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The Problem of Racism and Classism Essay

Updated August 9, 2022
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The Problem of Racism and Classism Essay essay

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Two factors in moral and political philosophy are both crucial in understanding the purpose of using philosophy to expand conversation around race and widen our perspective of race as a concept . One of the factors focuses on analyzing extensive conceptual and methodological questions regarding race and morality, and also providing the tools to theorize racial justice; the other factor aids in evaluating specific policies or institutional forms that seek to redress racial inequality, such as affirmative action, racially descriptive representation, the general question of colorblindness in law and policy, residential racial segregation, and racism in the criminal justice system and policing. All of these solutions and issues are a product of none other than institutional racism, which is the idea that the process of racism is a carefully crafted and intentionally designed system that plagues multiple institutions at once ultimately striving to disparage and oppress minorities.

However residential segregation continues to be an overwhelmingly bleak reality among the many other bitter truths about the struggles minorities, specifically African americans face. While other branches of institutional racism are too important in understanding the long-term system of oppression used against people of color, residential segregation continues to provide a fascinating demonstration of the way policy can read one thing but be enforced in a completely separate manner. Understanding Residential Segregation At the dawn of 2018, segregation still plagues the United States of America. Why? African Americans and Whites have yet to integrate residentially. Newly released census data calculates segregation of neighborhoods by using a standard measure of segregation, indicating the percentage of African Americans that would need to change neighborhoods to match the distribution of Whites. It ranges from zero, complete integration, to one hundred, complete segregation.

After examining the United States’s fifty-two largest metropolitan areas with at least twenty thousand African American residents, findings show segregation levels between fifty and seventy (Frey). These numbers are crushingly high­­: more than half of the African American population in these areas would need to move to achieve complete integration. Fifty-seven years after the historic Civil Rights Movement, which led to the abolition of overt segregationist practices in the United States of America, one question must be asked: why does racial division still exist in the United States? Yet in order to answer this question, one must focus on racialization: the concept by which people are sorted into racial categories. The idea that race has an evolving and alterable quality rather than a fixed group characteristic serves as the cornerstone of this concept. More importantly, this idea bares that political constructions and diverse historical practices (e.g. organization of social policy, modes of political participation) shape racial groups’ identity (Omi).

For instance, European Americans’ triumph over Mexicans, Native Americans, and Asian immigrants in landownership and labor market positions in the early nineteenth century solidified European Americans’ privileged social status in California for years in the future. Similarly, racial conflicts over federal efforts to disperse low-income housing into U.S. suburbs revealed how the suburban home owner concurs with the construction of white racial identity while low-income/poor home owner concurs with the construction of the African American racial identity (Gotham). With that being said, inherent racism does not exist at the core of the United States infrastructure; rather the United States government creates and maintains social conditions that perpetuate relations of racial supremacy and inferiority.

In relation to the residential homogeneity that pervades the United States, the creation of the National Housing Act of 1934 served as the first governmental policy that worked to construct residential segregation between African Americans and Whites by means of de jure racial discrimination. However, after the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, de facto classism and racism replaced the de jure discrimination that existed before. Redlining, geographic steering, and non exclusionary zoning reveal the practice of racial discrimination in the housing market after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and various court decisions in reference to these discriminatory practices expose the federal government’s failure to effectively implement the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The early endorsement of discrimination and later failure to stop discrimination by the federal government birthed two separate worlds: thriving white suburbia and the impoverished African American ghetto. These dichotomous residential centers provided many Whites with the resources to thrive and left many African Americans isolated and facing a host of associated problems. The National Housing Act of 1934 (NHA) and the subsequent Federal Housing Administration (FHA) set the precedent for the United States’s being a racialized state by creating and enforcing de jure discrimination against African Americans in the housing market.

The economic pressures of the Great Depression provided the stimulus for the creation of the NHA and the FHA. At the same time, however, the Great Migration occurred: 1.5 million to 2 million African Americans migrated from the South to the Northern suburbs as a result of the industrialization of America (Jones; Trotter)The competition for housing amongst African Americans and Whites therefore established the legal basis for the creation of social tools to impose racial segregation (Gotham). This social tool would soon be named the National Housing Act of 1934 and the Federal Housing Administration, created under the banner of “bolstering employment, providing credit to encourage homeownership, and stimulating new home construction and improvement” (U.S. House). However, this delineation applied to some but not all, for the NHA and FHA fundamentally discriminated against African American. There was little-to-no input from organized labor, housing reformers, civil rights activists, or interracial housing advocates regarding any major provisions to the NHA and FHA, therefore, at its conception these acts had complete disregard for any matters of integration of races.

This phenomenon led to the federal government’s racist laws against African Americans as a means to separate African Americans from Whites: the FHA refused to insure mortgages and loans in neighborhoods that were racially diverse, established racial zoning by designating areas where certain races could live, and advocated for racial covenants that stipulated land dwellings not be sold to African Americans (Mohl). On top of that, the National Association of Real Estate Boards adopted a code of ethics that stated, “a Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood members of any race or nationality whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values” (Abrams). The FHA, therefore, institutionalized a racially separate and unequal system of home financing that favored suburban building for Whites while circumventing insurance for homes in racially mixed and non white areas.

In fact from the 1930s to the 1950s, the FHA’s Underwriting Manuals considered Blacks “adverse influences” on property values and warned against the “infiltration of inharmonious racial or nationality groups” in racially homogenous (or, in other words, white) neighborhoods, further revealing the federal government’s overt racism against African Americans, negative constructions of the African American identity (as “adverse influences” or unfavorable influences) and hence endorsement of residential segregation. The NHA’s and FHA’s de jure racism legitimized the notion of racial discrimination in housing and set the precedent for not only years of segregation but also the plight of the African American community. Because so many African Americans were deprived of mortgage loans, credit insurance, and consequently the ability to live in new homes created under the NHA, the race as a whole began to suffer. African American communities surfaced in older, decaying parts of town with low property values and dwindling community services (e.g. insufficient public transportation, failing schools).

As neighborhoods became poor and racially homogenous, businesses closed. This began to drive taxpayers out of these urban areas even more, further constraining fiscal resources and perpetuating the cycle of urban decay (Trifun). The plummeting capital of these urban, African American neighborhoods along with the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 (also known as the “white man’s lane”)––which both destroyed existing African American neighborhoods, leaving many African Americans without a home and with no means of attaining a new one, and isolated urban African American communities as privileged Whites acquired cars and used these highways to travel to suburbia where they developed thriving economies––meant African American communities had little-to-no wealth, leaving the race as a whole concentrated in one area, soon to be called the “ghetto,” and bereaved of money for a great part of the nineteenth century (Karas, Bouie).

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 illegalized any discriminatory practices in housing; however, while de jure discrimination did not continue, de facto classism and racism thrived, for the federal government failed to effectively enforce this act, perpetuating the very segregation that the Fair Housing Act sought to rid of. A combination of economic deprivation and social isolation spurred a sentiment of psychological alienation amongst African Americans most predominantly at the turn of the 1960s. The psychological toll of the African American plight sparked many riots. In light of this civil disorder, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders recommended actions that would move the United States toward being a single nation instead of a dichotomous society. They proposed the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which was extensively filibustered and only passed as a result of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. (Larkin).

Interestingly, this piece of legislation after years of residential segregation was sincerely opposed, demonstrating American senators’ and therefore many Americans’ belief in segregated living. More importantly, this legislation was only passed after Dr. King died, almost as a form of condolence to the African American community, rather than as an active effort to help remedy the plights of many African Americans. The precedent set by the NHA was so great that it could only be changed by means of an inadvertent martyrdom, revealing that the United States was perhaps still not ready for a residentially inclusive society. Nevertheless, this piece of legislation had two goals: to provide equal opportunity for all by allowing anyone to choose where they want to live and to produce integrated living patterns (Larkin).

This statement was coupled with the observation that fair housing would not yield a great influx of African Americans from the urban ghettos into the suburbs, but would instead let “economics and choice determine how many African Americans would be dispersed among white majority suburban communities” (Larkin). The loose framework for this act insofar as letting “economics” and “choice” integrate society, revealed a gilded, misleading piece of legislation. The de jure discrimination was gone; nevertheless, because the de jure mandates for antidiscrimination were overwhelmingly interpretive, the federal government gave way for de facto discrimination to ensue.

Through practices such as: Redlining defines the practice whereby mortgage lenders figuratively draw a “red line” around poor neighborhoods and refuse to make mortgage loans available inside the red lined area as means to prevent people in impoverished neighborhoods from moving out., Geographic steering is defined as only showing white homebuyers homes in predominantly white neighborhoods and only showing African Americans homebuyers homes in predominantly African American neighborhoods (Trifun). This can be classified into two categories: segregation steering and class steering. Segregation steering involves African American home seekers’ being shown areas with higher minority populations than white home seekers. Class steering involves showing African American home seekers homes in communities of lower socioeconomic status.

All of these classifications serve as clear signs of de facto racism and classism, as they lead African American home seekers to make a choice within the confines of what they are shown (areas of African American majority or of low income) and ultimately perpetuate residential segregation, and Non-exclusionary zoning regulations based on economic considerations seek to prevent property devaluation. Such non-exclusionary zoning regulations, however, exclude America’s most vulnerable population––poor minorities. Assessing whether Western Philosophy provides the means the theorize the advancement of racial equity Many black political activists tend to use language and ideas that are very similar and compatible to that of John rawls Political Liberalism. However, with a thorough and very critical analysis of Jonathan Rawls Theory of Justice it provokes many questions about the practicality and logistics of his philosophy in tackling any complex social issues.

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