Systemic Racism Video: Housing Discrimination

In the next video in the systemic racism series, Jay Smooth explains housing discrimination in this short (:56) clip:

The text of the video reads:

What would you call it if lifetimes of legal segregation followed by decades of pervasive racist housing policies still, to this day, disadvantage Black people in almost every aspect of life, because where you live can decide everything from how safe you are, to what food you eat, to the quality of your health care to the quality of your job, to the quality of your children’s education?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, list two sources for this aspect of systemic racism: the powerful Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “The House We Live In” (Episode 3) of the documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, both are excellent.

If you’d like to read and learn more about housing discrimination and systemic racism in the scholarly literature, see:

  • Bullard, Robert Doyle. Dumping in Dixie: Race, class, and environmental quality. Vol. 3. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000. Abstract: To be poor, working-class, or a person of color in the United States often means bearing a disproportionate share of the country’s environmental problems. Starting with the premise that all Americans have a basic right to live in a healthy environment, Dumping in Dixie chronicles the efforts of five African American communities, empowered by the civil rights movement, to link environmentalism with issues of social justice. In the third edition, Bullard speaks to us from the front lines of the environmental justice movement about new developments in environmental racism, different organizing strategies, and success stories in the struggle for environmental equity.(parts OA)

  • Howell, Benjamin. “Exploiting race and space: Concentrated subprime lending as housing discrimination.” California Law Review (2006): 101-147. Abstract:  At an inner-city intersection, where globalized capital and free-market finance meet America’s shameful history of racial segregation and subordination, a new and insidious form of racial discrimination lurks. Where lending discrimination once took a binary form – bigoted loan officers rejecting loan applicants because of their skin color – the new model of discrimination is exploitation. Unscrupulous lenders now prey on a history of racial redlining by aggressively marketing overpriced loan products with onerous terms in the same neighborhoods where mainstream lenders once refused to lend. Subprime lending, the extension of loans to those with less-than-perfect credit at higher rates, has developed almost overnight into a multibillion dollar industry. (OA)
  • Massey, Douglas S. and Denton, Nancy.  American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard University Press, 1998. Abstract: This powerful and disturbing book clearly links persistent poverty among blacks in the United States to the unparalleled degree of deliberate segregation they experience in American cities. American Apartheid shows how the black ghetto was created by whites during the first half of the twentieth century in order to isolate growing urban black populations. It goes on to show that, despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation is perpetuated today through an interlocking set of individual actions, institutional practices, and governmental policies. In some urban areas the degree of black segregation is so intense and occurs in so many dimensions simultaneously that it amounts to “hypersegregation.” (locked)

  • Sharkey, Patrick. Stuck in place: Urban neighborhoods and the end of progress toward racial equality. University of Chicago Press, 2013. Abstract: In the 1960s, many believed that the civil rights movement’s successes would foster a new era of racial equality in America. Four decades later, the degree of racial inequality has barely changed. To understand what went wrong, Patrick Sharkey argues that we have to understand what has happened to African American communities over the last several decades. In Stuck in Place, Sharkey describes how political decisions and social policies have led to severe disinvestment from black neighborhoods, persistent segregation, declining economic opportunities, and a growing link between African American communities and the criminal justice system. As a result, neighborhood inequality that existed in the 1970s has been passed down to the current generation of African Americans. Some of the most persistent forms of racial inequality, such as gaps in income and test scores, can only be explained by considering the neighborhoods in which black and white families have lived over multiple generations. This multigenerational nature of neighborhood inequality also means that a new kind of urban policy is necessary for our nation’s cities. Sharkey argues for urban policies that have the potential to create transformative and sustained changes in urban communities and the families that live within them, and he outlines a durable urban policy agenda to move in that direction. (locked) 



  • Williams, David R., and Chiquita Collins. “Racial residential segregation: a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health.” Public Health Reports 116, no. 5 (2001): 404-16. Abstract: Racial residential segregation is a fundamental cause of racial disparities in health. The physical separation of the races by enforced residence in certain areas is an institutional mechanism of racism that was designed to protect whites from social interaction with blacks. Despite the absence of supportive legal statutes, the degree of residential segregation remains extremely high for most African Americans in the United States. The authors review evidence that suggests that segregation is a primary cause of racial differences in socioeconomic status (SES) by determining access to education and employment opportunities. SES in turn remains a fundamental cause of racial differences in health. Segregation also creates conditions inimical to health in the social and physical environment. The authors conclude that effective efforts to eliminate racial disparities in health must seriously confront segregation and its pervasive consequences. (OA)

Next up in the series, government surveillance.

Middlebury to the Bronx: Reflections on Integenerational Insurance against Integration

Along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable. At each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is the first part (of three, two more to come) of a reflection on my experience.

Bronx, #1 train stop at 231st Street
(Creative Commons License photo credit: Susan NYC )

Each morning my alarm goes off at 6 am. I hurriedly prepare for the commute from my comfortable host family’s apartment in Greenwich Village to the poorest Congressional district in the country. With the passing of each stop in the subway the demographics of the passengers drastically changes. Soon I am the only white person left in the train. As I get off the subway in the South Bronx I emerge to a different world.

I am not alone in having a long commute. For our New York City Urban Education Internship we were graciously provided housing with current Middlebury parents, staying in the beds their children vacated while in Vermont. Although nearly all of us were placed in public schools in the Bronx, not one of us was placed in housing there.

While the Bronx is comprised of a diverse and impoverished population, Middlebury is an elite private institution with a tremendous wealth bias in its admission practice despite its boasting of a “need blind” policy. This bias is precisely why none of us were staying in the Bronx and why one host family even had a private elevator that opened up directly to their living room. Another had not only a housekeeper at their assistance all day, but also an entire additional apartment in the elaborate residence that presently sits empty, waiting to be occupied by their son when he graduates.

Housing segregation in America maps along with class inequality and is a long-term consequence of slavery, a form of systemic racism that is, as explained by Joe Feagin in Racist America: “maintained by social inheritance mechanisms that transmit wealth and privilege over the generations.” As whites have accrued economic benefits and built up housing equity, often red-lined and deed-restricted into being the only group able to do so throughout most of our history, they accrue intergenerational wealth easily converted into educational capital.

~ Jay Saper is a student of sociology at Middlebury College