Segregation in the United States was legal when I was born.
I am a 53 year old African American woman born in December 1967. I was born four months before the passage in April 1968 of the Fair Housing Act. I was born to a mother who grew up in New Orleans – a mother who made sure I understood what it was like to be forced to live in separate communities, take the bus and hang out. separate schools. It is important to remember this context whenever engaging in discussions about racial equity. It is important to note how recent this past is. This past is during my lifetime.
Prior to the passage of the Fair Housing Act, it was legal to deny a housing opportunity based on skin color. The federal government has allowed and required discrimination in public housing development, in mortgage lending, in suburban development, in school districts and more. Redlining, suburban development, FHA loans, VA loans, and other policies have developed homeownership opportunities for white families and relegated black families and other families of color to rental housing opportunities. These policies created wealth through the land ownership of suburban white families and led to neglect and underinvestment in urban communities populated by families of color.
For people my age and older, this is the world we were born into… because segregation was legal when I was born.
The passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 sought to remedy this. Fair Housing was designed to eliminate the illegal discrimination that had existed in this country for 300 years. Civil rights-era reform ended these state-sanctioned injustices, but did little to answer other deeply difficult, related questions. Questions like: How do you make amends for generations and generations of black families and other families of color who have been denied generational access to wealth? How to bridge the racial wealth gap that is linked to the denial of access to land and property? How do you reverse the deep-rooted segregation patterns that keep our urban centers underinvested and filled with rental housing? How do you reverse school segregation when the school district follows the same patterns of neighborhood segregation? In short, how do you correct a 300-year-old error?
And in the inability to address these issues, we find that the work of the civil rights era remains incomplete. Changing the federal law was part of the solution, but we find ourselves here 53 years after the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act and find that our communities are even more segregated than they have ever been. Rather than a narrowing racial wealth gap, we see a growing disparity. Rather than seeing our children now growing up in integrated schools, we continue to see deep-seated school segregation. We see that in the absence of an explicit racial discrimination law and policy, creative uses of zoning and land use have been the tools used to maintain the status quo – to maintain segregation in Connecticut.
My parents, like so many others, celebrated the civil rights legislation of the 1960s as the signal for a new day in America. They had high hopes for what this would mean for the next generation. I think they would be saddened by the slow pace of change.
But the past few years have brought a new era of activism aimed at bringing this country closer to its promise as the Black Lives Matter movement has raised awareness of the racial inequalities that persist. As I walk through the communities of our state, I see #BlackLivesMatter signs dotting the lawns of various communities, from cities to suburbs, in country fields and next to downtown high-rise buildings. And while this signals a new awareness of age-old inequalities, it sadly has yet to penetrate all the right places, to all the right people to move this movement forward to address the very issues as the Fair Housing Act. of 1968 was supposed to resolve. cash.
For black families and other families of color who are denied access to wealth creation and home ownership, fair remedies are long overdue. It is high time to correct these disparities and pay off this debt. Creating opportunity begins with opening doors to communities that have effectively excluded families by welcoming gradual zoning reform and supporting efforts to build affordable housing. This means investing in affordable housing opportunities for families in every community. This means making substantial investments in our urban centers. It means ending school segregation in a meaningful way. It means making the same investments in black families and other families of color that our US government has made in white families and white communities for hundreds of years.
It is time for us to finish the unfinished business of the Fair Housing Act and other related civil rights laws. Failure to do these things effectively keeps segregation sanctioned throughout Connecticut. Acting now can change these models. Acting today can make the changes necessary so that finally there are no more generations of Connecticut residents who say segregation was legal while they were alive.
Karen DuBois-Walton, Ph.D. is the President of Elm City Communities / Housing Authority for the City of New Haven. She is a panelist on a series, “The Two Connecticuts: Conversations about Race and Place,” which began September 22 and continues October 20. This four-part special series, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Mirror, examines how segregation affects people of color – robbing them of personal dignity, economic opportunity, and access to health care and security – but also puts them at a disadvantage. ‘State as a whole. Register and find additional information here. Participation is free and the program is accessible virtually.
CTViewpoints accepts rebuttals or opposing views to this and all of its comments. Read our guidelines and submit your comments here.