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?