Below is a research paper I wrote because I've always wondered how the hell we let inner city ghettos develop as a society. Here are my findings, feel free to read and critique, I hope you enjoy.
Also, yes it's a long read. But I think it's interesting.
Housing Segregation in America:
The Creation and Perpetuation of the Urban Ghetto
Please take a few seconds to think about the word ‘segregation’. If the word ‘segregation’ for you, once like me, and like most Americans today, conjures up memories of a bygone era of tumultuous race riots, high powered water canons, back alley entrances, and blatant discrimination you wouldn’t be wrong. But where you would be misinformed is having the belief that the word ‘segregation’ is a term that can no longer be associated with modern American society; but perhaps, maybe just it’s lexicon. Sure, the country we live in today is without a doubt the most racially integrated and the most open to equal access than it has ever been; but nonetheless, it would still be inaccurate to say that we are totally integrated and that the opportunity to succeed is now evenly leveled. The problem is that the inequality that surrounds us is still very much segregated in the cities, towns, and neighborhoods that we all call home. Government no longer plays the central role it once had in keeping us separated via Jim Crow Laws and promoting the moral hazard of ‘separate but equal’. But to see the segregation all around us you need only look toward a neighboring city and for those urbanites amongst us, you need only look a few blocks down the street.
Without a doubt there is an open disparity by race and income in where people live in America today. Characterized by the majority of minority populations living within urban areas and within those urban areas, certain neighborhoods. By looking at maps color-coded according to race it was shocking to discover that races within cities were segregated down to the very block (Iceland and Weinburg 2002). Upon further investigation I found that it was a common factor in all cities when normalized by region, population, size, proximity to water, and economic class (Iceland and Weinburg 2002). I found it so interesting it had me begin to ask certain questions. Such as: have we always been such a segregated society? If not, what factors lead to its development? Why is race such a polarizing factor in residency within neighborhoods? Why do whites dominate the area surrounding cities and while minority populations are left to tiny condensed pockets? If the races were segregated why didn’t African American businesses thrive? After extensive research I have come to believe that the creation of modern urban ghettos did not happened by chance, but was the unintended consequence resulting from the deliberate discriminatory housing policies of the federal, state, and local governments and the intentional discrimination of individual American citizens and corporations to segregate people based on race. I will justify this assertion by outlining the history of residential segregation beginning in the early 20th century, how discriminatory policies destroyed early African American business in cities, how city governments used egalitarian public works projects to pack black neighborhoods together, how federal public policies such as red lining and FHA home loans that were enacted under the guise of helping Americans were used to discriminate against African Americans, how private practices today still serve to segregate urbanites from relocating into more diverse neighborhoods, and how the vestiges of past discrimination manifest themselves and continue to haunt American urban centers today.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the idea of racial segregation in the United States was not at all commonplace. African Americans lived widely throughout what we would consider today as white cities, towns, and neighborhoods. In fact, African Americans more often than not lived side by side with their white employers. In New England cities for instance, there was "an unprecedented period of racial amity and integration" (Wilson 1978, 62) that was marked by "integrated living and widespread interracial contact" (Wilson 1978, 64). Even more so, African American entrepreneurs had an especially high amount of contact with whites. This was because these blacks served wealthy whites as barbers, caterers, tailors, and merchants, which bolstered an urban black middle class (Wilson 1978, 72).
However, it wasn’t until the advent of the industrial revolution, with the emigration of African Americans from the southern states to the northern cities, and the first great influxes of European immigrants that we first began to see the development of the urban ghetto. This was because before the great influx of southern African Americans the black population was never a large enough percentage of any given area to stand out as a threat. As a result, the African Americans there were "relatively invisible" to whites and because of this, central planners did not regard African Americans as a political or economic threat (Wilson 1978, 86). According to Wilson, this low distribution of the black populace was a crucial factor in the polite race relations and integration that prevailed in the urban north before the 20th century. Which in the wake of the massive emigration of blacks from the South at the beginning of the 20th century caused things to change drastically. This was because as the black population of New England cities swelled, blacks were increasingly perceived by whites as competitors for resources and power, which created hostility and discrimination against blacks. The policies that resulted from this tension were the beginnings of discrimination and more specifically residential segregation (Lieberson 1980, 258-260).
The development of the urban ghetto first began as an unintended consequence of city central planners that sought to further segregate the African American and immigrant neighborhoods from their own. According to Mark Seitles, the manifestation of these intentions were in the implementation of public improvement projects, redevelopment projects, public housing programs, and urban renewal policies that were used by government officials to confine black neighborhoods. Although not necessarily ghetto in their nature these neighborhoods would eventually fall victim to urban decay as manufacturing jobs were coerced away from the inner city with cheap land and low taxes located out in the suburbs. But just as catastrophic to the African American community was the segregation of their neighborhoods that caused the end of interracial commerce. Even more so, black businesses often faced many other harsh and discriminatory obstacles.
As the redlining tightened in New England cities, African Americans began to find it nearly impossible to obtain capital from white-owned banks and credit from white suppliers and wholesalers (Higgs 1976, 133). Further restricting African Americans were ever tightening racial barriers in education, which deliberately excluded many African American merchants from formal business training and licensing (Higgs 1976, 136). According to Robert Boyd, another frequent complaint of Black merchants in the northern cities was inadequate patronage by black consumers. Apparently, black leaders vigorously urged one another to "buy black," arguing that money spent in black-owned businesses ultimately would create jobs in black neighborhoods (Boyd 1998, 598). But apparently, these calls were never answered, as the African American businesses were often beat out by lower pricing by competitors who did not face discrimination, as well as the competitive advantages of foreigners. (Boyd 1998, 599) This was because the immigrant businesses did not face the same amount of discrimination and could use ethnic solidarity to mobilize scarce resources because they could provide for special consumer demands. These special consumer demands were essentially abnormal products specifically from foreign lands that by the time immigrant communities were organizing the African American communities simply did not have (Boyd 1998, 602). To further exemplify this point, some of the most thriving African American businesses we still see today are black barbershops and hairdressers. Simply because they were in such close contact with the community at large they were the only ones able to meet the special demand of black consumers because they were the only ones who knew how to cut or style African American hair.
However, with the advent of the automobile, suburban sprawl, and the large amount of well paying jobs moving from the city to the suburbs –of which resulted in the creation of all white suburban towns- urban decay was inevitable (Kushner 1995, 550). Segregationist zoning ordinances, which divided city streets by race, coupled with racially restrictive contracts between private sellers became the common process of legally enforcing racial segregation. (Kushner 1995, 552) Racial segregation soon became the go to policy of local governments and the standard procedure for individual citizens. The systemic discrimination was so bad that conduct included direct violence, discrimination by real estate brokers, lending and insurance companies, and routine discrimination by local politicians, including those at the federal level (Kushner 1995, 555). Heck, the ‘urban renewal’ policy became a method by city governments to simply eliminate black neighborhoods by labeling those neighborhoods close to urban business centers as ‘slums’ and effectively giving them just cause to bulldoze the entire neighborhood! As a result, the creation of the urban ghetto has had a lasting impact on American culture. In fact, W.E.B. DuBois (1903), one of the original founders of the NAACP, recognized the importance of neighborhoods as the "physical proximity of home and dwelling places, the way in which neighborhoods group themselves, as their primary locations for social interaction”. He believed that "separating black and white neighborhoods caused each to see the worst in the other”. In my opinion, his words have never rung truer than in the polarized urban neighborhoods that still exist today. Sadly this blatant discrimination and other types of policies that uniformly segregated Americans based on race would have never been possible if it were not for the federal government’s broader and in many cases pinpointed support.