No accident

More on that how we got here subject. From last month, Emily Badger on how Baltimore got to be the way it is. It wasn’t accidental; it wasn’t just people making choices in accordance with good libertarian principle; it was systematic and deliberate and done by one set of people to another set of people who had less power.

Just a few years ago, Wells Fargo agreed to pay millions of dollars to Baltimore and its residents to settle a landmark lawsuit brought by the city claiming the bank unfairly steered minorities who wanted to own homes into subprime mortgages. Before that, there was the crack epidemic of the 1990s and the rise of mass incarceration and the decline of good industrial jobs in the 1980s.

And before that? From 1951 to 1971, 80 to 90 percent of the 25,000 families displaced in Baltimore to build new highways, schools and housing projects were black. Their neighborhoods, already disinvested and deemed dispensable, were sliced into pieces, the parks where their children played bulldozed.

And before that — now if we go way back — there was redlining, the earlier corollary to subprime lending in which banks refused to lend at all in neighborhoods that federally backed officials had identified as having “undesirable racial concentrations.”

No buying a house for you. That’s what you get for being so damn undesirable.

It’s an irony, a fundamental urban inequality, created over the years by active decisions and government policies that have undermined the same people and sapped them of their ability to rebuild, that have again and again dismantled the same communities, each time making them socially, economically, and politically weaker.

That link goes to an article by Richard Rothstein, the great source on all this.

These cycles are not unique to Baltimore, which is also why the unrest in Baltimore this week feels more like a movement that’s bound to spread than the mere outburst of a few “thugs.” These cycles have gained such momentum that the difference in life expectancy between the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods is 13 years in Atlanta, and  16 years in Chicago, and 20 years in Richmond.

Not unique at all. I read Rothstein on Ferguson and I can see Seattle, and presumably every other big city in the country.

We don’t acknowledge that we created slums and perpetuated poverty. We don’t acknowledge that people who are poor were denied the chance to build wealth. And we don’t acknowledge that the problems we attribute to poor neighborhoods reflect generations of decisions made by people who have never lived there.

It would be nice if there were more efforts to undo all that, rather than just shoving more and more people into prisons.


  1. says

    In the case of Baltimore, the problem stems from a long-term game of blackmail between the wealthy tax-base who can leave the city and move to the expensive suburbs, versus the ghettoized largely african-american city residents. So it’s a cycle of gentrification boom and bust in parts of the city, while a core area of about 1/2 the city is stuck in poverty and looks more or less exactly like it did in the 1920s.

  2. says

    Not really – it’s not that simple. That’s what Richard Rothstein is trying to make clear to people. That’s the current story but that’s because people don’t realize how official the policy was. I certainly didn’t. Governments prevented African Americans from buying houses in suburbs.

  3. says

    Just a few years ago, Wells Fargo agreed to pay millions of dollars to Baltimore and its residents

    Any idea how this was distributed to residents, or did the city just add it to revenue?

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