One Legacy of White Supremacy in America

The GI Bill helped build post-war America, but it wasn’t really for everyone

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The GI Bill was instrumental (in addition to the central planning industrialization and unionization of America that happened during World War 2) in creating the modern American middle class, and its racist implementation yet another serious impediment to equality and justice in America. There are generations of people that followed in the wake of the GI Bill – such as myself – who are able to build on the wealth and resources of what my parents and grandparents were able to build thanks to the Bill, and those are precisely the resources that were denied black Americans.
The American history of white supremacy is an ugly one, and it has lots of manifestations: the GI Bill implementation, red-lining, highway routing, Jim Crow laws, the abandonment of Reconstruction… and what’s interesting to me is that I figure that the financial impacts are probably the longest-running and most pernicious and damaging manifestations. Seeing old photos of lynchings are obvious and brutal in their testament to inequality and the cruelty of the past, but because they’re so obviously awful and public, they’re much easier to discount: “well, there hasn’t been a lynching like THAT in decades”. And in some sense, that’s true. Blacks have been voting on equal terms (or near-equal terms, depending on your state’s laws regarding districting and IDs) for decades… and yet and it isn’t like Baltimore or Montgomery or Charlotte have been transformed into bastions of black freedom because of it.
Meanwhile, the financial effects chug along. They’re hidden, but their impacts go on for decades.

The North’s Cruel Hidden Racism

The financial industry isn’t afraid to screw a few points from the weak regardless of where they are relative to the Mason-Dixon line.

I always felt like Randy Newman’s song “Rednecks” offers a harsh but fair assessment of the sneering disdain the North typically has for the South’s brand of racism. I say “brand”, because that’s what it is. Did you know that Chicago is America’s most segregated city? There’s a real cultural ignorance at play with regards to what America has deemed acceptable and unacceptable levels of racism, and the echoes of the Civil War pretty much guide most of it.

home_owners27_loan_corporation_philadelphia_redlining_map

Guess which parts of Philadelphia are largely black/not getting those sweet federal subsidies to build generational wealth

It’s been established that minorities get higher interest rates regardless of income or credit, and that’s a national phenomenon that doesn’t respect the Mason-Dixon line. Chicago in particular has been a hotbed of contract for deed, a method of home purchase that dodges the need for a mortgage with a high-risk loan that doesn’t build equity until the home is totally paid off… a method of home purchasing that minorities have historically pursued owing to the federal mortgage insurance being part of the redlining system, wherein minority neighborhoods were screwed out of the financial help that most of America found and finds necessary in order to buy a home.

So, anyway, here we are in the North, with decades of robbing minorities of the opportunity to build equity by forcing them out of the traditional white financial system. It’s offensive, it’s criminal, and it goes on all the damn time. What’s really gross about this is that post-2008, the libertarian right was pretty convinced that the CRA – the regulatory environment that has been attempting to force banks to not screw minorities over for a percentage just because they can – was actually responsible for (some) of the mortgage meltdown when it turns out that it was the non-regulated, non-CRA banks which were actually out of control.

It feeds fuel to the fire that America has always had a too-casual relationship to its assumed white supremacy. I suppose I should point out that “white supremacy” isn’t being used here as a KKK hoods and lynching environment, but one which simply assumes that white people are just better than minorities. Here, we see it with:

  • The assumption that lending to minorities doomed us all because they can’t be trusted with the same financial instruments as whites
  • They aren’t being screwed by the financial system and so we don’t need a CRA or CFPB, because the invisible hand of capitalism sees no race
  • The invisible hand also is assumed to not take advantage of weak political entities in order to extract rents to screw them out of a few percentage points here and there

I think that’s enough.

The point is that there’s a pervasive, institutional racism in American finance. It’s very real, and while it’s proven easy to shame lynching and hoods into irrelevance, it’s proven much more difficult to shame shady financial practices. That’s a universal truth – financial systems are pretty opaque and play around with layered abstract concepts while having the money necessary to place their opacity beyond easy restraint in a democracy – it’s just that here, it’s doubly offensive in that it’s not just classist, it’s racist.