not able to join the emerging postwar middle class.

I highly recommend reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations.” Whether or not you agree with his conclusion, he provides an eye-opening history of housing discrimination in the US, most of which I certainly was unaware of before reading it.

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