Month: February 2021

The Lies That Divide Us: Memphis

“If you inquire into the history of the metropolitan area in which you live, you will probably find ample evidence of how the federal, state, and local governments unconstitutionally used housing policy to create or reinforce segregation in ways that still survive.” ― Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Self-segregation is the biggest lie in the United States narrative. The idea perpetuates itself as a myth insisting that there is some truth behind the color lines. Let me be clear, there is not. Segregation, even the group segregation we see in school-age-children, is a direct result of government planning, racist ideas, and capitalist interest. And while uncovering the truth is not a hard task, the policies and documents are available, recovering from centuries of segregation will take time, money, repentance, and direct action. 

The United States government is directly to blame for past and present racial segregation. Post-reconstruction, the policies and practices of the federal government have supported the separation of black and white citizens. “Practices such as redlining, restrictive covenants, and discrimination in the rental and sale of housing not only led to residential segregation by race but also continue to shape Whiteness and frame narratives about what constitutes Blackness.” These practices do not accuse but outright convict the US government of creating a racially stratified society in lieu of its promise of democracy and free-market capitalism. The actions of which have led to generational poverty for some and wealth for others. Furthermore, such actions have negatively impacted the “educational opportunities and life outcomes” of people of color. 

No group aware of such consequences, would intentionally separate itself from the very lifeline of freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness. The government’s segregation policies did more than just keep the status quo; it created an even wider chasm between the two races. “The isolation of communities of color from members of the dominant group often means that communities of color [were] subject to more environmental hazards, aggressive policing tactics, under resourced schools, greater stressors that lead to lower life expectancies, as well as the exacerbation of existing chronic health issues, limited life chances and opportunities, and ultimately even greater premature death, relative to Whites.” Hence, while self-segregation was the narrative of myth the government used to enact its policies, federal segregation was the arm that guided some away from the American dream and others closer to it. 

To fully understand the ramifications of the US policies and laws, clarity between defacto and dejure segregation must take place within the American consciousness. Black Americans did not practice tribalism, choosing to separate themselves from white society; white Americans did. In The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, author Richard Rothstein writes that it is, “A common explanation for de facto [natural] segregation is that most black families could not afford to live in predominantly white middle-class communities and still are unable to do so. African American isolation, the argument goes, reflects their low incomes, not de jure [legal] segregation.” However, de facto segregation is a lie, even in incidences where African Americans could afford homes, they were not allowed to purchase them due to racial contract clauses on housing deeds. Rothstein goes on to write, “But we cannot understand the income and wealth gap that persists between African Americans and whites without examining governmental policies that purposely kept black incomes low throughout most of the twentieth century. Once [the] government implemented these policies, economic differences became self-perpetuating.” 

The directions of that economic difference led to an income gap that continues to plague minority communities. Since income from one generation to another rarely jumps substantially, the government policies of the past continue to plague the future. Rothstein continues his argument by stating, “So an account of de jure residential segregation has to include not only how public policy geographically separated African Americans from whites but also how federal and state labor market policies, with undisguised racial intent, depressed African American wages”. Thus de facto arguments such as tribalism and wealth were and are still not valid in any discussion where the segregation seen today was a result of choice. One again, self-segregation among black and whites in the United States is a lie that allows the United States government not to repent and take responsibility for the psychological, economical, and physical depression of black people and other minority people. 

Memphis, Tennessee breaks through the lie of self-segregation. The color lines are apparent in every road made wide and every valley laid low, especially in the area of housing. Seeing Red, A special report by High Grown News in 2019, expounded on how, in Memphis, “housing has been a tool to suppress Black wealth, not grow it.” Housing in Memphis, Tennessee remains deeply rooted in de jure segregation. In Memphis, “the poverty rate for Black Memphians is an estimated 24.5 percent compared to 8.1 for white Memphians. Despite an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 vacant houses in the city, Black homeownership dropped 18 percent from 2005 to 2017, putting Memphis in the top third of declining cities in the U.S.” As stated above, home ownership and generational wealth are tied together. However, the trend declines when government lending practices and bank-issued-mortgages terrorize rathan than assist one the basis of race. This practice of terror was known as redlining. 

Redlining in Memphis created maps where “federal and local governments worked with banking and insurance industries to develop practices and policies that undermined Black wealth at the neighborhood level by gutting investments and concentrating poverty in redlined communities.” To be clear, this practice combined the racist sentiments of private institutions with the power and might of the United States government. The lie is that segregation happened naturally, the truth is that the U.S. government and those in power designed it as such. In the years to come, “Residents in “undesirable” neighborhoods like South and North Memphis saw home values plummet. Builders, developers, business owners and residents with means followed the money to greener neighborhoods. The exodus was used as further evidence redlined neighborhoods were dangerous for investment. It was the beginning of a 90 year cycle meant to maintain white wealth and social superiority.” This cycle created food deserts, opportunity gaps, and poverty maps which still align to past redlined communities. We can say that individuals have choices but what we also have to say is that for some, those choices have been taken away. 

While the majority of white America still believes in the lie, there are great organizations spouting from communities of color and allies directing society towards the truth. MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope) is a collection of congregations, organizations, and individuals focused on education, economic, race, and class equity in the city. Memphis Area Legal Services provides civil legal representation to low income families facing mortgage foreclosure, eviction or homelessness. Agape Child and Family Services address the spiritual needs of Memphis families, in addition to their physical needs such as housing. There are many more truths being told in Memphis. Self-segregation may be the lie but questions we must all ask ourselves is, why did we need the lie in the first place. 

 

 

Chris Williams is Mission Immersion Director for Memphis Youth Mission

 

 

 

 

Resources and Citations

Notes:

  • Explaining the lie
    • Source: Race, Residential Segregation, and the Death of Democracy Education and Myth of Postracialism
      • “Since the 1930s, federal housing policies and individual practices increased the spatial separation of whites and blacks. Practices such as redlining, restrictive covenants, and discrimination in the rental and sale of housing not only led to residential segregation by race but also continue to shape Whiteness and frame narratives about what constitutes Blackness.” – 1
      • “Residential segregation is no accident but is one of a host of expected outcomes of a racially stratified social system that was in place concurrent with the founding of the “democracy” of the United States.” – 1
      • “The consequences of this segregation have lasting impacts not only on the financial state of peoples of color but on educational opportunities and life outcomes.”
      • “The isolation of communities of color from members of the dominant group often means that communities of color are subject to more environmental hazards, aggressive policing tactics, underresourced schools, greater stressors that lead to lower life expectancies as well as the exacerbation of existing chronic health issues, limited life chances and opportunities, and ultimately even greater premature death, relative to Whites. Where Black and Brown people and Whites live does not occur by happenstance, nor is it primarily the result of personal or group preferences. “ – 9

 

  • Defacto vs Dejure segregation 
    • Source: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
      • A common explanation for de facto segregation is that most black families could not afford to live in predominantly white middle-class communities and still are unable to do so. African American isolation, the argument goes, reflects their low incomes, not de jure segregation. Racial segregation will persist until more African Americans improve their educations and then are able to earn enough to move out of high-poverty neighborhoods. The explanation at first seems valid. But we cannot understand the income and wealth gap that persists between African Americans and whites without examining governmental policies that purposely kept black incomes low throughout most of the twentieth century. Once government implemented these policies, economic differences became self-perpetuating. It is not impossible, but it is rare for Americans, black or white, to have a higher rank in the national income distribution than their parents. Everyone’s standard of living may grow from generation to generation, but an individual’s relative income—how it compares to the incomes of others in the present generation—is remarkably similar to how his or her parents’ incomes compared to others in their generation. So an account of de jure residential segregation has to include not only how public policy geographically separated African Americans from whites but also how federal and state labor market policies, with undisguised racial intent, depressed African American wages. In addition, some and perhaps many local governments taxed African Americans more heavily than whites. The effects of these government actions were compounded because neighborhood segregation itself imposed higher expenses on African American than on white families, even if their wages and tax rates had been identical. The result: smaller disposable incomes and fewer savings for black families, denying them the opportunity to accumulate wealth and contributing to make housing in middle-class communities unaffordable. If government purposely depressed the incomes of African Americans, with the result that they were priced out of mainstream housing markets, then these economic policies are also important parts of the architecture of de jure segregation. – 153-155

 

  • Exploration of Segregation in Memphis
    • Source: https://www.highgroundnews.com/features/SeeingRedlining.aspx
      • “housing has been a tool to suppress Black wealth, not grow it.”
      • “Across the Memphis metro area, the poverty rate for Black Memphians is an estimated 24.5 percent compared to 8.1 for white Memphians. Despite an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 vacant houses in the city, Black homeownership dropped 18 percent from 2005 to 2017, putting Memphis in the top third of declining cities in the U.S.”
      • “Most wealth is built by owning and inheriting property, but centuries of slavery, racism and racist policies have limited Black wealth, incomes and the credit and collateral necessary to access home ownership and the middle class.”
      • “With the maps as a guide, federal and local governments worked with banking and insurance industries to develop practices and policies that undermined Black wealth at the neighborhood level by gutting investments and concentrating poverty in redlined communities.”
      • ““We’ve got to put that on the table and agree that this was not accidental,” said Harrison. “It wasn’t by accident, it wasn’t a byproduct of hodgepodge development. It was intentional, an intentional policy that was implemented holistically.””:
      • “Residents in “undesirable” neighborhoods like South and North Memphis saw home values plummet. Builders, developers, business owners and residents with means followed the money to greener neighborhoods. The exodus was used as further evidence redlined neighborhoods were dangerous for investment. It was the beginning of a 90 year cycle meant to maintain white wealth and social superiority. “The program — the housing program, the urban programs — that this was a part of were very much about making sure white families had access to both public and private sources of capital and cutting neighborhoods of color off from those,”
      • “Anyone can see how these neighborhoods that were redlined corresponds to current poverty rates, corresponds to vacant and abandoned properties, unbanked households, mortgage originations, health determinants, life expectancy,” said Harrison. “Name the social determinant, you’ll see that these areas were denied investment and capital and have been for decades and how that is playing out currently in the social environment of those neighborhoods.”
      • For the remaining 20th century, redlining spread in waves as wealthy and middle class Memphians — most white but many Black — pushed further and further from the center city and lower income families followed, moving north, south and east along Poplar.
      • ““These are evidence of the federal government’s role in this,” said Nelson. “It’s not just the marketplace that causes these great variances in wealth, it’s federal policy that does that.”

 

  • Examples of Resilient organizations
    • Source: 
      • MICHA Memphis
      • Memphis Area Legal Services
      • Agape Child and Family Services

The Lies That Divide Us: Lies of Omission, Our Hidden Histories

Right outside the Raleigh Youth Mission office is Nash Square. It is a green space full of trees nestled in downtown Raleigh.

Photo Credit: Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina: Josephus Daniels

It’s a great place to eat lunch and rest under the Oak trees which provide ample shade in the summer. Within the park sits an empty cement block – you most likely would not notice it, unless you knew it was there. Up until this summer there was a statue of Josephus Daniels who was an American newspaper editor. In fact his statue faces east where right across the street, the Raleigh News and Observer is located where Daniels worked for many years. He was appointed by US president Woodrow Wilson to serve as Secretary of the Navy during World War I. He became a close friend and supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and was appointed by Roosevelt to be the Ambassador of Mexico.

So, why remove his statue? 

It turns out Daniels was a fierce white supremacist and segregationist.  Along with others, he was a leading perpetrator of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre. This massacre was directly targeted at Black Americans

The Wilmington Massacre was carried out by white supremacists in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 10, 1898. It is estimated that hundreds of African Americans were killed. A great documentary to watch is Wilmington on Fire.

Daniels believed that, “the greatest folly and crime in U.S. history was giving Negroes the vote.” He and his newspaper championed the white supremacy cause in frequent news reports, vigorously worded editorials, provocative letters, and vicious front page cartoons that called attention to what the newspaper called the horrors of “negro rule.” Daniels headed up the anti black propaganda campaign by arguing that as long as African Americans had any political power, they would block progressive reforms.

He was highly influential in the state legislature’s passage in 1900 of a suffrage amendment that effectively disenfranchised most African Americans in the state, excluding them from the political system for decades until the late 20th century. They were also excluded from juries and subject to legal racial segregation, via the Jim Crow laws. 

History decided that his good acts out weighed his racism and made him out to be a hero. Daniels had a voice, a loud voice, that discriminated against and impoverished many African Americans. History has a way of ignoring the wrongs when it comes to supporting the status quo. This is an example of lies of omission, of hiding histories because they are too insidious. We as Americans like to sweep the bad stuff under the rug. 

As I began to research more about Josephus Daniels, I uncovered other fascinating historical facts about my community. 

It turns out that one of the middle schools in Raleigh was named after Daniels. Along with his statue being removed the name of school was also changed this past summer. The school is now known as Oberlin Middle School. Why the name Oberlin? Right after the emancipation in 1865 – African Americans could own land in the Oberlin area, which at that time was right outside the city limits of Raleigh. This area was named after Oberlin College in Ohio – which was the first school to allow blacks to actually graduate with a degree – some colleges allowed black students to attend, take and pay for classes, but not receive a diploma. Here is some more information on Oberlin Village.  

Photo Credit: Hi-Times Sarah Chew

As I learned more about Daniels Middle School I discovered another story about school segregation. Joe Holt who still lives in Raleigh – shares a story about how his family petitioned the school district which would allow him to attend Daniels Middle School since it was located right across the street from where they lived.  At that time he was taking a bus along with other black students to a school that was across town. The school district kept stalling and therefore he never attended Daniels Middle School. But his family continued the fight as he entered High School. Once again the closest school to where he lived was Broughton High School in Raleigh, but he was not allowed to attend that high school because of the segregation laws.  This is the time frame when Holt’s case finally went to court – in fact it went all the way to the US Supreme Court – which ruled in his favor and awarded him the right to attend Broughton HS – the only problem was that Joe had just finished his freshman year of college.  People still today will say to Joe – “Oh you were the first African American at Broughton or you were the first African American to graduate from Broughton.” He has to tell them – I never went to Broughton.  Once again – history gets distorted, lies of omission of hidden histories reign. We remember the outcome but not the cost to so many African Americans. Here is a video that describes in full detail the story of Joe Holt.  

I did not grow up in the Raleigh area and so I have spent time researching the area. I was surprised to find that it took a lot of time, questions and conversations in order to discover this history, in fact it took talking with African-Americans who grew up in this area to even know these events took place, to even begin my research. The more I uncovered the more I found. When I share this information with most white people who grew up and/or are current students in the Raleigh area – they are surprised to learn about most of these events. 

Which brings us to this fact: that there are lies of omission, truths that are never shared because they are insidious.  They make people who have done a lot of good things, look bad. But we need to know the full truth. We need to realize that all of us have participated in good and poor choices in our lives. We hope that through both – we learn and grow. We need to know the entire story in order to learn and not repeat the same mistakes over and over again. 

In Luke 12: 2-3, we find Jesus saying these words: “2 Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”

In light of this passage and the hidden histories in Raleigh, consider these questions: 

Have you ever experienced a time when you discovered a truth that was hidden from you? What was that like to discover the truth? 

What happens when we bring what was hidden out into the light? 

Why do you think Jesus shares this information with his followers? How does this bring about the Good News? 

What have you learned from these stories that will help you in searching for the truth about your community? 

Most likely there are stories just like this in your location. We at Youth Mission Co offer a 4-part series that you can do with youth to discover your own hidden histories. 

Youth Mission Co Hidden Histories Series.

Rev. Linda Harding is a Christian (Disciples of Christ) pastor.  She lives in Raleigh and is the Mission Immersion Director of Raleigh Youth Mission.

The Lies That Divide Us

On January 6, 2021 America watched as a crowd of thousands of people participated in a protest that turned into a riot.  That riot included storming the nation’s Capitol building while our elected leaders were still there, working to fulfill their duties to the constitution and to the people that elected them. 

Photo by Pacific Press/Getty Images

Among the rioters storming the Capitol Building were believers in Q Anon, members of The Proud Boys, The Oath Keepers, and other followers of groups who have white supremacist beliefs or who subscribe to wild conspiracy theories.  The nation looked in horror as our fellow citizens trashed the Capitol and sought out elected leaders to abduct.  Many of us responded with confusion and incredulity, not understanding how so many fellow Americans could be duped by what has become known as “the big lie.”  

When I first heard this term, I understood “the big lie” to be the unfounded and clearly debunked claims that the 2020 presidential election had been rigged, and that Trump had actually won by a landslide.  (Even though 60 court cases and even the President’s own Attorney General’s office found no evidence of any wide-spread voter fraud.)

However, what has become clear to my colleagues and me, through listening to the wisdom of many voices, including leaders of color across this nation, is that this lie is just one of a multitude of lies.  These lies have origins that date way before our previous administration.  These are lies that go back hundreds, even thousands of years.  

The “big lie” that the election was stolen was really just the tip of the iceberg of a larger lie—a lie that lots of stuff is being “stolen from us.”  There is the lie that “all these Latinos are sneaking over the border and stealing our jobs.”  There is the lie that “all those people from the inner cities want to come out here and take our guns, take our belongings, take down our monuments, and take away our history.”  All of this talk is, of course, only thinly veiled language for the big “take away.” The real underlying fear is all about the taking of, or diminishing of, the privileges of whiteness.  If there was any doubt about that, this photo of a confederate battle flag being defiantly waved around in our nation’s Capitol makes the point very clear.

Photo by Saul Loeb, AFP Via Getty Images (as printed in the USA Today)

Here’s where there is some little nugget of truth involved.  (Stay with me.)  While it’s clearly not true that all Latin X immigrants want to “take all our jobs” (many immigrants are taking jobs that most white folks just don’t want, like migrant farming, cleaning, and the most brutal of landscaping work), and while promoting common sense gun laws don’t equal “taking all our guns,” there is a clear effort underway to undermine the historical and current caste system in our country that is centered in race.  

That ongoing effort to dismantle white supremacy in America is very real, and is warranted for many reasons, not least of which because the whole concept of race is itself a lie.  Don’t take our word for it.  Listen to the podcast Scene on Radio, Season 2, cohosted by John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika.  Watch the sermon, A Requiem for Ahmaud Arbery, by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III.  Explore The 1619 Project, a research and journalism effort by the New York Times and written by Nikole Hannah-Jones.  They all tell it quite plainly.  To a large degree, our country was founded with a sinister lie imbedded within it— that there is this thing called “whiteness” that comes with privileges that make it better than “blackness,” or any other race.  

Lies don’t just come out of nowhere for no reason.  A lie gets told because it benefits someone to tell it and to perpetuate it.  As the trainings of the Racial Equity Institute (referenced in the Scene on Radio podcast) make very clear, the origin of the lie of race was started as a means of providing a relative few plantation-owning colonists access to a lot of cheap labor.  This cheap labor meant higher profit margins for them and their huge family businesses.  Poorer whites were then hired as overseers or other types of middle management, instead of being competition for the plantation owners.  Privileges of whiteness were codified into law to keep poor whites loyal, and keep them pitted against people of color.  

An entire Civil War was fought and hundreds of thousands of people died to perpetuate this lie.  Generation upon generation of African-descended people were kidnapped, enslaved, raped, and tortured, all in service to this lie.  All this pain, all this carnage, all this division, was the price paid by so many to make and keep a relatively small number of people really, really wealthy.  It was a price clearly paid by exploiting people of color, but it was also, to one degree or another, a price paid by essentially all of us, no matter what color we are. 

Which leads to yet another lie.  The exposing of this lie is perhaps the most scandalous and threatening of them all in America today.  We at Youth Mission Co have found that exposing this lie is what sometimes gets us called “communist” or “socialist” or “un-American.”  But, here goes…

Woven into the very fabric of our country is a notion… the idea that accumulating lots and lots of wealth is a great and virtuous thing.  In fact, some might say it is considered the ultimate goal of every red-blooded American.  We have convinced ourselves that “greed is good” and that if we just have an open and unfettered playing field, any of us can work hard, compete, and achieve “the American dream” which is typically defined by colossal wealth.  (aka, our “net worth.”)  Why do we do this?  Because we believe that more and more wealth makes us more and more happy. 

This.  Is.  A.  Lie.  

Certainly, the accumulation of some key possessions such as decent housing, food security, etc, give us an important level of stability that makes our lives better.  But the accumulation of massive wealth and the hoarding of resources ends up doing damage to our society, our planet, and ultimately ourselves.  Dr. Cornel West exposes this lie in Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America, when he says, “Market moralities and mentalities— fueled by economic imperatives to make a profit at nearly any cost— yield unprecedented levels of loneliness, isolation, and sadness.”  

In the documentary movie I Am, movie producer and director Tom Shadyack, dives into this issue as well.  He sets off on a globe-spanning quest to discover what is wrong with the world and what we can do to fix it.  Shadyack comes to the conclusion that hoarding resources and amassing extreme wealth is ultimately toxic to a society and to the world.  It turns out that more and more wealth doesn’t make you that much more happy.  In fact, it is in many ways a sign of illness.  He contends that living a life of relative simplicity is actually better for everyone, including yourself.  

So, let’s trace this all the way through… a riot (some have called it an insurrection) happened on January 6, 2021 which was based on a lie that an election was stolen, that was heaped on top of the ongoing lies that all kinds of things are being “stolen” from “us white people,” which is based on a lie that our supposed “whiteness” should automatically give us privileges and superiority over others, which is in turn based on a lie that race is even a real biological thing.  All of this was started centuries ago with the original intentions of making a relatively few people really, really rich, which is all motivated by the lie that extreme wealth can actually make us extremely happy.  

That’s a lot of lies.  

It turns out that the Bible, when read and understood outside of the clutches of what civil rights icon Ruby Sales has called white America’s “spiritual malformation,” actually exposes all of this.  Here are a few examples.  

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”    Mark 10:25  (NRSV)

The Parable of the Rich Fool    Luke 12:13-21

The Rich Young Man    Matthew 19:16-22

Blessings and Woes   Luke 6:20-26

“Do not worry about your life…”  Matthew 6:25-34

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with so many pains.”  1 Timothy 6:10  (NRSV)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Galatians 3:28  (NRSV)

There is a whole lot more that could be discussed here.  We could talk about where this delusion that extreme wealth makes us extremely happy comes from.  We could talk about this path the Church has taken that has led to so many Christians to think that these unjust ways of living are all ok. 

But, for the moment, we at Youth Mission Co would like to spend some time exploring this one main idea…  that a major part of Christian mission, especially in this time and in this place, is to expose these lies for what they are.  We believe that Christian mission is today what it has been since the beginning— all about loving God and neighbor, standing with people who are suffering, and preaching the good news of the gospel.  We believe that a big part of Jesus’ good news is that he shows us another way to live besides all these lies and all this division.  His way involves both charity and justice.  It involves humility and boldness.  We believe that homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, disparities in healthcare, education, and incarceration… all these things and much more are the symptoms and byproducts of a series of lies… lies that divide us.

Over the next few weeks we will attempt to do more lie exposing and truth telling.  We will be sharing stories from our mission immersion locations of Asheville, NC, Raleigh, NC, and Memphis, TN— stories that mourn the pain and oppression that is borne of these lies, and the resiliency of those who have fiercely clung to the truth. In our webinar we will dialogue with colleagues and community leaders who are on the front lines of dealing with our individual and collective trauma that come from all the lies.  

We hope that these discussions will inspire you to explore these same issues in your community.  We hope they will inform you and equip you to engage your youth more deeply in Christian mission… a mission for us all to be part of God’s solution to societal injustices… which includes us getting an understanding of how we can stop being part of the problem.  

 

Bill Buchanan is a pastor, husband, father, and Executive Director of Youth Mission Co