Far too many times, I hear White people say White Privilege is a myth or a creation of the Left. But there are ways to VISUALIZE it…to illustrate it…show show its pernicious effects beyond shadow of dout.
Exhibit A: The HOLC Maps.
This is a long blog. I can’t apologize for that, because you need to understand the history before we get to the punchline.
The blog ends with a personal admissions, which move toward my goal in all of this:
To invite White people to look at issues of race and class, and how we fit into this American problem.
At this link, you will find the “Home Owner’s Loan Corporation” map for Dallas, from 1937, digitized by the University of Richmond’s “Mapping Inequality” project.
The HOLC maps are important for several overlapping reasons:
1. They’re where we first encounter the oft-used term “red-lining.”
2. They show de facto segregation already present in 1937 in Dallas.
3. When coupled with information about mortgage loan policy, they show how that segregation would continue for decades, into the present day, aided by the government.
4. When coupled with stories of the terroristic bombings of African American houses in the 1950s, they become part of what nurtured racial hatred against African Americans, years after they were first drawn.
Two books are rattling around in my head as I write this post to you all today. These are books I hope every White person will read:
1. “The Color of Law” by Richard Rothstein.
2. “Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram Kendi.
Kendi’s book suggests that racial hate is often exacerbated and accelerated by the law itself, and not the other way around. He suggests that American law is consistently “stamped” with racist ideas, and that this law itself has increased racial hate, division, and White Supremacy.
Rothstein’s book, is a primer in just how that happened in America, detialing law after law, in generation after generation, that favored Whites over African-Americans.
If I could make White people read ONE book, it would be “The Color of Law.”
The story I’m about to unfold is but an example of one town –my home of Dallas– and how the themes of those two books actually happened here.
WHAT ARE THE HOLC MAPS, AND WHY WERE THEY CREATED?
The “Home Owner’s Insurance Corporation” was a “New Deal” Depression-era program, designed to help pull America out of its our economic stagnation. The “FHA” was created about the same time.
According to Rothstein, before the New Deal, home ownership was virtually impossible for anyone in the middle class. Loans terms were so ridiculous most folks could not afford them. (Things like 50% down and only five to seven years for the rest…)
These New Deal programs were designed to help American’s buy homes and build home equity. And they did just that. White Americans look back fondly on those programs as having saved the US economy and, in many cases, as being the moment when their middle class families started building home equity and generational wealth.
This was not the the case for African-Americans. The HOLC maps are “Exhibit A” of this. They show how this much beloved “liberal” program had a massive bias on the question of race.
Before the Federal Government was willing “back” home loans the Federal government created maps –the HOLC maps– for almost every major urban area in the country. (Click around on the interactive link…there should be a map for your city…)
We are familiar with the current use of the term “red-lining” as an expression for neighborhoods (mostly Black and Brown) where credit is hard to come by, schools are bad, where businesses seldom locate, etc… But the term dates back to these maps.
Only HOLC didn’t just RED line…the HOLC actually created FOUR distinct categories for American neighborhoods. And race was absolutely a distinct factor in all of them.
The four categories were:
Blue: “Still desirable”
Yellow: “Definitely Declining”
HOW WERE THE HOLC MAPS USED?
Generally, banks would quite willingly provide loans to “GREEN” neighborhoods. (Little money down, for example. Very good interest rates…)
They would cautiously provide loans to “YELLOW” and “BLUE” neighborhoods. (More money down, less favorable interest rates…)
And it was virtually impossible for anyone —mostly African-Americans and Latinos— to get a loan on a home in “RED” neighborhoods.
That meant that in neighborhoods where Whites lives (Green, Yellow, Blue) is was possible to buy a home, build equity and generational wealth…) Meanwhile in RED neighborhoods, most homes were rentals, and generational wealth could not be acquired or passed down.
On the interactive maps…click on a specific “area.” You will see detailed notes about the racial make up of the current residents.
AND! A line on the government form called “Infiltration.”
“Infiltration” indicates the level to which a neighborhood was considered to have been infiltrated by one race, or or mixed by several.
Generally, the “YELLOW” and “BLUE” neighborhoods on the map are shown to be experiencing “Infiltration,” while GREEN neighborhoods are shown to be generally 100% White.
This, friends, is factual data for how the government aided and abetted *not only* racial segregation, but *also* assisting White families in creating generational wealth, and simultaneously systematically *prevented* African-American families from doing the same.
When I use the term “White Privilege,” where ever I am using it, this is a critical part of what I mean. It’s why I insist that “White Privilege” is not simply a term of psychological or social supremacy (it IS that too…) but that throughout our history, it has also been based in the LAW too.
The vestiges of “Red Lining” have been receding (somewhat) in recent decades.
But make no mistake, this government enforced policy is a major part in what leads to the current wealth gap between Black and White families in America.
If you are White —and if your parents and grandparents have bequeathed property or assets to you in the form of a family home— it is entirely LIKELY that you have benefitted from this very system in ways that African-Americans, on average, have not. That is a factual part of what “White Privilege” is, that is beyond any social or psychological debate.
(According to Brookings, in 2016, the wealth gap between White and Black families was TEN TIMES. ($171,000 vs. $17,000).)
WHAT THE DALLAS MAPS SHOW
The Dallas maps clearly show the beginnings of a racial division that continues into our present day, in terms of where people in Dallas live.
Again, you’re gonna want to keep the interactive maps open during this next part, so you can see for yourself what I’m saying here…
Click on some of the RED areas and some of the GREEN areas…and compare and contrast the comments.
I’ll provide some here…
Section D4 (Bonton and Ideal Neighborhoods) RED
No “infiltration” listed…because it’s impossible to “infiltrate” an all-black neighborhood.
Section D1 (West Dallas)
Predominant race is “Italians and Mexicans.”
Under “infiltration” the comment is “already there.”
Yes, apparently, it would be impossible to stop “infiltration” in this already ethnically mixed neighborhood.
Section D8 (“Little Mexico”) RED
Listed as predominantly “Mexican” which everybody who knows Dallas’ history would know.
But! Get ahold of this shocking comment on the form:
“Almost no sales as properties are being held as future business and industrial sites.”
The fix was in, with Dallas’ elites, even in 1937.
The White leaders of Dallas planned the destruction of “Little Mexico,” by intentionally holding properties as rentals.
We now, of course, call that area “Uptown,” and the planned “future business” use of 1937 is absolutely complete, and the name “Little Mexico” is dissapearing from much of the public consciousness.
Section C6 (Today’s “Fair Park” area…) YELLOW
This is an important area to look at, as we consider how the LAW often aided and abbetted increased racial hatred.
The maps describe it as “An area of old houses, not well kept, mixed population, unpaved streets, with practically no outstanding features in its favor.”
In another part of the map, it described the population as “Italians, Russians, Greeks” predominating.
If you dig into Dallas’ history, you discover that THIS part of town — *because* it was YELLOW— became a hotbed of racial animosity in the years that followed the creation of these maps.
Middle class African-Americans did try to move into these neighborhoods. They got loans. They bought houses, scrapping their way out of “redlined” areas.
But during the 1950s, the area suffered a shockingly high number of bombings of African-American homes.
Here’s a screenshot from a documentary produced by “Citylab” about the history of Bonton-Ideal.
It shows the shockingly high number of bombings of African-American homes during the 1940s and 1950s that happened in the “YELLOW” area of “C6” (Just outside Bonton-Ideal…)
You can watch the Citylab documentary here
The bombings in this section of Dallas clearly illustrates Dr. Ibram Kendi’s thesis that racist and supremacist law and policy tend to GENERATE AND PERPETUATE racial hate in subsequent generations.
Yes, racism and supremacy were a part of the law’s initial creation in the 30s. By the law itself helped to later inspire these bombings, as African-Americans sought to move out of Bonton-Ideal and become a part of the so-called “American Dream.”
Finally, let’s look at some GREEN areas of town…
I’m going to lump many of them together, because they tell the same story over and over…this is where White people lived.
A1 (Stevens Park) GREEN
A2 (Kessler Park) GREEN
A3 (Forest Hills) GREEN
A4 (Lakewood) GREEN
A6 (“M Streets) GREEN
A9 (University Park) GREEN
A10 (Preston Hollow-first addition) GREEN
At the times of these maps, almost all of these areas are described as all 100% White. Further, many of these areas are described as having “deed restrictions.” In many cases, a deed restriction was an explicitly racial clause in loan documents. They were restrictions that prevented the property from ever being sold to African-Americans.
“Deed restrictions,” as Rothstein’s book shows, were patently against the intent of US law. But time and time again, federal and state courts upheld them across the country. White neighborhoods were allowed to keep them, sometimes for decades.
For example, you might recall when President George W. Bush moved back to Dallas after his presidency, he bought a property adjacent to Area A10 on this HOLC map. (Just outside it, actually…)
There was a minor media sensation when it was revealed that the home he and Laura purchased still had a racial “deed restriction” in the legal papers…in theory “preventing” it from being sold to African Americans.
People across the country were horrified, even though many legal documents –of homes sold in previous deacades– still have these same racist clauses in them.
Many of my liberal friends derided Bush as the time for this.
But! If we look at where White liberals live in Dallas today, we find that many of THEM live in neighborhoods that previously held racialized deed restrictions against Black people as well.
Be careful throwing stones, White People…
Some of these “Green” neighborhoods were only newly developed in 1937. (Lakewood, Preston Hollow, Forest Hills).
But in decades after, the Baby Boom these neighborhoods would EXPLODE with White families…including my own.
CONCLUSIONS AND CONFESSIONS
In the 1960s and 70s, I grew up just adjacent to A10, in the heart of old Preston Hollow, in a spacious ranch-style home with a massive lawn.
I spent illdyic childhood summers there, and remember that well, as a blissful and carefree time of my life. The lawns were huge. The houses were wide and long, and they were filled with families just like ours.
Our family lived there until I was in the seventh grade, at which point we moved to Far North Dallas (During the late 1970s…) and the height of the busing tensions that roiled Dallas at the time.
Our family by then had accumulated enough generational wealth to buy a newer Far North Dallas home, and sell the old Preston Hollow home. (That house is now gone, replaced only last year by a zero-lot monster…apparently netting zillions of dollars to the family we sold the lot to in the late 70s).
Therefore, I am a part of the story of these maps. Our privilege allowed us to make that move.
If you grew up in Dallas, and you are White, YOU are a part of this story too. The story of these maps allowed some of YOUR families to make that same move “North.” Or, it allowed you to live in “GREEN,” “YELLOW,” and “BLUE,” neighborhoods to this day, continuing to create generational wealth for youself and your descendents, as the values in many of these neighborhoods skyrocking from generation to generation.
Maybe you’re a suburban family. Maybe you never lived in the city. If so, the schools, houses, and cities you grew up with were built in large part by the generational wealth of Whites moving in during “White Flight,” again, benefitting you and your family, even if you never personally “fled” a city core.
Finally, maybe you lived in a small town or another town. The same dynamics illustrated in these maps took place in YOUR town too.
Far too often, White families were allowed to benefit from New Deal programs that created generational wealth, while African-Americans were economically and legally prohibitted from the same…and when they *did* move out of the “RED,” areas, too often they were harrased and bombed back into “submission.”
My parents never explicitly told me that their decision to move was raced-based. I doubt it would have entered their mind, knowing them. To them —and especially my Father who has hyper-rational and deeply nonemotional— the choice was no doubt about good schools and a bigger house for their family.
Nevertheless, it is factually true that we were a part of the exploding “White flight” to North Dallas, Richardson and Plano. That migration, it is agreed by almost all observers, was driven in large part by fears of “substandard schools” and racial integration. (Of course, those schools were only substandard because of the very racial segregation we are talking about in this post…)
In the 1970s, then, White families no longer bombed African American homes, nor would they ever had considered something so horrific. They just moved with their hands and their feet…North.
So, dear friends, what has been a “factual” post for most of this entry, becomes deeply personal and intensely painful admission, here at the end.
Dear White Friends:
It is not enough for we White folks to admit that our grandparents were “once upon a time” members of the KKK or overt racists and are now dead. We must, with humility, and on bended knee, admit to the generational privilege our nation has afforded so many of us.
The generational wealth gap in America has nothing to do with assertiveness, ambition, drive, and gumption.
It was PLANNED.
It was DESIGNED.
While the laws changed, as Kendi shows in his book, the attitudes became internalized by everyone.
It becomes a part of the story that White people tell ourselves about how we have exceptional ambition, drive, and gumption. But it was DESIGNED from the start, and “stamped from the beginning.”
Once upon a time, the great Ann Richards said of GHW Bush, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”
It was a funny line, and we White liberals laughed at the classism of it.
But, dear White friends, in a very real sense, that applies to ALL of us.
Please read Rothstein’s book. I BEG all White people to read it.
It’s the painful history of how –not only with respect to the homeownership we are discussing here, but also with respect to jobs, education, training, opportunity– the “Color of Law” has favored, and continues to favor us over People of Color generally, and African-Americans specifically.
I could have written similar posts about the interlocking issues of education and policing. And we need to, and will, talk about those issues too.
But the HOLC maps allow us to factually show the roots of White Privilege as it still manifests itself into our present-day world.
“The Color of Law” is the nexus of our factually-based White Privilege, which society then interpolates into psychological and social White Privilege.
What is the answer?
I don’t know, honestly.
Humble admission of the problem is the first step, though. Humble admission of our place in the story, as I hope you will read me doing here.
We White people —a whole lot more of us— must begin to look at our own histories and make the kind of painful admission I am trying to make to you here about my own history.
Therefore, I am writing these final paragraphs, because I am inviting you, as White people, to this same journey. Don’t just fret that you might have a Confederate Soldier in your family tree, “once upon a time.” Take a hard look at how law, as demonstrated in this post, has preferenced you and your family. (Even if you live in the “North” or a rural area…)
And if homeownership and generational wealth is not the issue that has “privileged” you, then take a hard look at schools, policing, and employment policies. “The Color of Law” has benefitted you in one way or another. Promise.
In addition to this journey, we must listen to People of Color as they share their own experiences. We must understand that when they say “the system is rigged,” there is FACTUAL evidence for this statement. It’s not just a feeling.
My HOPE is that the United States, in a painful and too slow fashion, is being reborn into a multi-racial democracy, the likes of which we have never truly seen. America tried and failed to become truly multi-racial once before in the few short years following the Civil War.
But, decades of Jim Crow, the rewriting of state constitutions, lynchings and terror put an end to that. Our modern world has seen the rise of military policing policies and the mass incarceration of Black men. White Supremacy and Privilege was restored, through new kinds of laws and their enforcement.
And even if we White people say we no longer morally *believe* in White Privilege as principle…we benefit from it as a fact.
I pray we will somehow transform into a truly multi-racial democracy that honors all our citizens, regardless of race.
Honestly? White Supremacy is so ingrained into our society, that I fear we might not actually be able to make that transition. The fight against it –especially as we ask White people to look at historical issues like those covered here– will be filled with White denial and anger.
I think either we WILL make the transition…or there is little future for the US, and we will come apart at the seams. I honestly don’t know which way it will go.
If the United States does complete the slow birth of a true multi-racial democracy, we White folks have a roll to play…but just one small part of that future story, as we stand shoulder-to-should with people of every race.
That roll starts with an honesty about how we, as White people, got to where we are today.
Our horrible legacy of law, policy, and inherited social belief has for far too long allowed we White folks to believe we hit a triple.
But, honestly, we were just born on third base.