In desperation, as polls predict he is likely to lose in the November election, President Donald Trump has not only threatened to defund the post office for the purpose of ensuring that a lot of votes won’t be counted, but he has also, shockingly, been appealing to racism. He tweeted:
“I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood… Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson explains the meaning of Trump’s tweet and refreshes our memories about the AFFH Rule: “Trump tweeted what may be the most nakedly racist appeal to White voters that I’ve seen since the days of segregationist state leaders such as Alabama’s George Wallace and Georgia’s Lester Maddox… Many people probably don’t know what the ‘Obama-Biden AFFH Rule’ is, but its roots are in the 1968 Fair Housing Act, specifically its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision. That section of the law required federal agencies that deal with housing and banking to pursue their missions in a way that would actively desegregate housing. In 2015, the Obama administration spelled out how communities should measure their progress, or lack thereof, in eliminating housing bias, and tied federal funding for housing and urban development to those measurements. Trump’s tweet is a promise not to actively enforce that provision. And it’s a message to White people that they can go ahead and do whatever they feel is necessary to keep Black people and Latinos from moving into their neighborhoods.”
Of course, Trump does not explicitly name race in his abhorrent tweet and he doesn’t mention segregation in the public schools. In this one tweet, however, the President is explicitly endorsing injustices many of us have worked to try to overcome throughout our adult lives—housing segregated by race and economics—public schools segregated by race and economics—economic inequality which has worsened alarmingly in recent decades.
In 1962, Michael Harrington tried to remove our blinders when he wrote: “There is a familiar America. It is celebrated in speeches and advertised on television and in the magazines. It has the highest mass standard of living the world has ever known. In the 1950s this America worried about itself, yet even its anxieties were the products of abundance… While this discussion was carried on, there existed another America… To be sure, the other America is not impoverished in the same sense as those poor nations where millions cling to hunger as a defense against starvation. This country has escaped such extremes. That does not change the fact that tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency. If these people are not starving, they are hungry…. They are without adequate housing and education and medical care.” (The Other America, pp. 1-2)
In the midst of a long, hot, summer of violence in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a national commission to examine the causes of civic unrest erupting across America cities. The Kerner Commission, which released its report on March 1, 1968, challenged the very power and white privilege that President Trump is celebrating in his recent racist tweet: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal… What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it. It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation… It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens—urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.”
In a 2005 preface to the Princeton Classic Edition of his Bancroft Award wining history, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas Sugrue documents America’s failure, decades after the Kerner report and decades after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, to have made much progress on eradicating housing segregation (and by extension, school segregation): “It is dangerous to let our optimism about urban revitalization obscure the grim realities that still face most urban residents, particularly people of color. Acres of rundown houses, abandoned factories, vacant lots, and shuttered stores stand untended in the shadow of revitalized downtowns and hip urban enclaves. There has been very little ‘trickle down’ from downtown revitalization and neighborhood gentrification to the long-term poor, the urban working class, and minorities. An influx of coffee shops, bistros, art galleries, and upscale boutiques have made parts of many cities increasingly appealing for the privileged, but they have not, in any significant way, altered the everyday misery and impoverishment that characterize many urban neighborhoods… And despite some conspicuous successes—often against formidable odds—community development corporations have made only a small dent in the urban economies and housing markets… As with all urban transformations, the question is: Who benefited and who lost?… For now… racial and class inequalities have persisted—even hardened—in most Rustbelt metropolitan areas. Most people of color have remained on the margins of downtown booms, still segregated by race, still facing the consequences of disinvestment and job flight, still suffering from decades of cuts in urban funding and public services… From the mid-twentieth century to the present, American society has been characterized by a widening gap between rich and poor, between communities of privilege and those of poverty. Despite a rhetoric about race relations that is more civil than it was in 1950, racial divisions by income, wealth, education, employment, health, and political power remain deeply entrenched… What is clear is that urban America continues to be shaped by processes that have their origins deep in the mid-twentieth century.” (The Origins of the Urban Crisis, Princeton Classic Edition, pp. xxv-xxvii)
In his 2017, The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein draws the connection between segregated housing and segregated schooling. Further, he explores the structural difficulties which have prevented undoing both housing and school segregation, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Milliken v. Bradley banned busing children across jurisdictional lines from city to suburb to promote desegregation.
Rothstein explains: “As it has turned out, schools are more segregated today than they were forty years ago, but this is mostly because the neighborhoods in which schools are located are so segregated. In 1970, the typical African American student attended a school in which 32 percent of the students were white. By 2010, this exposure had fallen to 29 percent. It is because of neighborhood segregation that African American students are more segregated in schools in states like New York and Illinois than they are anywhere else.” (The Color of Law, p. 179)
Rothstein continues: “Yet… we shouldn’t have expected much to happen from a Fair Housing Act that allowed African Americans… to resettle in a white suburb. Moving from an urban apartment to a suburban home is incomparably more difficult than registering to vote, applying for a job, changing seats on a bus, sitting down in a restaurant, or even attending a neighborhood school. Residential segregation is hard to undo for several reasons: (1) Parents’ economic status is commonly replicated in the next generation, so… depressed incomes became, for many, a multigenerational trait. (2) The value of white working- and middle-class families’ suburban housing appreciated substantially over the years, resulting in vast wealth differences between whites and blacks that helped to define permanently our racial living arrangements… (3) We waited too long to try to undo it… (H)omes outside urban black neighborhoods had mostly become unaffordable for working-and lower-middle-class families. (4) Once segregation was established, seemingly race-neutral policies reinforced it to make remedies even more difficult. Perhaps most pernicious has been the federal tax code’s mortgage interest deduction…. Because de jure policies of segregation ensured that whites would more likely be owners and African Americans more likely the renters, the tax code contributes to making African Americans and whites less equal. (5) Contemporary federal, state, and local programs have reinforced residential segregation rather than diminished it. Federal subsidies for low-income families’ housing have been used mainly to support those families’ ability to rent apartments in minority areas where economic opportunity is scarce, not in integrated areas. Likewise developers of low-income housing have used federal tax credits mostly to construct apartments in already-segregated neighborhoods.” (The Color of Law, pp. 179-180)
Rothstein examines housing policies, many of them enforced by federal, state and local laws, which for decades have diminished opportunity for African American families hoping to buy homes in what are now in many cases segregated white suburbs. These include FHA loan policies that excluded black Americans, discrimination in Veterans Administration loans after WWII, exclusionary local zoning with lot size requirements and prohibitions for multi-family housing; protective covenants, mortgage and insurance redlining, and other policies. Rothstein reminds readers: “The FHA was particularly concerned with preventing school desegregation. Its manual warned that if children ‘are compelled to attend school where the majority or a considerable number of the pupils represent a far lower level of society or an incompatible racial element, the neighborhood under consideration will prove far less stable and desirable than if this condition did not exist’ and mortgage lending in such neighborhoods would be risky.” (The Color of Law, pp. 65-66)
Racism has found other routes into federal and state education policy today. The No Child Left Behind Act demanded that states evaluate their public schools by aggregate standardized test scores for so-called “accountability” purposes. States then used these evaluations to create school district report cards and awarded letter grades to the highest scoring schools and school districts. It is well known that aggregate standardized test scores measure primarily out-of-school factors—the economic level of families and neighborhoods—rather than the quality of the teachers, the curriculum, and a child’s experience at school. But no matter: Online real estate companies like Great Schools and Zillow now publish the school “grades” and in doing so, promote wealthy and privileged school districts and redline public schools serving concentrations of children in poverty.
Today rapidly accelerating economic segregation across America’s metropolitan areas is overlaid upon racial segregation. The results were measured by Stanford University’s educational sociologist Sean Reardon in ground-breaking research. In 2011, Reardon, used a massive data set to document the consequences of widening inequality for children’s outcomes at school. Reardon showed that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. By 2007, fewer families across America lived in mixed income communities. Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent, was 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.
Housing segregation and school segregation by both race and family economics are among our society’s most serious injustices. That the President of the United States would appeal to blatant racism as a cheap political ploy in this election year and that he would deny the tragic history of racist policies, which have at the same time explosively driven economic inequality, is alarming and despicable.