44 Residential Segregation and White Privilege
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44 Residential Segregation and White Privilege MARTHA R. MAHONEY Residential segregation and white dominance are integrally related. White choices are not only the aggregation of individual preferences regarding proximity to blacks. Rather, governmental and private forces-in interaction with each other-in the past created a racialized process of urban/suburban development in which "good" neighborhoods were defined as white and whiteness was defined as good, stable, employed, and employable. Racial segregation was systematically promoted during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s by federal programs like the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), which made loans to homeowners, and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which insured private-sector loans.1 These programs refused to lend money to blacks. They also actively promoted systems of restrictive racial covenants. The greatest impact of these federal agencies in structuring the market, however, lay in the ranking system-the origins of redlining-that the government used to rank communities in their eligibility for federally financed or federally insured loans. Using these guidelines, the HOLC and FHA actually refused to lend money or underwrite loans for whites if whites moved to areas where people of color lived. Private lenders adopted policies in line with federal guidelines. These programs reduced housing opportunities for blacks. But they also went considerably further in the process of socially constructing whiteness and blackness in urban areas. Redlining causes decline in majorityblack areas, while at the same time preventing lending in majority-white areas where the presence of "inharmonious" racial groups causes lower rankings. These federal policies, incorporated into private practices, enforced a system in which whiteness was both required and rewarded as a feature of development. Blacks had no choice to move to suburbia. Whites had no choice to move to integrated suburbia. Racism is so pervasive in America that the importance of the construction of whiteness is often overlooked in discussions of racial geography. Whites generally express preferences to live in neighborhoods shared with very low percentages of blacks. Blacks generally express preferences for living in neighborhoods that are more evenly mixed. If the preference for whiteness is addressed at alL it is raised in examining whether the use of racial steering or quotas to prevent white flight is permissible. The construction of this white preference for whiteness is not examined at all. Racism is treated as a natural and unexamined force. Assume for a moment that whites generally tell the truth about their preference for livFrom "SEGREGATION, WHITENESS, AND TRANSFORMATION':~ 143 U. PA. L. REV. 1659 (1995). Copyright © 1995 The University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Reprinted by permission. Copyrighted Material 274 Martha 1<". Mahoney ing in slightly desegregated communities. Lending policies of the HOLe, FHA, and private banks in the years of postwar suburban expansion actively discouraged such communities by forging a requirement that the neighborhood be uniformly white before investments would be made or insured. Any developer who had tried to accommodate a white taste for slight desegregation would have paid the heavy price of forfeiting access to the large number of buyers who required federal loans or insurance. Maintaining a development as all-white protected white buyers' ability to finance homes, and at the same time the developers' ability to sell them. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this lesson-that whiteness equalled attractiveness, safeness, and financial security-in the postwar world. Suburban development came to mean white development, and whites came to see suburbs as naturally white. The enforcement of whiteness, therefore, prevented the sort of incremental desegregatory developments that might have changed the way suburbia itself was seen by whites. The federal requirement of segregation in home financing placed a stamp of approval on private discrimination as well. Both real estate brokers and private lenders followed suit. Once racialized community development was institutionalized as federal policy, any private sector actor who went against the segregated norm would have compromised buyers and their neighbors. Both the ability of the current owners to sell to buyers with federally funded or insured mortgages on resale of the property, and the mortgage insurability of nearby properties, rested on maintaining whiteness in suburbia. Not only were white people socially reluctant to live near black people, but they were also economically rewarded for living near each other. Maintaining a white market paid. The incentives, enforcement mechanisms , and preferences for maintaining whiteness were systemic, not merely individual. The Kerner Commission on Civil Disorders, inquiring into the causes of the racial riots of the late 1960s, did not find whites moving to the suburbs primarily to avoid blacks. The "more basic" reason for white migration to the suburbs was the "rising mobility and affluence of middle-class families. "2 The suburbs had better schools, living conditions, and affordable housing. But all those qualities of ease and comfort were associated with whiteness , and in turn these qualities increasingly defined whiteness. Jobs moved to the suburbs following the white work force and attracting more white workers.3 Blacks incur higher time and money costs to commute; blacks possess less information about distant jobs; and suburban locations build employers' fear of white resentment if blacks arrive and remove pressures on employers to avoid discriminating. Government-sponsored segregation helped inscribe in American culture the equation of "good neighborhoods" with white ones. In the process, of course, they made all ethnic groups that had access to these neighborhoods "white"-something that had at one historical moment or another been uncertain in terms of the social construction of some groups (such as Jews, Greeks, and Italians) that had been defined as "other." [See chapters 65 and 66. Ed.] The close correlation between employment opportunity and residential segregation meant that "black" was increasingly linked with "inner-city" and "unemployed or unemployable" in white consciousness; whiteness was identified with "employed or employable ," stability and self-sufficiency. Residential segregation was both product and cause of racial constructions that tended to promote further preferences for whites and further exclusion for blacks. White neighborhoods increasingly seem to be suitable sites for investment, while black neighborhoods seem unsuitable. I have heard many anecdotal reports indicating that, in applying for office jobs, wellqualified black applicants who put inner-city home addresses on applications or resumes had greater difficulty getting hired than the same individuals did if they used suburban home Copyrighted Material Residential Segregation and White Privilege 275 addresses. Recently, two sociologists were able to uncover employer attitudes by asking employers who would make good employees. The employers frankly revealed their biases,4 listing race and inner-city residence as explicit parts of their consideration of applicants. Employers freely generalized about race and ethnicity, expressing negative opinions about people of color-especially African-Americans-and positive ideas about whites. For example, they believed that whites had a better work ethic than blacks. Employers' concepts of race and employability were nuanced by ideas about class-mostly signaled by the way employees dressed and spoke. Space was also important: "inner-city" was equated with "black, poor, uneducated, unskilled, lacking in values, crime, gangs, drugs, and unstable families." "Suburb" meant "white, middle-class, educated, skilled, and stable families." Public school attendance was less favorable than private school, and residence in public housing was also seen as a signal of status. Class and space distinguished among black applicants for employers , with inner-city blacks associated with lower classes and with undesirable characteristics as workers.s It makes sense, therefore, that blacks who live in white areas are to some extent identified by greater access to whiteness.6 And indeed, a recent study showed that blacks in suburbs did better at finding jobs than blacks in inner cities. The link between residential segregation and poverty therefore depends on the social construction of race. In particular, the social construction of whites as employed and employable will continue to attract employers and attract development, as well as discourage the employment of blacks. The problems that residential segregation brings-distance, inconvenience , lower tax base, more concentrated poverty-continue to be reproduced because of their role in reinforcing and reproducing the very idea of race. [See Chapter 113 for Professor Mahoney'S suggestions on how to attack race and housing segregation. Ed.] Notes 1. For discussions of these federal programs, see CHARLES ABRAMS, FORBIDDEN NEIGHBORS: A STUDY OF PREJUDICE IN HOUSING 174-75 (1955) (arguing that the FHA and the Home Loan Bank System sanctioned and encouraged the refusal of New York City banks to provide loans to black neighborhoods ); KENNETH T. JACKSON, CRABGRASS FRONTIER: THE SUBURBANIZATION OF THE UNITED STATES 190-218 (1985) (discussing the impact of various federal programs on housing patterns). 2. REPORT OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMISSION ON CIVIL DISORDERS 119 (1968). 3. On the suburbanization of jobs, see JOHN F. KAIN & JOHN M. QUIGLEY, HOUSING MARKETS AND RACIAL DISCRIMINATION: A MICROECONOMIC ANALYSIS 87-90 (1975) (detailing the interrelationships between the workplace and the residential choices of black workers); WILLIAM J. WILSON, THE TRULY DISADVANTAGED: THE INNER CITY, THE UNDERCLASS, AND PUBLIC POLICY 42,100-01 (1987) (emphasizing structural problems creating inner-city joblessness). 4. See Joleen Kirschenman & Kathryn M. Neckerman, "We'd Love to Hire Them, But .. ."; The Meaning of Race for Employers, in THE URBAN UNDERCLASS 203-04 (Christopher Jencks & Paul E. Peterson eds., 1991): 5. See Kirschenman & Neckerman, supra at 209-10, 213-17. 6. Note that in the family context whites lose their positions of privilege by marrying or living with blacks or by bearing or accompanying black children. White women with perceptibly black children are not as "white" as they were before they had black children. Interracial families are defined by the introduction of blackness rather than the other way around. Copyrighted Material ...


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