I have a friend who doesn’t like cops. His dad was a cop, and he himself is a military veteran, but ask him about it and he will tell you straight up that he has no respect for the force. He has had too many experiences with lazy, domineering, overzealous, and officious officers to have any trust in them. His position is that the police have built a bad reputation for themselves and it’s their fault that people see the institution they’ve built and want to tear it down.
On the other hand, he doesn’t really understand the whole “Black Lives Matter” thing. As a white man himself, most of his bad experiences with cops involve white people, and there are plenty of instances of white people being murdered by police officers, so how could it be about race? Sure, black people are targeted more but they also commit more crimes. Just like with cops, black people have built a reputation for themselves through their actions, and they have to deal with it before they can claim victimhood. If black lives really matter, why don’t community leaders spend more time clearing out crack houses, breaking up gang violence, and building up a strong community for themselves?
I can’t possibly address all of the various factors that come into play when dealing with the intertwining histories of over forty million people, and certainly as human beings there are always going to be things we could improve about ourselves about individuals. However, when dealing with such a large group of people spread over such a wide geographical range, you would expect to see individual differences between people in that group smooth out almost completely. If you test two classes of ten people on astronomy and one scores higher than the other, it’s possible that one class just has smarter students or just worked harder. After all, if you roll a die ten times you still have about a 15% chance of never rolling a two; it’s entirely reasonable that you picked a group of really smart, hard working kids entirely at random. However, if you test two classes of ten million people on astronomy and one class scores substantially higher than the other, that raises some very serious questions about the differences between these two classes. The chances of rolling a die ten million times and never getting a six are, dare I say, astronomical.
Now, the history of drugs, gangs, and race in this country is far too broad and complicated to address in a single article, or even in a single book. I do, however want to hone in on one aspect of this one question: why aren’t black people now doing more to organize their own communities? After all, during the civil rights movement, plenty of brilliant minds like Martin Luther King Jr. expended herculean effort to end segregation and in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was signed, banning all sorts of discrimination based on race in public institutions. Books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou reveal an incredible capacity for hard work, perseverance, dignity, and excellence among black youth during a period when rights were practically nonexistent and constant threats of violence were the norm for black people. After so much progress has been made, and so many of the barriers that used to exist have been knocked down, why do we still see so many systemic issues in the black community? Why do people still insist that white supremacy is the problem?
Let’s start by talking about the “black community”. How can a racial community exist in a post-racial country? One major factor is the history of redlining, a big-government policy of restricting access to property ownership for black Americans as well as reducing investment in majority black neighborhoods. Established in 1934, the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure mortgages in majority black neighborhoods and subsidized housing projects under the condition that none of the homes be sold to black Americans. This was despite evidence that black property owners in all-white neighborhoods raised property values because they were willing to pay far more for the limited pool of housing they actually had access to. Various methods were used to segregate neighborhoods as highlighted in the Federal Housing Administration’s Underwriting Manual. In one section, the manual advocates for using “natural physical protection” and artificial barriers like highways to prevent “infiltration” from “inharmonious racial groups”. The probability of a neighborhood being “invaded” by “incompatible social and racial groups” was factored into how an area was rated for investors. Areas considered the riskiest for investment were colored in red, leading to the phrase “redlining”.
Want to read this story later? Save it in Journal.
The legacy of this policy remains a major factor in American cities to this day. In Philadelphia, Black Americans are 2.7 times as likely to be denied a mortgage than whites and nearly three-quarters of all banks are located in majority white neighborhoods, despite the population of the city being 44.1% black and 35.8% white. The gap between black and white home ownership is higher now than it was in 1960, as banks across the country continue to steer minority clients towards lower quality homes, offer them more expensive and predatory loans, raise additional barriers to acquiring loans, provide less help for paying off loans, and invest less in neighborhoods with majority black populations. For decades Black Americans have been barred access to essential resources, wealth, and equity at the same time they have been systematically segregated from white communities.
Now you might be wondering, if white people have spent so long excluding the black community from effectively using their institutions, why didn’t they just build their own? The answer is, they did. In 1906, wealthy black landowner O.W. Gurley bought over 40 acres of land in Tulsa, Oklahoma which he decided he would only to sell to other Black Americans. This self-sufficient community later became nicknamed “Black Wall Street” because of the vast wealth of its citizens, its robust ecosystem of black businesses, and the many independent financial institutions that kept money circulating within the community, allowing it to prosper. However, this success attracted the ire of neighboring whites, and in 1921 riots broke out over the alleged rape of a white woman by a man from the community.