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Race and Homelessness – Deconstructing Systemic Racism

Fifty years after his death, Dr. King’s legacy lives on but the road ahead is still long.

To examine systemic racism in America we must take a historical perspective. This history has provided both great hopes and great disappointments.

The 19th Century ended with the premise of essentially two Americas, “separate but equal,” as outlined in the 1896 Supreme Court decision of Plessy vs Ferguson. Separate but equal? That is just a convenient phrase, with no grounding in reality. How could citizens of the same democracy somehow be separate and equal? The very act of separation causes inequality. It took over fifty years, more than half of the 20th Century, to undo this false premise through the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision.

This separation extended beyond our schools. Throughout much of the 20th Century, the Federal Housing Authority’s Redlining Policy kept African Americans and other persons of color out of the emerging suburbs and new towns while undermining growth in inner cities and other communities of color through biased regulations on home mortgages. Here too, we saw two Americas, separate, and far from equal.

Even today, forms of housing discrimination continue to exist. In the last two to three years, several banks have been fined by the Federal Government for unfair lending practices involving people of color.

With real estate an important part of wealth accrual in this country, the impact of such policies has been significant through generations, resulting in a disproportionate number of African Americans living in poverty, experiencing homelessness and in a wide gap in economic disparity.

Redlining constitutes a form of social engineering that has yielded disastrous results and changed the social fabric of our society through the separation of neighborhoods. Again, we find ourselves with two Americas, separate, and far from equal.

Today African Americans and Native Americans experience homelessness at a much higher rate than other groups. Some figures estimate that 40% of the homeless population in the US is African American, despite being only 12 to 13% of the overall population. Native Americans make up 4% of the homeless population and only 1.6% of the overall population.

This disproportionate representation is glaring.

In order to end systemic racism, we need to understand our history better. We need to decrypt ideologies and make courageous moves, and undo the injustices of the past.

Maya Angelou was born on April 4th, one year before Dr. King. She used to say that people will forget what you said, forget what you did, even, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

Let’s listen to what people of color are saying about this issue and remember how it makes us all feel. We hope that feeling inspires us to action.

By: Jean-Michel Giraud
President & CEO, Friendship Place
jgiraud@friendshipplace.org

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