Unity of Gaithersburg was delighted to celebrate Black History Month with a series of vignettes each Sunday during the month of February. Many thanks to our board President Kathy Daniels for curating the material for these. Click here for a copy of the presentations.
For more information about Black History Month, click here.
Here are a few items of interest:
PBS had a wonderful series called "The Black Church" Click here for more information.
Amanda Gorman, the US Youth Poet Laureate, has written a wonderful piece called
"Old Jim Crow Gotta Go" Click here to watch.
During Black History Month we were introduced to a prayer by Marianne Williamson:
The Prayer of Apology to African Americans.
Click here to go to that page.
The Goal of Black History Month
February of every year is designated as Black History Month. One goal of this designation is to help raise the awareness of and honor those who have made amazing contributions to this country. It’s also an opportunity to present factual information on events in black history detailing the plight of African Americans; information often not taught in schools.
In presenting black history to Unity during black history month, it was my goal to raise awareness of not only the outstanding accomplishments of African Americans, but to show it in light of all the intense and cruel racism endured, much of which continues to this day. Black history in America is deep, intense, and complicated. Highlighting the black experience is sorely needed. It allows those benefiting from white privilege to examine that privilege and understand it’s not something that is afforded to all. It also educates all of us on many hidden facts. If this awareness is achieved, then healing can begin.
I do hope this year’s black history program accomplished those goals. Hopefully, the dialogue will continue into the future, not just the month of February.
These informative posts continue in our new blog:
Black History Month: Deepening Your Awareness.
Institutional Racism in Housing
As black migrants fled the horrific conditions of the south and settled into other areas of the country, a whole new set of challenges emerged. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an effort to address the housing shortage created by the Great Depression and the migrants, developed the New Deal. However, the New Deal adopted a set of laws and policies for the black migrants very different than those of
low-income white people. This practice was known as redlining.
The Roosevelt Administration, in an effort to reduce home foreclosures during the Depression established the Federal Housing Association (FHA), institutionalizing the practice under the 1937 U.S. Housing Act. FHA and other housing agencies determined whether areas were deemed unfit for investment by banks, insurance companies, savings and loan associations, and other financial services companies. The areas were physically demarcated with red shading on a map. In contrast, zones which were to receive preferential lending status were marked in green shading and intermediate areas in blue shading. Often these decisions were arbitrarily based on the area’s racial composition rather than income levels. In fact, the FHA subsidized builders who built homes in suburban areas for whites, whether they were middle or low-income, while blacks were relegated to inner city housing projects.
As a consequence of redlining, neighborhoods that local banks deemed unfit for investment were left underdeveloped or in disrepair. Attempts to improve these neighborhoods with even relatively small-scale business ventures were commonly obstructed by financial institutions that continued to label the underwriting as too risky or simply rejected them outright. When existing businesses collapsed, new ones were not allowed to replace them, often leaving entire blocks empty and crumbling. Consequently African Americans in those neighborhoods were frequently limited in their access to banking, healthcare, retail merchandise, and even groceries. One notable exception to this was (and still is) the proliferation of liquor stores and bars which seemingly transcended the area’s stigma of financial risk.
Redlining also led to an appreciable dearth of employment opportunities in these neighborhoods as prospective small scale employers were disinclined to locate there. Crime often followed in the wake of these declining neighborhoods making future investment less likely. These developments created a cycle which seemingly justified the initial redlining practices.
While the practice was almost universal before 1968, the Civil Rights movement called out the practice as a discriminatory pattern of disinvestment which acted as an impediment to home ownership among African Americans and other people of color. In response, the FHA banned racial discrimination in housing. However, the effects of this practice have lasted until this day.
The lack of funds going into neighborhoods designated for blacks or people of color, left the residents impoverished with poor schools and little to no infrastructure. This, in turn, led to increased crime. Now, officials feel justified in ignoring the needs of low income black neighborhoods. And so, the cycle continues.
This practice has created a self-fulfilling prophecy, thus institutionalizing racism.
Institutionalized Racism in Employment
As African Americans attempted to improve their lives and integrate into society post slavery, many by migrating north but mostly all by seeking employment, numerous hurdles were put into place. Housing was a significant issue with the redlining laws previously discussed. Then came the challenge of finding employment in a society still steeped in racial stereotypes and codified in law prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Even after the Civil Rights Act, the new laws said one thing but the mentality of society said another.
Few blacks had the distinction of getting into schools of higher education in the early 1900’s. Hence, most jobs available to blacks were unskilled labor. Blacks in the south were still being employed as sharecroppers, living off a portion of the crops they harvested. In the north, the entertainment field was open to a limited number of very talented blacks, as were the literary and scientific fields. Most blacks sought employment in the area of unskilled labor positions like auto manufacturing. In fact, some northern companies encouraged and even paid for black laborers to come work in their facilities. Once there however, blacks were relegated to the most unpleasant and dangerous settings, such as the killing and cutting areas of meat packing plants. While the pay for blacks in the north was much higher than southern pay, the income gap between blacks and white was much lower for black men and women.
Shortly after the great migration was in full force, the Great Depression began. In response, the New Deal was enacted which created a series of policies to assist families and expand access to economic mobility. However, none of the policies were designed to address black unemployment. Working conditions and wages were improved for white workers but largely excluded African American workers by excluding domestic, agricultural and service occupations, the exact occupations held mostly by blacks.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed for the creation of new agencies that were to hold people and institutions accountable for discriminatory acts. However, these agencies were never fully funded, resulting in continued discrimination against blacks and other people of color.
To this day, African Americans, on average, hold non-skilled jobs at a higher rate than any other racial group. While there are laws on the books to prevent discrimination, the lack of funding prevents agencies from enforcing those laws. Consequently, blacks hold an unemployment rate twice that of whites and a 25 to 45 percent lower median income.