By Jesse Uiterwijk, Lucy Exley and Andrea Peña
According to Merriam-Webster, segregation is the “separation or isolation of a race, class or ethnic group.” In many ways, segregation, according to the definition, is still occurring in our neighborhoods today, but not in the way it did in the 1950s and ’60s.
If you were to ask anyone what race populates the majority of their neighborhood, they will more than likely tell you that their neighborhood is predominantly one race. But why, in our day and age, haven’t we overcome this?
It’s no mistake why there is still race dominance in our American neighborhoods. In this story, we investigated how decades of racist segregation laws still play an effect in our neighborhoods.
After the stock market crash in 1929, Americans across the country were in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. In response to this, according to the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston, the Federal Housing Association was created in 1937, providing bonds for homeowners in order to refinance their mortgages. The FHA came up with a system called redlining, which, according WUNC.org, was where the FHA “drew boundaries between neighborhoods that were eligible and ineligible for new loans.” This system, however, was extremely racist, because only some races were deemed fit for each area.
Redlining separated cities and towns into four areas: green areas, blue areas, yellow areas and red areas. According to the Nightly Show, only white, English, German, Scandinavian and Irish citizens could live in green-zone areas. “Less desirable whites” like Northern Italians and Eastern Europeans could live in blue-zone areas. “Undesirable whites” like the working class, Greeks, Russian Jews and Southern Italians could live in the yellow-zone areas. Lastly, African American people and Mexicans, no matter how much money they had, lived in red-zone areas.
In red-zone areas, African Americans were not allowed to take out loans. The result of this policy, was, according to NPR, from “1934-1968, 98 percent of all home loans were given to white families.”
This made it significantly easier for white families to gain wealth and non-white families to stay trapped in poverty. Eventually, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a law was passed that made these discriminatory practices illegal; but, since non-white people were trapped in poverty from decades of racist segregation laws, they couldn’t afford to move to a once “white” neighborhood, which is why less than 1 percent of all once “white neighborhoods” are of color today.
Races are not being separated by law. However, segregation is still occurring in our society in the sense that certain races cannot afford to live in certain neighborhoods due to decades of racist segregation laws passed by our American government.
Does racial segregation still exist in our own community? Is this a problem that can in fact get solved? This is what we investigated.
We wanted to know more about segregation in the neighborhoods of students at Summit Preparatory Charter High School, so we asked students and teachers questions regarding this issue.
To accumulate even more information, we also sent out a survey to 74 people, consisting of students and faculty.
When first approaching our interviewees, we gave them a handout explaining a brief history of redlining and neighborhood segregation in order to provide them with more context.
When we asked Rob Wilds, a junior here at Summit Prep, if he feels that segregation occurs in neighborhoods today, he stated that he thinks it does in some ways, especially in school systems. Kids getting a better education are likely to live in a wealthy neighborhood, one that maybe isn’t as diverse. The kids of other ethnicities attending school in the wealthy neighborhood are likely being bused over from outside of the district.
This shows how the history of housing segregation is affecting our schools today. White kids living in wealthy neighborhoods get the privilege of receiving a better education, as opposed to their ethnic counterparts who are forced to commute over from other districts to get a good education.
In Redwood City, Caucasian people make up 44 percent of the population, while in San Carlos, Caucasian people make up 79 percent of the population. According to Areavibes.com, the education score in San Carlos is an A- and for Redwood City it’s a D-. Its no mistake why the city with the better education score is predominantly white as opposed to Redwood City, which has a lower education score and is predominantly non-white. Like Wilds said, the predominantly white schools in San Carlos are largely unavailable to minorities who cannot afford to live in San Carlos due to the high cost of housing.
We also interviewed Juliana Nava, a junior at Summit Prep who lives in Redwood City and is currently taking the College Readiness class. “Gentrification is happening a lot in Redwood City right now, and I walk home and I see that happening to houses all the time. Gentrification is where rich people buy houses in poor areas to rebuild them and sell it for more. It’s harder for people that are not financially stable to be able to live in Redwood City [because of] gentrification.”
Mary Beth Thompson, the Modern World One teacher here at Summit Prep, said that the majority of her San Carlos neighborhood is Asian and Caucasian. When asked if the segregation occurring in neighborhoods today is a problem, she responded, “Yes, I think that without a racially and culturally diverse neighborhood, children fear what is different or become ignorant of the discrepancies that privilege can bring. When these children become adults, the likelihood of them being apathetic to the injustices of the world increases. The more injustice, the more hate.”
Ms. Thompson brought up the issue that without diverse neighborhoods, children will grow up showing no interest in solving the racial inequality occurring in our society. Housing segregation negatively affects communities by separating groups of people and limiting their interactions with each other, creating an atmosphere with unbalanced opportunity that encourages racial separation. If this neighborhood segregation problem isn’t solved, our society will stay in the racial inequality rut.
This brings up another question: Can this segregation problem ever get solved?
This type of problem is a tough one to solve, because it’s nearly impossible to undo the effects of decades of racist segregation laws. However, there are a few remedies that our government could fashion.
Chris Kelly, the AP U.S. History teacher here at Summit Prep, informed us that “the rate of home buying by non-whites in our neighborhood, actually in our town, is going up and has been going up for about the past 25 years.”
As we can see in Kelly’s city, the financial ability for non-white people to buy property in predominantly white cities is going up. This shows how the problem is getting better in some ways.
For example, according to the Smithsonian, “Congress could prohibit the use of exclusionary zoning ordinances in suburbs that were segregated and prohibit those ordinances from being enforced until such time the suburb became diverse.” This means that Congress could pass a law that prohibits the exclusion of certain types of land uses from a given community. This would allow for cheaper housing like apartments and townhouses to be built on land that once excluded these types of units in all white suburbs, allowing for more diverse citizens to move in.
Sadly, as stated in the Smithsonian, “We’re not likely to have the political support to develop these types of laws without understanding the role of government in creating the segregation in the first place.”
In terms of racial segregation in schools, Byron Hoy, a Spanish teacher here at Summit Prep, stated, “One major negative effect of this historically race-based socio-economic stratification is that nearly 30 percent of funding for public education comes from local property taxes. So, effectively, the higher the values of the homes in the area, the more money there is for education the students of those neighborhoods.”
Mr. Hoy is suggesting that since 30 percent of public school funding comes from local property taxes, areas with wealthier neighborhoods are likely to have better schools since more money can be contributed to them.
This education inequality could be solved if our government revised this property tax law so that property taxes from each area could contribute toward all schools across America, causing money distribution to be equal toward each school, regardless of where it is located.
In terms of solutions, Mr. Hoy said, “This problem will only be solved if citizens are actively engaged in local politics, which historically has not been the case.”