Rethinking Community

by Catherine Franceski

Have you ever thought about how unique college dormitory community living is? And no, I don’t mean to conjure up memories of messy roommates, or those funky things called “shower shoes.” To me, the community that creates the dorm building is unique and unreplicable in that all types of people, of all races and identities, are living in such close proximity that tends not to happen too often in other residential communities and neighborhoods. I know that personally my neighborhood back home is somewhat diverse, but not to the extent that college campus dorm living is. Unfortunately, the legacy of racism and segregation has endured into many neighborhoods and communities in the US, and especially so in Richmond, Virginia.

Although Richmond had been residentially segregated since the end of slavery, in the early 1900s the Richmond City Council began codifying racial segregation into law. Although some of these laws were struck down by the Supreme Court, clandestine laws with different, more allowable stated purposes other than segregation continued to rule the land. For example, during this time, people whom the state prohibited from marrying could not live next to each other, and at the time, Virginia prohibited marriage between black and white residents. (Campbell, Richmond’s Unhealed History, 143).

Other tactics such as “redlining” continued to keep areas racially segregated. “Redlining” consisted of assigning a grade to different neighborhoods. One of the factors used to assign this grade was race. This made it harder to acquire credit for mortgages in these areas, further contributing to the segregation problem. These wrongdoings only began to be corrected in 1971 when a non-profit organization, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia, began challenging segregated sale and rental properties (143). Structural racism in housing has constructed the geography of metropolitan Richmond, the effects of which are concerningly enduring.

From UR’s One Book, One Richmond’s book of the year, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, I had been aware of the racial discrimination and segregation in real estate that occurs all over the US. Although this particular book focuses on several housing segregation issues intertwined with race in Milwaukee, the book also addresses other factors such as gender, domestic violence, socioeconomic status, drug abuse, sexual violence, and educational opportunities which also play a part in keeping residential areas racially segregated. This problem is not isolated to specific cities or specific institutions, but rather covers a large amount of area because of its intersectional nature. Segregation in housing is not only because of race, but also, for example, because of socioeconomic strata that have separated different groups of people for decades. When former enslaved persons were emancipated, they could not afford housing amongst white people, if they could potentially afford housing at all. Today, people of color own homes at a staggeringly lower rates than white people. In 2014 in Virginia, 72.7% of white people were homeowners compared to 48.8% of people of color. Housing is a symptom of broader issues such as racial and economic inequality.

Although some of the issues listed above prevent people from attending the University of Richmond in the first place, the university does attempt to get students from a broad array of backgrounds to contribute to a diverse community, including in dormitory living. Although students may begin to self-segregate as sophomores and upperclassmen because more choose to select their roommates than did as freshman, I personally have not noticed this trend emerging. Perhaps the assorted living-learning communities available to sophomores allow for the continued integration of diverse students in residential dormitories beyond freshman year. So, next year when I’m thinking about how much more comfortable my bed is at home and how I wish I was there, I may pause for a second to think about what an unreplicable experience dorm living really is.

Catherine Franceski is a rising sophomore at the University of Richmond majoring in Philosophy, Politics, Economics & Law. She is working on the Race and Racism Project in partnership with Untold RVA during Summer 2017 as an A&S Summer Fellow.

Counties & Cities: A Tale of Two Regions

By Hunter Moyler

Long gone are the days when my millennial mind could assume it to be common knowledge, but it remains a verifiable fact: When you mix politics and prejudice, you get stupid. Evidence of this is conspicuous in modern America and, according to many, infuriatingly unavoidable. However, to avoid stepping on the toes of the living, let us turn to the history of political borders right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia in order to illustrate this phenomenon.

Even this early into my research into how structural racism has shaped the Richmond region, I’ve already learned some tremendously interesting information about the effects institutionalized prejudice has wrought. Perhaps most interesting is the fact that my hometown exists largely because there were white parents in the 1960s who didn’t want their children to go to school with black people — and that Richmond’s current boundaries are in part attributable to the same reason.

See, in the part of Virginia I grew up in, South Hampton Roads, most people don’t live in counties. The majority of the region is constructed of “independent cities” that all border each other, crammed into the commonwealth’s southeast corner like too many pickles in the same jar. Three of these — Chesapeake, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach — are veritably massive by city standards. The biggest has an area over one hundred square miles larger than New York and more than twice as large as Chicago. Below is a map of the area. That these county-sized swaths of land are considered mere “cities” is completely ludicrous. To use the aforementioned term, I think it might be a smidge stupid.

HRMSAMarch2013

I’ll explain: In my research this summer, I’ve read excerpts from Richmond’s Unhealed History, a book by Dr. Benjamin Campbell on the history of racial prejudice (the lion’s share of which was government-sanctioned) in and around the city. In the chapter, “Massive Resistance and Resegregation,” the author details the plethora of legal and legislative hoops the Virginia General Assembly leapt through to defy the federal government’s mandate to integrate public schools after the principle of “separate but equal” was ruled unconstitutional in 1954’s Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board.

Dr. Campbell writes that part of this Massive Resistance included a “massive retooling of the jurisdictional lines in Virginia and of the laws governing metropolitan areas.” (Campbell 168) Oh, boy. So how did they do it?

Politicians used “white flight” to their advantage. This refers to the mid-century trend of white families to leave the inner city for the suburbs, in part so they could keep their children out of school districts with substantial black populations. By 1960, for example, most white families in the Richmond metro did not live in the city proper, but rather in the surrounding counties of Henrico and Chesterfield. (Campbell 168) The same was true for Hampton Roads in that decade: The city of Norfolk had a large black population, but one dwarfed by the white populations of surrounding counties. (Campbell 169)

Norfolk and Richmond were growing, as cities tend to do. Because they were independent cities, they were able to annex portions of their surrounding counties. Some white people in these counties didn’t want to be annexed, though. Not only would their children now be within the boundaries of majority-black school districts, but their voting power as the racial majority would be greatly diminished.

Counties in Hampton Roads were so fearful of annexation that they turned to a provision in the Virginia constitution to keep safe from it. According to the constitution, independent cities could annex land from counties, but not other independent cities. So, naturally, the majority-white statesmen and citizens from the counties surrounding Norfolk scrambled to re-establish themselves as independent cities to avoid annexation. (Campbell 169) The General Assembly, of course, was compliant, resulting in Hampton Roads’s current silly city divisions. This paranoid fear of black people is why Virginia Beach, Suffolk, and my beloved Chesapeake exist, and also why they’re the size of counties.

In Richmond, the approach was a bit different. Since the city was growing, it did indeed attempt to annex parts of the surrounding counties and achieved some success. But instead of allowing, say, Henrico County to consolidate into the City of Henrico, the General Assembly opted to place restrictions specifically on the City of Richmond. In 1971, it bizarrely prohibited the city from annexing any land from the surrounding counties. (Campbell 173)

I found this information jarring. I was aware of the far-reaching effects of structural racism, but I would not have guessed that it was directly responsible for the very borders of my hometown and my adopted city. This history permeates the state, and to this day still factors into where people go to school and, subsequently with whom they associate.

Campbell writes that “The troubles that still afflict the culture of metropolitan Richmond have their roots in problems long denied, changes not attempted, prophecy unheeded, [and] injustice unacknowledged.” I’m not sure how well-known these facts about redrawing political lines are around the state, but I know I can’t have been the only person unaware. Naturally, this history must be confronted if it is to ever be reconciled, which is why I believe the Race & Racism Project and Untold RVA’s work is vital.

Hunter Moyler was raised in Chesapeake, Virginia. He is a rising junior at the University of Richmond, double-majoring in English and Journalism with a minor in Spanish. He is vice president of the College Democrats at the University of Richmond and co-editor of the Opinions section in The Collegian. This summer, he’s elated to have the opportunity to delve into the history of race relations in his state thanks to an A&S Summer Research Fellowship.

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