The misty path
And no regard. And then I come here and get cheated wide open. You could fall through the cracks easy fighting these white people. And no law. But fight Clyde Ross did. Contract sellers used every tool at their disposal to pilfer from their clients. They scared white residents into selling low. They presented themselves as real-estate brokers, when in fact they were the owners. They guided their clients to lawyers who were in on the scheme. The Contract Buyers League fought back.
They refused to pay their installments, instead holding monthly payments in an escrow account. Ross and the Contract Buyers League were no longer appealing to the government simply for equality. They were no longer fleeing in hopes of a better deal elsewhere. They were charging society with a crime against their community. They wanted the crime publicly ruled as such. And they wanted restitution for the great injury brought upon them by said offenders. In , Clyde Ross and the Contract Buyers League were no longer simply seeking the protection of the law.
They were seeking reparations. A ccording to the most-recent statistics , North Lawndale is now on the wrong end of virtually every socioeconomic indicator. In its population was , Today it is 36, The neighborhood is 92 percent black. Its homicide rate is 45 per ,—triple the rate of the city as a whole. The infant-mortality rate is 14 per 1,—more than twice the national average. Forty-five percent of all households are on food stamps—nearly three times the rate of the city at large.
Sears, Roebuck left the neighborhood in , taking 1, jobs with it. North Lawndale is an extreme portrait of the trends that ail black Chicago.
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Such is the magnitude of these ailments that it can be said that blacks and whites do not inhabit the same city. When the Harvard sociologist Robert J. Sampson examined incarceration rates in Chicago in his book, Great American City , he found that a black neighborhood with one of the highest incarceration rates West Garfield Park had a rate more than 40 times as high as the white neighborhood with the highest rate Clearing. The lives of black Americans are better than they were half a century ago. The humiliation of Whites Only signs are gone. Rates of black poverty have decreased.
Black teen-pregnancy rates are at record lows—and the gap between black and white teen-pregnancy rates has shrunk significantly. But such progress rests on a shaky foundation, and fault lines are everywhere. The income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, studied children born from through and found that 4 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks across America had been raised in poor neighborhoods. A generation later, the same study showed, virtually nothing had changed.
And whereas whites born into affluent neighborhoods tended to remain in affluent neighborhoods, blacks tended to fall out of them. This is not surprising.
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Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do.
Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikes—a medical emergency, divorce, job loss—the fall is precipitous. And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods.
The implications are chilling.
As a rule, poor black people do not work their way out of the ghetto—and those who do often face the horror of watching their children and grandchildren tumble back. Even seeming evidence of progress withers under harsh light. In , the Manhattan Institute cheerily noted that segregation had declined since the s. And yet African Americans still remained—by far—the most segregated ethnic group in the country. With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage.
An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin.
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The resulting conflagration has been devastating. One thread of thinking in the African American community holds that these depressing numbers partially stem from cultural pathologies that can be altered through individual grit and exceptionally good behavior. It is also wrong. The kind of trenchant racism to which black people have persistently been subjected can never be defeated by making its victims more respectable. The essence of American racism is disrespect.
And in the wake of the grim numbers, we see the grim inheritance. The suit dragged on until , when the league lost a jury trial. Securing the equal protection of the law proved hard; securing reparations proved impossible. Board of Education and all that nonsense. The Supreme Court seems to share that sentiment. The past two decades have witnessed a rollback of the progressive legislation of the s.
Liberals have found themselves on the defensive. In , when Barack Obama was a candidate for president, he was asked whether his daughters—Malia and Sasha—should benefit from affirmative action. He answered in the negative. The exchange rested upon an erroneous comparison of the average American white family and the exceptional first family.
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In the contest of upward mobility, Barack and Michelle Obama have won. But that comparison is incomplete. The more telling question is how they compare with Jenna and Barbara Bush—the products of many generations of privilege, not just one. In , the freedwoman Belinda Royall petitioned the commonwealth of Massachusetts for reparations. Belinda had been born in modern-day Ghana. She was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery.
She endured the Middle Passage and 50 years of enslavement at the hands of Isaac Royall and his son. But the junior Royall, a British loyalist, fled the country during the Revolution.
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Belinda, now free after half a century of labor, beseeched the nascent Massachusetts legislature:. Belinda Royall was granted a pension of 15 pounds and 12 shillings, to be paid out of the estate of Isaac Royall—one of the earliest successful attempts to petition for reparations. At the time, black people in America had endured more than years of enslavement, and the idea that they might be owed something in return was, if not the national consensus, at least not outrageous. As the historian Roy E. Finkenbine has documented, at the dawn of this country, black reparations were actively considered and often effected.
In his book Forever Free , Eric Foner recounts the story of a disgruntled planter reprimanding a freedman loafing on the job:. In the 20th century, the cause of reparations was taken up by a diverse cast that included the Confederate veteran Walter R.
Charles J. Ogletree Jr. But while the people advocating reparations have changed over time, the response from the country has remained virtually the same. Not exactly. Having been enslaved for years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled.
In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society.
It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us. Broach the topic of reparations today and a barrage of questions inevitably follows: Who will be paid? How much will they be paid?