Vote For Me! I’ll Keep Your Neighborhoods White!

Trump takes a page from the segregationist playbook to win over suburbanite voters.

In a recent tweet, President Trump sent out a neon-light dog whistle in an attempt to appeal to one of the major fears of white, suburban voters- minority groups moving into the neighborhood. On July 29th he tweeted:

The tweet was a follow up to a previous tweet where he said: “Biden will destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream. I will preserve it, and make it even better!” The purpose behind his tweet fooled no one. As expected, there was an immediate backlash. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a potential vice president pick in waiting, tweeted, “ This is blatant racism from the President of the United States. And it’s disgusting.” U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in an interview with Bloomberg News stated declared that “We must hinder President Trump’s efforts to segregate communities and to discriminate against Black and Brown homeowners and renters. We cannot return to the days of redlining and white flight.”

So what created so many emotional responses? On July 23rd Trump and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson introduced a change to an Obama-era rule which would roll back the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing mandate, which was an addition to the 1968 Fair Housing Act. This provision required cities receiving federal funding to keep records on efforts to eliminate the segregation of racial housing. In other words, it is an attempt to deregulate protections against discrimination in housing.

If Trump knew his tweet would create a ”what kind of nonsense is this” response, then why did he do it? In part it was designed to be a distraction away from the depressing news on the administration’s inept handling of the spread of the coronavirus and to front run the soon to be released report showing the U.S. economy shrank by one-third in the second quarter- an all-time record. The second reason is that appealing to the racial fears of white homeowners has a successful track record in this country.

In the United States, white supremacy leads to white identity, which leads to white flight, which leads to segregated neighborhoods. Research conducted over the last four decades has shown that white people prefer to live in nearly all white neighborhoods, while both Blacks and Latinos prefer integrated neighborhoods (i.e., a 50 % white, 50 % black neighborhood). Research seems to also indicate that the behavior of whites shows that they will often move out of a neighborhood once substantial numbers of minorities begin to move in. There seems to be a definite limit to the degree of integration that whites are willing to accept. Integrated neighborhoods, the kind that African Americans would like to move into, seem to be the exact kind of neighborhoods that whites want to move out of. These patterns speak to why it is so important to have federal laws designed to reduce the affects of white people creating “lily white” neighborhoods. The preference for different compositions of neighborhoods demonstrates that the word “integration” means something different for whites and blacks.

White tenants seeking to prevent blacks from moving into the Sojourner Truth housing project in Detroit, 1942. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

The question that needs to be asked is why do white people want to live in self-segregated neighborhoods? There is a dirty little secret that lies below the white community’s racial epidermis, and which is not discussed in the open- and that is the belief by white people that the value of their home will decrease if minority groups move into their neighborhoods. With private property being paramount in a capitalistic system, and with homes being the primary source of wealth for working and middle class people, there are then built in incentives to take every step necessary to ensure that the value of one’s home does not decline- even if it means keeping black and brown people out of the neighborhood.

The end result of white fears of minority incursions into their neighborhoods has meant that we live in a segregated society. Our cities and schools are just as segregated in 2020 as they were before the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

There are many harmful effects due to housing segregation. The first is that housing segregation deprives minorities of free choice of neighborhoods to live and restricts the availability of desirable housing. Secondly, housing segregation contributes to school segregation. Most parents like to live close to the schools their children attend. It also makes access to higher performing schools more difficult. Thirdly, housing segregation restricts employment opportunities, and thus adds to the higher unemployment rates for minorities. Many factories have moved out or urban areas to suburban and rural areas, making access to good paying jobs more difficult. Higher unemployment means less income and wealth accumulation which means that minorities are often living in areas of higher rates of poverty. Finally, housing segregation contributes to the racial attitudes of both whites and minority group members. Because we don’t live near each other and have few day to day contacts, it becomes difficult to remove prejudicial attitudes and stereotypes. For all the above described reasons, housing segregation is widely viewed as contributing to worsening race relations.

There will be no positive change made to moving towards a more inclusive and diverse American society until the white community acknowledges its role in the creation and perpetuation of a segregated society. This means an open discussion about restrictive covenants, racial redlining, white friendly Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loans, violent white mobs, blockbusting, and racial steering- all of which made home ownership and wealth creation more accessible for whites- and nearly impossible for Blacks and other minority groups.

The most important next step to be made would be a complete overhaul of our nation’s zoning laws, which prohibit poor people and minority groups from accessing safe neighborhoods and quality schools.

But it will also require white people, including liberals and progressives, to not flee racially diverse neighborhoods for whiter, rural pastures but instead, insist on staying put, sending their children to schools with a diverse student body, and to rub shoulders in publicly shared spaces with non-white people.

Living in desegregated neighborhoods is the first step towards living in a truly pluralistic and peaceful world. America needs to band together and prevent Trump from further segregating an already divided country.

Retired social science teacher and avid reader. Trying to find a place for justice and compassion in society. Twitter: @GHoffarth

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