Week 2: The American Dream
In honor of Black History Month, we are reflecting on what is missing from our understanding of U.S. history. We are challenging ourselves to dig a bit deeper into an important topic each week of February. We hope you will join us. Each week will give a jumping off point for a new topic.
This week we are exploring the narrative of the American success story. Many of the metrics used to measure success are strongly tied to access to a stable living situation in a healthy environment. This means living in an area with, among other things, access to clean water, diverse food choices, and quality medical care. In addition, it often means owning your own home. Homeowners benefit from accumulating wealth, or savings, in the form of home equity, as well as benefiting economically from tax deductions for mortgage interest and real estate taxes paid. The price of renting a home has these costs built in, without the ability to accumulate equity or deduct the expenses.
In the United States the average net worth of a White family is almost 10 times the average net worth of a Black family, and much of this wealth is in the form of home equity. According to a 2020 analysis, across the United States 44 percent of Black families owned their own home compared to over 73 percent of White families, with some cities having an even higher discrepancy. Without understanding the history of government policies that legalized housing segregation in the United States, it’s not possible to understand the homeownership and wealth gaps. These policies and practices are referred to as redlining, and their legacy affects Black homeownership and wealth to this day. Since where we live affects practically every aspect of our life, learning about the history of redlining is paramount. The term redlining comes from the color coded maps that were created for all major cities in the United States, including Boston.
Here are some ways to learn more:
The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein explains how the United States government created the homeownership and wealth gaps, from the government regulated suburban development and financing practices of the mid-1930’s to the repercussions of those practices that continue today. Other options include the podcast episode Location! Location! Location! from NPR’s Code Switch and the video Redlined, A Legacy of Housing Discrimination.