Fair Housing Month – The Third Wave of Segregation

City Council Chambers

We’ve taken a brief look at the history of segregation in the U.S. Well, things are different today, right?  Unfortunately, that isn’t so. Even though housing laws have changed, rather than being a break from our past, our current living patterns are the next reincarnation in a continual thread of inequality. Today, we’re experiencing a third wave of segregation, based on economics, needing no conscious ill-intent to or from any person or any group of people and, yet, this third wave can have the same effect of the last two waves by locking in poverty and segregation in our country for the next hundred years.

Make no mistake; there is still blatant discrimination. There are realtors who steer families to segregated neighborhoods. There are mortgage officers who refuse applicants loans for racial, ethnic and religious reasons. There are insurance agents who quote prices unfairly. These individual, illegal examples are serious.  But even more dangerous is the invisible segregation of today, precisely because it needs no ill-intent and can be so hard to see. For the most part, we do not have the cross burnings, mob violence, bullying realtors, and obvious unrestrained greed of old. However, we do have tax structures, other public policies and private business practices that are increasing the gulf between the have’s and the have not’s in this society at an alarming rate. We still have the myth of meritocracy: work hard and you’ll get ahead. But, when we study the less obvious public policies that are still in effect today and how the past is still influencing the present, we start to see the ways the deck is stacked for and against certain groups of people.

When we look back at the first and second wave of segregation, we can think, “How could people not know this was going on?” But will we ask the same thing about this, the third wave of segregation that continues today? Are we aware of the larger forces that control where we live, the opportunities that they open or close and what is happening to people in other parts of our cities. It is my hope that we won’t look back some day on this, the third wave of segregation, with the same surprised defense, “But I didn’t know!”

Next week: But What Do I Do?


Fair Housing Month – The Second Wave of Segregation

Chgo Public Housing

With the isolated black and white areas in place by the 1930s, many U.S. cities began to move into their second wave of segregation. In the 1940s, U.S. Congress gave cities huge federal grants to acquire rundown urban areas. With that money, the cities bought up the mostly black “slums” (that it had been instrumental in creating in the first place), tore them down and, then, handed the land to developers who were supposed to build enough replacement housing for the people who had lived there. Well, we know how that story ended.

Instead of being relocated in their home neighborhoods, the cities housed the displaced people in public housing towers that violated all federal standards for density. The hyper segregation of today’s cities could not have been sealed without the help of local and federal governments and this second wave of segregation which eventually created large, fortress-like, all-black areas.

Those displaced by “Urban Renewal” and those dislocated by public housing construction, provided real estate agents with a steady stream of desperate people searching for homes.  These people became the fodder for the real estate agents’ block busting schemes (“Buy low from the white people, sell high to the blacks”) that forced many white people to leave homes and communities they loved. In a modern day Machiavellian scheme, one group was played against another and everyone lost except for the unscrupulous business people who made millions and the politicians who had now fashioned separate, more easily manipulated voting blocks.

Next week: Today’s housing patterns


April is National Fair Housing Month


Poor house 1930Good house 1930We say that home is sacred and it’s easy to see why.  Our homes hold more than our belongings and even more than our memories.  They hold the key to the possibility or impossibility of true opportunity. Where we reside can determine our education, our jobs, our ability to create prosperity and even the likelihood of whether or not we’ll live in health. Vibrant, diverse communities where people interact in dignity and have every opportunity to blossom into their full human potential has never been fully experienced in this nation.

In my one-woman show, Dividing Lines: the Education of a Chicago White Girl in 10 Rounds, I set out to discover why Chicago like so many other U.S. cities was so segregated. I discovered that there was a time when Chicago was more integrated. The first strategic and protracted wave of segregation came during the 1920s when through bribes, threats, violence and other illegalities such as Restricted Covenant laws, politicians and others in power set out to create separate white and black residential areas. Black people were herded into the oldest, wholly inadequate and massively overcrowded sections of town.

In my research I heard stories from people who lived through this period. They told me of trips to the emergency room because of young children being hit by fallen plaster from rotting ceilings, old people being trapped in tenements because the landlords refused to fix stairwells and whole families killed in fires because greedy, predominantly white landlords had strung extension cords and makeshift wiring to create yet another improvised apartment in a basement, attic or storage shed.

With so little housing supply for Blacks, white business people made fortunes from life-threatening housing. With no mortgages for Black people and no Open Housing laws in effect, African Americans had few alternatives but to live in these dangerous, dilapidated buildings in the designated “Black Belts” of our city. While African Americans rose to the challenge and created incredible cultural institutions and support systems, they were left, nonetheless, vulnerable to the vultures who came to feed and capitalize on their physical entrapment.

A black family could protest and move out, but where were they going to go? And with so many other families desperate to move in what leverage did anyone have who tried to stand up to the injustice of deplorable living conditions?

Meanwhile, in the white areas, politicians and others who benefitted from these divide and conquer tactics fed on white’s fear and existing prejudices. They pointed to the rundown areas as proof that blacks were unfit to live with and said that competing blacks would pry away the working class whites’ tenuous hold on the ladder of economic security.

Thus, by the end of the 1930s our cities began to take on a familiar look with more prosperous white areas and more rundown black neighborhoods.

Next week: the second wave of segregation




Groups build their identity by saying who they are. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when we go beyond a description of who we are and start to place judgment on who’s “more than” and who is “less than”, we get in trouble. We human beings are endlessly creative at coming up with these better than’s and less than’s. Therefore, we are limitless in how many prejudices we can have.

One way to identify your prejudices is to think of any group with which you identify –city dweller/country kid, athlete/theater person, smart/not interested in academics, Republican/Democrat. Then, identify any groups viewed as different from or in actual opposition to your group.

Trust me, if any group is seen as opposite or very different from your group, you will have been given some misinformation about them. Catholics have been given misinformation about Protestants and Protestants misinformation about Catholics. Young misunderstand old and old misunderstand young. Smokers think nasty thoughts about non-smokers and non-smokers say negative things about smokers.

What jokes do people tell about a neighboring state to yours? If you live in Minnesota, you know the Wisconsin jokes, but you don’t necessarily know what they say in Montana about people who live in Idaho. It’s almost like sibling rivalry. You’ll mock your brother or sister because they’re in close proximity and you’re defining yourself against them.

Groups also define themselves in part by who they are not – nothing wrong with that. It’s just when we start to rank who’s cool (us) and who’s not (them) that we get in trouble.

As a human being we have a limitless supply of prejudices. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get rid of our initial negative judgment about individuals or groups of people. Often we learned our stereotypes and prejudices when we were frightened and we can’t seem to stop that first emotional reaction that goes on inside of us.

However, here’s the good news: if we become conscious of our judgments, we can stop ourselves before we ever treat someone badly. That’s called managing your prejudice and that’s something you, all of us, can do.



All Men and Women Are Created Equal


If we want our schools to be truly welcoming, there has to be transformation on four levels:

  • personal
  • interpersonal
  • societal
  • and institutional (applying the first three levels to a particular institution, in this case your school)


It is extremely important that we look at our own biases and how we treat one another. But dealing with our personal and interpersonal relationships is not enough. We must look at the society we live in because if our society and its institutions are not just, it will be much harder for people to get along, no matter how much individuals try to relate in kindly ways.

We have the chance to finish the work of the Civil Rights and other great justice movements of the 20th century. We have the opportunity to finally share this country as equals, to transform all the unseen systemic barriers into a mutually beneficial landscape where all of us are free to reach our highest vision of our community and ourselves.

I hope your school is already quite diverse and inclusive. And you can make it even more inclusive on all four levels by talking about some of the things we often shy away from discussing such as our own prejudices, the ways we treat each other and the history of discrimination that we’ve all inherited.

Within each of us is an inborn drive to excel, to do our best, to fulfill our potential and wildest dreams. When the systems of a society and, in particular, our schools are truly open, people will be free to make their contributions and we all reap the rewards. Today, finally, we have the opportunity to make the phrase “all men are created equal” truly mean all of us.



Actress Script

Culture is a shared design for living. Each of our cultures (our ethnic heritage but also our income group, our religion, our gender, where we live and so forth) gives us a “script” to live by. When an actor stars in a movie, he or she is handed a script. The script tells the actors what to say and the stage directions tell the actors what to do. The script literally tells the actors who they are and what role they’re playing. 

As we grow up, people are handing us scripts all the time.

How many of you chose your first school or your first church, temple, mosque or synagogue? How many of you looked up at your parents — a babe in arm — and said, “Mom or Dad, I want to live in this neighborhood”? No. Your parents or guardians made those choices for you. That’s their job.

With each choice your parents or caretakers made for you, you entered into a specific culture. Each of these cultures, because they share a design for living, handed you a script so that you could make sense of the world.

Hundreds of these scripts make up a culture’s worldview. Each culture says, “This is how we do things around here and here’s your lines so that you can fit in as well. This is the role you’ll play.” It doesn’t mean everyone in the group thinks the same, but they are likely to have similar frames of reference.

In fact, though hard to believe sometimes, how other people act seems absolutely logical to them. Few people wake up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll be absolutely confusing, irrational and irresponsible today. And, oh, yeah, I can’t wait to drive other people crazy.” A key to understanding what drives other people, why something that seems ludicrous to you might seem perfectly logical and even terrific to them is to understand the various cultures from which you and other people come.



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Rosie RiveterCultural norms are not static. They change when it’s politically and economically expedient to do so. When so many men joined the armed services during World War II, women were needed to work in the factories and other businesses. Rosie the Riveter who could do the hard work of welding and construction, became a household caricature. Posters and advertisements on the radio and in magazines said, “Come on, ladies. You can do it. You’re strong. You’re capable.”

But when the war was over and the service men came back to their jobs, the media began emphasizing the stereotype of women as delicate beings, incapable of “men’s work.” The cultural script became, “A woman’s place is in the home.” (Of course, lower class whites and women of color were often exempt from this “feminine” stereotype because they had always been needed to do the low-paying jobs. They were saddled with other stereotypes.)

It’s wise to remind ourselves that every person and every group has stereotypes about others. However, certain groups of people have had more power to broadcast their stereotypes to wider audiences. The people who have that power don’t necessarily have to hate the folks with less power. They just have to set things up to benefit themselves with no thought of how it affects others.

Sometimes, we think of stereotyping as an inevitable human activity. But we can see how societies use stereotypes by watching how stereotypes change over time. Stereotypes are not inevitable. If they’ve been created, then we can un-create them if we’re aware of how we’re being used and being primed to think in Us and Them’s.

Here is an excerpt from her play on Rosie the Riveter, by storytelling, Judith Black.


For Black History and Always: I Am Somebody

Students need to know that their families and their cultures – and, therefore, they – are welcome in the classroom. A great way to do this is to take Linda Christensen’s idea featured in the wonderful book Beyond Heroes and Holidays: A Practice Guide to K-12 Anti-Racist, Multicultural Education and Staff Development called “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms.”

Have your students make up their own “I Am Somebody” or “I Am From” poems by first making lists of:

  • Items found in their homes
  • Items found in their yards
  • Items found in their neighborhood
  • Names of relatives – especially ones linked to the past
  • Family sayings
  • Names of foods served at family gatherings
  • Names of places where the family has lived or visited
  • People – past and present – from their culture who they admire


Then, with a link between images such as “I Am…” or “I Am From…” have students write a first draft. Next, have the students read to each other with no specific comments. Just being heard can help the students feel cared for. Then, you can have a general discussion of what made certain phrases stand out such as specificity of detail, metaphor or humor and the students can try one more draft.

Here are a couple excerpt examples from Linda Christensen’s article “Where I’m From: Inviting Student Lives Into the Classrooms”and my work with teens:

I am from awapuhi ginger

Sweet fields of sugar cane

And green bananas


I am from get-togethers

And Barbeques

Salsa dancing on the back porch


I am from Kunta Kinte’s strength

Harriet Tubman’s escapes

Phyllis Wheatley’s poems

And Sojourner Truth’s faith


In this video, storyteller, Linda Gorham, shares her “I Am Somebody” story and reminds us that “We are products of the people who came before us and the preparation for the future.” 




We cannot underestimate the impact of what storyteller Anne Shimojima calls “looking into the mirror of life and never seeing your own reflection.” In this video “Taming the Fire“, story artist Sheila Arnold describes her teenage discovery of African American History. Luckily for Sheila, she had a teacher who understood Sheila’s anger at not learning about her heritage. Her teacher appreciated Sheila’s passionate and rightful desire for the truth and was able to transform that energy into inspiration for herself and all of her students.

Sometimes, those of us who are not identified as African American, think of Black History in terms of when Americans of African descent got the right to vote or sit at a lunch counter. The obstacles faced were so much deeper and wider than that and included: the right to know your name, the right to know your family, the right to hold office, the right to be in the military, the right to sign contracts, the right to buy homes, the right to enter most professions, the right to read, the right to go to school, the right to medical care, the right to refuse sterilization, the right to give evidence against a white man, the right to live without constant threat of physical harm and death to you and your loved ones and on and on. The fact that in spite of all this danger, disrespect and discrimination African Americans made contributions in every field of American life is a true testament to the human spirit.

In order to survive and even thrive under this constant onslaught to their humanity African Americans were able to lean on the gifts from their African cultures as well as develop a unique African American culture that is nurturing, strong and varied. Each African American child deserves to know about the beauty and struggle from which they come and all American students need to understand and appreciate how the United States is as democratic and as true to its ideals as it is because of African Americans.



Are You Unintentionally Offending Someone?

Because of how most of us were raised, we can all un-intentionally hurt others or even discriminate against them. The point is: are we willing to learn when someone takes the time to point out our mistakes and, after that, do we behave differently? In this video, storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston’s feedback on how black students are being treated at her school falls on deaf ears.

Do you know how you come across to other people?

What you think of yourself and how others see you might be two very different things. What’s funny is that many of us are shy or downright scared of asking for feedback. But what people think of you is still there, right?

We can’t do something about something if we don’t know it’s there. Especially when it comes to race relations, how are we going to improve if we don’t know what to improve?

It takes a lot of confidence to say, “That was my mistake” or “I can do better” but it makes you a much easier person to be with and others will see as a reliable and approachable friend and ally.