The housing market crash constitutes the largest loss of wealth to Black Americans in modern history. When I heard this last year it blew me away. I’m still trying to wrap my arms around the enormity of that fact. I think I even dropped it into a blog post hoping to receive alarmed exclamations from readers. This seemed to me a dire and largely unrecognized injustice – akin to watching poor residents of New Orleans abandoned during, and exploited after, Katrina.
I was reminded of this once more when I heard author Beryl Satter on the Tavis Smiley show yesterday. She was explaining how post-WWII Blacks in Chicago were discriminated against by racist Federal Housing Authority practices (among other things) and systematically denied home loans regardless of their economic status. African Americans were forced to take loans from predatory lenders, often paying double or quadruple what the property was worth, and on terms that made it almost impossible to keep the property. Satter went on to say that what occurred then is almost identical to our current housing crisis. Except this time the affected include not just African Americans, but also Latinos and whites as well. However, while the general population has been in a recession, people of color have been in a full-blown depression.
There is a silent Black depression in the U.S. and has been for the last year. This depression is exacerbated by the recession that communities of color have been experiencing for the past 5–7 years and that one scholar simply named “Black America’s permanent recession.” The Black unemployment rate is currently 11.9% and is expected to increase to nearly 29%, a level unmatched in over 20 years. Among young Black males age 16–19, unemployment is 32.8%, a rate not seen by any population since the Great Depression. In any other population, this rate of unemployment would generate disturbing news headlines about an economic depression. But there has been no recognition of this depression by the Congress, the President, or the mainstream news media. There has been no bailout, no aid package, no rules changed to reverse this disaster.
Exploiting people of color is about rich people getting richer definitely. But simply put, racism is the foundation on which economic inequity is laid. It has always been there, yet it seemed, at least for a time, that racial barriers were coming down and we were headed in the direction of progress. So what now is driving this resurgence of systemic racism?
In Saturday’s New York Times Frank Rich hit on something with his Small Beer, Big Hangover op-ed. Detailing the Henry Louis Gates, Jr. case, he opines: “If there was a teachable moment in this incident, it could be found in how some powerful white people well beyond Cambridge responded to it. That reaction is merely the latest example of how the inexorable transformation of America into a white-minority country in some 30 years — by 2042 in the latest Census Bureau estimate — is causing serious jitters, if not panic, in some white establishments.”
He points to the strange “birther” movement, and attacks on Sonia Sotomayor as examples of this panic. I don’t think the irony is lost on most Americans when controversial public personalities – such as Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Newt Gingrich, etc. – easily sling accusations of racism at Supreme Court nominees and even our current President, but cry foul when they are the accused. These noisy players are merely the face of a much deeper anxiety in America – anxieties that are revealed in vicious attacks on immigrants and re-energized attacks on Black prosperity.