This essay was written as a submission to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Racial Justice Essay Contest, facilitated by the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition. Students were asked to respond to the following prompt:
“A myth of Black inferiority and white supremacy was developed to justify slavery in the United States. Even though we ended chattel slavery, we did not end the myth of racial difference. EJI believes we need a new era of truth and justice that starts with confronting our history of racial injustice. Based on the theme or topic and historical event you selected, how does the history of racial injustice help to explain present-day injustice in our society? How can this history be overcome in order to change the challenges our nation is facing today?”
Contest winners were recognized in August. The Lawrence Times is publishing entries that some of the student writers chose to submit to us. This essay is by Roman Jasso, then a freshman at Free State High School, who won an honorable mention in the contest. See links to other entries at the bottom of this page.
Among the atrocities that have faced people of color for centuries, the practice of housing discrimination and redlining is unique in its generational impact on the community.
Even after the policies are changed and these practices fade away, they cannot be forgotten. Their impact today, their impact then, and the time it took to abolish these practices is gut-wrenching to say the least.
Starting in the early 1930s, while many white Americans benefited from public policies meant to elevate people out of the Great Depression, processes were put in place that prevented Black people and people of color from buying housing and pushed them to generations of renting. This led to housing segregation, as not only could people of color not purchase homes, but they were also prevented from renting in white neighborhoods.
This segregation of housing had many side effects. By limiting housing and neighborhood choices for people of color, government and public services disproportionately favored white communities, leading to a further separation of wealth. Not only was there a gap in wealth, but there was also a gap in education as well-funded schools would only take in students from white communities.
Unfortunately, even though housing discrimination policies are less common today (although still practiced), the lasting effects can be felt for generations in what is called a “generational gap.” Even though the playing field of opportunity may be more equitable legally than it was in the past, people of color may still have lower incomes, higher rates of poverty, and less access to education due to generations of being put at a disadvantage. Compared to generations of people who have not faced those challenges and have instead been able to succeed from decades of public policy privilege, this can lead to disastrous consequences. Many white people do not accept the history of generations of privilege over others and are in denial that these inequalities still exist.
A clear example of housing discrimination is the West Hills neighborhood right here in Lawrence, Kansas. In 1922, the covenants stated that “none of said lots shall be conveyed to, used, owned or occupied by other than the white race as owners or tenants.”
The racism of this covenant is apparent, but even more troubling was the length of time that it took to fix it. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 clearly stated that discrimination against race, religion, national origin and sex was outlawed. In 1972, the West Hills Home Association deemed the covenant racist, but it still was not removed or amended until Kansas passed House Bill 2582 in 2006. This demonstrates how long the effects of these practices can last.
Some people might say that because these practices have been legally abolished, they are irrelevant to the current cultural landscape. The first thing that must be realized is that although these practices cannot be done legally, they are still being practiced in other ways. Modern housing discrimination has also greatly affected people with disabilities and people of the LGBTQ+ community. The combined effects of past discrimination and current climate has led to communities being separated by race and ethnicity, as well as people of color facing worse public infrastructure, lower-quality public education, and higher poverty rates.
To solve this problem, the government, as well as greater society, must take this issue seriously, and the time to act is now.
An increase in scholarship opportunities for people of color would help increase educational access and eventually shrink the generational gap in wealth. An effective way to reduce poverty could be Andrew Yang’s proposal of Universal Basic Income (UBI). UBI, a program in which every citizen of determined age receives a payment from the government regularly, would be a quick way of achieving income distribution as well as other ways of eliminating poverty.
These, however, are just small steps that could be made in the immediate future. Further, longer-term studies must be considered to repair the damage that has ensued for many generations due to housing discrimination.