The overt racism and hatred on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month reinvigorated the national conversation about racism in America. But what is often left out of this discussion is how systematic and institutional racism is preserved every day through a multitude of indirect actions by people who would never consider themselves to be racist. Marisa Novara of the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council explains how many people support segregation and “subjugation” of people of color by objecting to the development of affordable housing in their community and protesting other policies that would support low-income households and households of color.
As Novara explains, many Americans overlook the extent to which our neighborhoods are segregated by race and do not think about the many ways that this segregation is perpetuated by people who object to affordable housing being developed in neighborhoods of opportunity, places with quality schools, grocery stores, access to health care and more. The objections to affordable housing are often conveyed as concern about school crowding, increased traffic, and fear of crime; though evidence shows that affordable housing development does not result in these oft cited problems.
The core problem that contributes to these “not in my back yard (NIMBY)” positions is the pervasive, if not always conscious, fear of the “other,” the idea that there are inherent differences between people who look different. Few Americans accept that these common objections to affordable housing reinforce racial segregation and racism in our country. It results in children of color disproportionately attending low-performing schools, struggling to access quality healthcare, and living in environments where they are more likely to be exposed to trauma that has long-term impacts on their development and well-being.
As many people participate in conversations about racism and ask themselves “what can I do?” they should look to how they make their voice heard when a local planning board considers a new affordable housing development. Do you show up to the public meetings and proudly proclaim you support for giving low-income families and families of color a home in your neighborhood? Or do you assume that as long as you speak out against white supremacists, that you are doing enough?