Federally Mandated Segregation

In my final blog post, I will be discussing redlining and how it contributes to systemic racism and the wealth gap in America today. The practice of redlining began with the National Housing Act of 1934, which established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The National Housing Act was created as part of the New Deal in order to make housing and home mortgages more affordable after the Great Depression. While racial segregation and discrimination against minorities and minority communities pre-existed this policy, this act made housing segregation federally mandated. In 1935, the FHA asked the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) to create “residential security maps” in 239 cities across the U.S. The security maps showed the level of security for real-estate investments and the market value of neighborhoods based on factors involving the homes and elements such as the homogeneity and the “desirability” of the area’s residents. This “desirability” was based on one’s racial and ethnic background. The most desirable areas, typically ones with affluent, White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant citizens, were outlined in green and labeled “Type A”. “Type B” neighborhoods, outlined in blue, were considered “Still Desirable” and older “Type C” were labeled “Declining” and outlined in yellow. “Type D” neighborhoods were outlined in red and were considered the riskiest for mortgage support. These neighborhoods tended to be older districts in the center of cities and were often also black neighborhoods. Black and Mexican neighborhoods tended to be redlined, regardless of the wealth or class of its citizens.

It is interesting to note how the election of Roosevelt marked the political realignment of black voters from the Republican to the Democratic party, even though his policies hurt African Americans. He was able to receive voting support from African Americans because of his progressive  New Deal policies that were intended to help them. According to the NPR podcast,

“A ‘Forgotten History’ of How the U.S. Government Segregated America,” Roosevelt included policies to help African Americans in order to create Southern support for the New Deal’s economic programs. In actuality, the New Deal’s economic programs reinforced the racial hierarchy in the U.S. and created more problems, such as redlining, for African-Americans.

   The HOLC subsidized mass production builders of entire suburbs and provided loans, under the condition that the company wouldn’t sell to blacks. Also, during this post-Depression era, all builders were dependent on government loans since they were too poor on their own. HOLC policy also included restrictive covenant prohibitions on the resale to African Americans. Moreover, the government helped white families move to the suburbs by ensuring cheap mortgages for them. Government propaganda, such as pamphlets and lectures, urged whites to move into single-family homes in the suburbs, away from blacks, as a way to “avoid racial strife”. The justification for the HOLC’s racist policies was that if blacks bought homes in or near the suburbs, the property values of the white homes they were ensuring would decline and therefore, their loans would be at risk. In actuality, African-Americans increased the property value when they moved into all-white neighborhoods because they were more willing to pay for homes than whites since their housing market was restricted.

Loans in redlined areas were either nonexistent or expensive, which forced families to rely on speculators and private sales by unscrupulous homeowners. Neighborhoods that were deemed unfit for investment by local banks were left underdeveloped or in disrepair. When existing businesses would collapse, new ones were unable to replace them, often leaving entire blocks empty. As a result, residents of these areas were often limited in their access to banking, healthcare, retail merchandise, food, and other basic services. In addition, schools in redlined areas would receive less funding from taxes and have fewer resources than the better schools in white neighborhoods. The lack of economic activity in segregated neighborhoods created job shortages. This made it even more difficult for neighborhoods to attract and retain families able to purchase homes. These bad conditions further encouraged landlord abandonment which caused the population density to decrease. Abandoned buildings became centers for drug dealing and other illegal activity, which caused more social problems and instability in these areas. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 removed racial housing restrictions by law, it was an empty promise. The homes that African-Americans could have afforded when whites were buying into homes were no longer affordable because the neighborhood value went up.

In order to understand the present-day effects of redlining, one needs to be aware of home equity. Home equity is an asset that comes from a homeowner’s interest in a home and is calculated by subtracting the amount that one owes in mortgages from the property’s market value. Home equity can increase over time if the property value increases or the loan balance is paid down. A homeowner can take out a home equity loan based the property’s value and spend the money on other things. Today, the median household income for black families is 60% of whites. The wealth ratio, which includes income and the value of one’s assets, for black families is 5% of whites. In Washington D.C., the median white family has a staggering 81 times as much wealth as the median black family. This wealth gap across America can largely be attributed to federal housing restrictions from the 1930s-1960s. African Americans are less likely to own homes and other assets, such as investments and trusts, that passively create wealth over time. They are also less likely to have inherited wealth from family members. The long term negative effects from housing segregation are one of the main causes of poverty among African Americans today. Although Roosevelt’s New Deal was outwardly progressive as it included clauses to help African Americans, the success of its economic policies was dependent upon the maintaining of the racial hierarchy. The effects of the Roosevelt administration’s efforts to create segregation in the North and in urban metropolitan areas through housing restrictions is still discernible in our country today.

 

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Foreign Policy: The Marshall Plan

In my third blog post, I am going to discuss the post-WWII Marshall Plan and expound on its relationship to the Cold War. To provide background, the Marshall Plan was an American-funded initiative to help economic recovery and reconstruction in European countries after the war. The program was effective from 1948 to 1952 and totaled around $12 billion distributed. The devastation of Europe after WWII allowed the U.S. to rise as the world’s sole superpower and the Marshall Plan further solidified the country’s leadership in the West in the post-war era.

Although it would require a lot of American resources, the Marshall Plan sustained U.S. economic interests and political interests through the containment of communism. While the program is generally seen as a foreign policy success, it exacerbated preexisting Cold War tensions by further dividing Western Europe and the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. It was in the United States’ interest to have a strong Europe in order to help American exports and stimulate the American economy. U.S. policy makers also did not want to make the same mistakes that were made after World War I in Germany. When Germany rose from the despair of post-WWI Europe it was hit first by the deprivations of the war itself, then by harsh reparations, and finally the Great Depression. This series of economic catastrophes led to a political climate in which Naziism could rise. The American logic was that if Germany or any other European country was further depleted after WWII, it would create fertile ground in which communism or fascism would be seen as attractive. Therefore an emphasis on reconstruction was deemed necessary in order to contain the growing Soviet sphere of influence in Europe. The Marshall Plan also pushed the importance of free trade and European unity to form a bulwark against communism. Additionally, it fostered international trade so that it would look westward and not eastward.

The nonparticipation of Eastern Bloc states in the Marshall Plan, combined with the self-interested Soviet governing of the Eastern Bloc gave rise to the huge disparity in the development of Western and Eastern Europe. Stalin meant to profit from the chaos in Europe in order to help rebuild the devastated U.S.S.R, which would need to recover in order to maintain its influence in Europe. Instead of providing aid, the Soviet Union took resources and imposed large payments as reparations from the Eastern European countries under its sphere of influence. In addition, the U.S.S.R was intimately involved in the governing of the Eastern Bloc countries, which made those nations largely dependent on the Soviets. While it did try to promote democracy, the U.S. didn’t involve itself much in the politics of Western European countries. Unlike the Soviets, the U.S instead provided money to assist in this reconstruction so that the economies could become self-sustaining.

To conclude, the Marshall Plan fostered powerful democratic principles such as self-help, regional cooperation, and technical trading in order to provide aid to rebuild Europe and to contain the growing influence of communism. While the U.S. and U.S.S.R were allies in WWII, the Marshall Plan and the approaches to post-War recovery revealed the deep tensions and ideological divisions between the two countries. I thought that the Marshall Plan, in particular, was an interesting event in U.S. foreign policy because of the number of different layers to it. It was not only an economic initiative, but it involved politics and the containment of communism. Although the official beginning of the Cold War is disputed among historians, I believe that the Marshall Plan was the first major event to really display the deep-rooted mutual animosity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

 

Immigration in the Context of Nationalism vs. Globalism

This second blog post will cover the impact of immigration on the nationalism vs. globalism debate. The article our class read, “We are not the World”, raised the fact that political arguments in the future will not be focused on the tradition left-right wing spectrum on beliefs. Instead, the divide will be between those who favor globalization, the process by whereby “goods, capital, and people move ever more freely across borders”, and nationalists, who seek to protect the identity of their nation-state. Globalists view that the concept nation-state is antiquated in this new, global era. Instead, they favor an integrated world with information, money, goods, and transportation, without being bound to traditional concepts of national identity and borders. The goal of immigration policy, according to globalists, is not about the security of one’s own nation, but the well-being of individuals themselves.

Much of the debate surrounding nationalism is the question of whether or not it is a cover for xenophobia. Nationalist arguments generally center around the notion that the nation’s cultural heritage, foremost needs to be protected and preserved. Immigration from countries with values far different from one’s own, may complicate and undermine the commitment to preserving the national identity. Nationalists may argue that they are welcome to immigrants so long as they can assimilate to their culture. In America, this means adopting American values, learning English, bringing useful skills, and waiting one’s term. When immigrants are eager to embrace facets of American culture such as language, values, and traditions, it reinforces pride and the idea that the country is good. It is also important to consider how nationalists, at least in America, are often uneducated, blue-collar whites who live in rural areas. Those who live in cosmopolitan urban centers are exposed to new ideas and they have greater economic opportunity. Therefore, immigration in an economic sense is seen as more of a threat to those blue-collar workers living in rural areas, who fear competition with low-wage workers. In addition, there is most likely a fear that immigrants can take scarce Federal resources that people use to support their families. In my opinion, these economic factors are not as important than the nationalist’s fear of multiculturalism. Given that much of the backlash against immigration is cultural, I believe that nationalists fear demographic changes and the potential of no longer being a majority. Those who do cite economic concerns may also do so in order to justify their fear of immigrants and multiculturalism. Although I understand, to an extent, the value that people attach to national borders and national identity, I think that nationalism is oftentimes a cover for xenophobia. In conclusion, concerns over the preservation of a national identity are ethnocentric, in my humble opinion.

 

Thoughts on Immigration

Most of what I have learned thus far in this unit has reaffirmed my position that immigration is an integral aspect of American society. America is built on a nation of immigrants who have enriched the nation’s culture and added to its productive capacity. The vast amount of immigration in America versus other countries gives the U.S. a global economic advantage, with both high-skilled and low-skilled contributing to the economy. High-skilled workers bring innovative ideas and establish business connections from their home country and the U.S. Immigrant connections between countries may allow for increased investments and trade in the global market. Low-skill workers, tend to fill jobs that Americans will not fill, such as agricultural and menial labor. With America’s population concentrated in cities, filling these unwanted agricultural jobs may revitalize rural areas and fuel population growth. Something noteworthy that I learned through finding sources for the immigration research guide is that Baby Boomers, over the next 20 years, will retire en masse. As a result, immigrant labor will be essential for filling these jobs and boosting the economy. Throughout this unit, hearing the personal stories allowed me to combine factual, general information with the emotional aspect of immigration.

The personal stories immigration stories from this unit helped me understand the psychological impact of immigration, especially on children, which I had previously not considered much. In the 21st century, we have seen a number of immigrants coming not just for economic opportunity, but to escape the turmoil in their home countries. Seeking political asylum has more acute consequences on immigrants than economic push factors. Violence and political turmoil in many parts of Central America and the Middle East have forced people to come to America, seeking political asylum. In addition, the process of immigration has become more dangerous. In I Learn America, Brandon’s story of coming to Guatemala and crossing the dangerous Mexican-American border, particularly struck me. It helped me realize when these people come to America, they not only bring the psychological trauma from war and violence in their home country, but also from the journey itself. Dealing with such stress, in addition to coping with everyday life in this new country is surely a huge obstacle. In the Baltimore Sun’s articles on immigration, it is revealed that the teachers in Patterson Park often have a difficult time coping with the teenagers’ use of phones during school. Only after reading the article, I realized that phones are one of the few ways for the immigrant teens to maintain ties with their home country. It was especially sad to read that some students have to use their phones to check updates on the status of their village and to see if it has been bombed. Another aspect of the experience of immigrant youth that I found interesting, was the fact that the children must a new language while navigating through the difficulties of work, school, and family life. Although I believe that immigrants should not be required to learn English, a rise in non-English speakers in America may increase the education gap between U.S. citizens and immigrants. This would be a large factor contributing to less assimilation.

Perhaps the most impactful feature of the documentary, for me, was the insight into the characters’ experiences as not only immigrants but also as teenagers. Navigating life in a new country, while also facing the everyday obstacles of adolescence, is certainly challenging. There is also an apparent effect of immigration on each student’s evolving identity. The film shows that the students often struggle to bridge the gap between following the expectations of American culture and the culture of their homeland. Itrat, for example, is a devout Muslim whose father expects her to fulfill the traditional, domestic role of women in Pakistan. She also has an arranged marriage waiting for her in Pakistan. Simultaneously, however, she is seen embracing her American education and aspiring to attend college. With this conflict of interest, Itrat has to ultimately choose between two aspects of her identity–her familiar homeland and her new America.

This unit has also furthered my understanding of the relationship immigration and politics in America. More than 90 percent of Latinos under age 18 are U.S. citizens and will soon be able to participate in politics, with most presumably voting Democrat. In my opinion, so long as Republicans maintain their tough stance on immigration and border security, the majority of Latinos will vote Democrat. Finally, finding resources about deportation has extended my understanding of politics and immigration. People are often separated from their families in order to come to America. Even for those who are successfully able to bring or join their families, there is a constant fear of deportation for undocumented immigrants. Since undocumented immigrants, by definition, enjoy fewer rights than U.S. citizens, legal representation in order to obtain a pathway to citizenship and to decrease the likelihood of deportation is difficult to acquire. I’m worried that a right-wing Supreme Court will make legal representation even more challenging for undocumented immigrants.

The methods in which the content of this unit was introduced, with both personal and societal stories, has allowed me to extend my understanding of immigration in a more thoughtful and comprehensive manner.