William Wilson’s “Being Poor, Black and American” shows the historical context in how we got to this point of discrimination toward minorities through housing. In the beginning, Wilson makes the claim that most Americans are unsympathetic to the poor and uses Hurricane Katrina to prove this claim. He ties this to his claim by saying that if television cameras focused on inner-city ghettos in New Orleans long before Katrina hit, people would be unsympathetic and would believe that the poor are in this situation because of their own economic issues. Indeed, this is not the case, and Wilson aims to prove that in his writing. What people don’t realize is that there are many things that factor into poverty, things such as the lack of economic opportunity and failing public schools throughout impoverished communities.
As these are problems, it is important to acknowledge the problems that poverty is generally associated with. Wilson says that these problems are joblessness, crime, delinquency, drug trafficking, broken families, and dysfunctional schools. When people think of poverty, I’d imagine that many people think of this list. Although this is accurate in most impoverished communities, this is a problematic way of thinking because most people who live in these communities aren’t doing it willingly, they live in these communities because they have to and it’s the best that they can do with what they have. This way of thinking also shows that poverty is a visibly widespread issue in the United States.
To help us better explore the persistence of poverty, Wilson has three stages that concentrate mainly on inner-city black neighborhoods. These stages are political forces, economic forces, and cultural forces. Beginning with political forces, Wilson starts with the establishment of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and their contribution to White Flight by withholding mortgage capital and making it incredibly difficult to keep families who were able to purchase homes. This process excluded most urban neighborhoods by redlining these neighborhoods. Redlining is denying mortgages to people based on the racial “make-up” of an area. Redlining was obviously a very discriminatory practice, but it continued until the 1960s, when the FHA discontinued mortgage restrictions based on the racial make-up of the neighborhood. It was great to know that redlining was discontinued, but of course, there’s more discrimination to be done. Around the same time that redlining was discontinued, middle-class neighborhoods began to be “suburbanized” with federal transportation and freeway systems that forced poor Black residents to relocate. This was incredibly unfair to Black Americans. One thing that I noticed when reading this passage is that Black Americans had little or no say in these decisions because they weren’t powerful or wealthy enough for society to care. I think that this is very unfair because people had to have noticed this blatant discrimination and chose not to say anything about it.
The effects of these incentives previously mentioned became clear as Levittown neighborhoods began being produced. Levittown neighborhoods were suburban areas for people who wanted to escape a cramped city life. Wilson describes these as “utopian communities”. Because of all of the amenities that came with living in these neighborhoods, it’s easy to compare them to suburbs of today. But, relations between the cities and the suburbs began to change after the Great Depression, as people started finding cities to be more attractive. As more people moved to the cities, they began to annex parts of the suburbs in order to make space for the increase in people moving into cities. Suburban neighborhoods began to resist this by making strict zoning laws and obviously discriminatory land-use controls with intent to phase out residents based on race. I find it very interesting that suburban communities basically got mad and changed their policies in order to be able to easier discriminate against minorities.
After World War II, housing groups came together and lobbied Congress for unsafe public housing units to be destroyed as new public housing units are built. Public housing began as a road to economic recovery for families in need of housing. These units developed in segregated Black ghettos mainly. In the 1960s, suburban White populations again try to keep out middle-income Black Americans, this being called the Second Great Migration of southern Blacks, lasting from 1940 to 1970. As the Black population increased in the North, suburban white communities were trying to keep blacks out. They did this by not allowing public housing units to be built in suburban white communities any longer, overcrowding public housing units that already existed. This overcrowding turned public housing units into units that segregated families by not only race, but class also.
African Americans have been discriminated in many ways throughout history, including with housing. This discrimination is also very evident today in many ways. Housing discrimination is tracked by fair housing audits and the Fair Housing Legislation. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was elected president and cut spending in cities, reducing budgets for revenue sharing, urban mass transit, economic development, job training, and other important programs that were enacted to help disadvantaged people. Ronald Reagan’s spending cuts in cities caused a decrease in government support while at the same time, there was an increase in immigration from Mexico, pushing Whites into the suburbs. With immigration having increased, this also meant another minority to discriminate against. The median household income for Latinos was $14,000 less than Whites in the year 2000. Imagine how much wider that gap is in today’s political climate.
As years went on, abandoned factories begin to surface in different communities, creating the Rust Belt. The Rust Belt refers to economic and population loss due to areas with industrial entities shrinking. Cities in the Rust Belt include Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Because of the Rust Belt, The United States has seen a major decrease in factory and manufacturing jobs. The major economic sources now are finance and technology. But, people with no post-secondary education are not a part of this. Before the decrease in factories and industrial jobs, people with no post-secondary education transitioned to working in retail and services such as fast food and customer service. Employment shifted from Central Business Districts to the suburbs in the mid-1970s. By the 1980s, over half of employment growth was in the suburbs, making it harder for people in impoverished communities to get jobs easily accessible to them. People in these communities have to work for the people who helped drive them out of their communities long ago and that is unfair and difficult to imagine. As we go on, these neighborhoods begin to decline in many ways. Indicators of a declining neighborhood are poverty, and lack of things such as employment & grocery stores, increasing food insecurity and homelessness in these neighborhoods. In terms of cultural forces of poverty, Laissez-Faire racism plays a huge role. Laissez-Faire racism is the perception that Black Americans are responsible for their own economic problems and therefore do not deserve any form of government support. As mentioned earlier, no one puts themselves in these situations, they are forced into them because of many external factors, including constant discrimination in their daily lives. Wilson offers good solutions to poverty, but not good enough. How can people improve their communities if they are struggling to improve their lives? It’s just not fair to assume that it is simple to improve all aspects of life without help from some outside source.