America hasn’t ended the racial caste; America has simply redesigned it.
The racial hierarchy in America is one that has been sewed into America’s fabric, and is one that shows itself through the design of our prison industrial complex. But it doesn’t stop there. The racial hierarchy underlies just about every institution you can think of: workplaces, higher education, and even housing.
In 1933, the federal government started a program to increase the number of American homes under the New Deal in an effort to patch up the damage done by the Great Depression. Yet, these efforts were “primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families," while Black individuals were excluded from such projects and left to reside in urban areas instead. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also added fuel to the fire by refusing to insure mortgages in and near Black neighborhoods, better known as redlining. They also refused to sell new housing subdivisions to Black people. Despite the obvious biased nature of these decisions, institutions went so far as to publicly justify their discrimination, claiming that Black people would “decline the property value” of the suburbs and put their loans at risk.
The line was drawn so clearly and so sharply back in 1933 that the detrimental impacts still remain.
Owning a home is one of the biggest investments a human can make. Homeownership is huge for generational wealth, as “the ability to build wealth is contingent upon passing down assets.” Without assets to pass down, wealth cannot progress; without a progression of wealth, the cycle cannot be broken.
Due to institutional racism, people of color, particularly the Black community, have missed out on the post-World War II wealth transfer of real estate. Concentrations of communities of color and epicenters of poverty did not arise out of mere coincidence. They arose out of intentional, unfortunate systemic racism infiltrating policies that were supposed to build an America that strove for equity. It is the reason why, in our very hometown of Fresno, California, there is a huge concentration of people of color in the southwest area. The Atlantic notes that, “Fresno is now the largest city in California’s Central Valley, the lifeblood of California, whose fertile fields feed the country. But… those riches are not equally divided.” In Fresno, we are known to have our own Mason-Dixon line: Shaw Avenue. Many researchers argue that above this street are where the white and wealthy are, whereas below the line are the poor, Black, and Hispanic communities. Amber Crowell, a Fresno State sociologist, explains that, “Once you have a group of people segregated into a place you can take resources from that place… it creates a monster of social inequality that falls along racial lines, then it recreates itself.”
Institutional racism is not a nightmare. It is not this “awful problem” that can be shaken off overnight. To combat it, not only do we need to recognize there is always more to learn and always more to be done, but we also need to acknowledge there is no such thing as being passively anti-racist; being anti-racist demands consistent active efforts.
Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, since inception, have consistently pushed back against the narrative that people of color are not deserving of the freedoms that America has to offer. Since the beginning, Habitat for Humanity has adhered to its value of serving those who are underrepresented or underserved. In 35 years, Habitat Greater Fresno Area has improved the housing condition for twice the percentage of Black Americans compared to its county representation.
1985 to 2020 data per HFHGFA
Habitat champions the initiative to always be open-minded and aware of the intersection of housing and race, in order to prioritize commitment to an equal and diverse staff and board advisory, the furthering of our advocacy at the local, state, and national level, and the expansion of our homeowner education housing programs to make them more accessible.
Ava DuVernay, the filmmaker behind the documentary, 13th, remarks that her documentary serves to “give context to the current moment… And the current moment of the declaration that the lives of black people, [their] very breath, [their] very dignity, [their] very humanity, are valuable and matter to the world.”
If you are able, please get involved with your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate and help to push their initiative forward!