Tuesday, October 19, 2004

  Understanding Institutional Racism
After turning 65, my father wasted no time retiring. He'd purchased our house back in 1952 for $20,000 thanks to a 3 percent mortgage made possible by the Veterans Administration. Now he was considering an offer of $300,000. With the money they'd get a place in the Berkshires and winter in Florida.

Ten years later, my colleague, Cornelius, sold the house he grew up in. Cornelius' folks had also purchased a place in the early '50s in Chester, just outside Philadelphia. A few years ago, after Cornelius' father died, his mother wanted to move back to Virginia. Cornelius sold the house in 2000; he received all of $29,500.

That $270,500 gap reveals a microcosm of race in America. My family is white and Cornelius' is black.


Cornelius and I have worked together for 20 years, always making an identical salary, yet my net worth is several times his.

My two brothers and I enjoyed good schools, parks and libraries because of rising property values. My parents' growing home equity not only provided for retirement but sent us to private colleges -- and even helped with the down- payments on our own homes. Today, thanks to them, my house is paid off and my 21-year-old daughter is about to graduate college with a nest egg of her own. When my parents pass away, we stand to inherit a tidy sum.


What's this got to with race? It goes back to the postwar suburbs and the government policies and subsidies that made them possible -- and guaranteed they'd be segregated.

A set of New Deal programs led by the Federal Housing Administration allowed millions of average white Americans to own a home for the first time. Down payment requirements were reduced from up to 50 percent to 10 or 20 percent and the time to pay off the remaining mortgage was extended from five years to 30 years.

Federal investigators evaluated 239 regions; communities with a mere one or two black families were deemed ipso facto financial risks ineligible for low cost home loans. Government appraisal maps colored those communities red -- hence the term "redlining."

Between 1934 and 1962, the federal government backed $120 billion of home loans; more than 98 percent went to whites. Of the 350,000 new homes built with federal support in Northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to African Americans.


Racism doesn't just come dressed in white sheets or voiced by skinheads, but lies in institutions that, like the FHA, have quietly and often invisibly channeled America's wealth, power, and status disproportionately to white people, giving us a head start in life. As Ohio State University law professor John A. Powell observes: "The slick thing about whiteness is that whites are getting the spoils of a racist system without themselves being personally racist."

I started to write an essay on this issue myself I started by googling Levittown and racism, and I found that someone has already written about it. Oh yea and this is just one example. We can also look at disproportionate penalties in the criminal justice system, which would mean more black fathers than white fathers in jail for longer time. We could talk about racist immigration policy that was designed to increase the numbers of whites and decrease the numbers of blacks over the last 100 years thus decreasing our voting power. We could also talk about using white people for drug testing so drugs are more effective for whites then blacks so they can live longer. This is what is meant by institutional racism I hope its clear for my white readers.

In the end only reparations will balance the scales. But when these reparations come they have to be in the right form, some have imagined affirmative action being a form or reparations, it isn't. In time we will have reparations for black Americans, but it important that when the time comes they come in the right form, that gives wealth to individual families for what they have lost by being black, and not some socialist trap like public housing that will make things worse.
Understanding Institutional Racism is quite possibly the best example of how institutional racism works -- and still exists in America. I've always thought the paternalistic and condescending social programs targeted at African Americans were in themselves a form of institutional racism, and Scott has demonstrated anecdotally that I may have been right all those years.

On reparations: I ran for state representative twice as a white Republican in a predominantly black district against a black Democrat. We differed on the expected issues...he was pro-abortion and I was pro-life, he was in favor of affirmative action and I supported "proactive initiatives" as a replacement to numerical goals. And surprisingly, he opposed reparations while I supported it.

Reparations must provide two key elements to preserve the integrity of purpose and the core value of liberty for which most conservatives stand: 1. It must result in a transferrable asset (such as property, stocks, etc.) and 2. It should be limited to African Americans who are not imigrants, and not extend beyond individuals born on or before the date the reparations program begins.

Once, LONG AFTER my committment to be the sacrificial lamb for the GOP in this district, I quipped, "I believe reparations should include 40 acres in ANWAR, and the mineral rights to whatever is underneath." In this mythical program, I envisioned a solution to the exploration issue and the reparations issue in one fell swoop. African Americans could enjoy the fruit of the 40 acres provided they lived within a certain distance of the land, and invested a portion of their profits in minority-owned businesses. I may have been kidding then, but with all the stonewalling on ANWAR, something along those lines may be necessary....maybe mineral rights to every registered Democrat provided they lived within 100 miles of their oil well in ANWAR :-)
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