Race: The Power of an Illusion, Episode 3

The final episode of The Power of an Illusion, reflects on past segregation policies in America. The episode highlights the laws and public policy practices that were put in place to oppress immigrants and minorities in America. During these times, ethnics from Europe and Asia who immigrated to America were given jobs & housing based on if they were “white” enough. If one could pass as “white”, which was defined by the court system, then one was given greater opportunities above the rest. The lines in which people were considered “white” were blurred constantly. White was something that was supposedly subjectively understood by the “common” man. It was what the common man said it was. Those who were ruled not white, were given terrible living conditions and low-tier employment. In the case of Japanese immigrants, land was taken from them and given to white farmers. They could not own or lease land, because they were not considered citizens.

In addition to shedding light on terrible treatment of immigrants, the episode highlighted unfair housing policies between blacks and whites in America. Unsurprisingly, the color of ones skin prevented people from owning homes. The housing presented to African Americans was mostly located in central city public housing. This type of living designated to African Americans was given the term “vertical ghettos.” It seemed as though the policies intentionally concentrated a large number of poor people in one area. Once the Fair Housing Act was put into place African Americans started looking toward the suburbs for housing- this did not sit well with white people occupying these areas. They ran and left certain areas like Roosevelt to black people. Housing areas that did not pass FHA ratings were given the lowest rating and these areas were occupied by mostly black people. When white people migrated out of areas like Roosevelt, the cost of real estate went down. As the video said geography started doing the work of Jim Crow laws and segregated blacks and whites.

It blows my mind that policies that held clearly racist ideals were allowed and accepted by many in America. I could not imagine being turned down for wanting to buy a house just because the color of my skin. My father was born in 1956 so I just think how hard it was for his mother and father to find housing during this time and raise their children. Even today, we have unfair housing provided to African Americans. If you look at the layout of the city of  Richmond, you can see clear divides between suburban areas with large numbers of white occupants and the inner city with large numbers of black occupants. There is a map that is color-coded and shows high poverty areas located near downtown/East End and low poverty areas located near West End, Henrico, Goochland etc. It is remarkable looking at such disparities. The only way to fix such problems that are so deeply ingrained in our society is to change the policies. We need to have these uncomfortable conversations about racist policies put in place in the past in order to not make the same mistakes in the future. Systemic change can make all the difference, but can be a hard battle to fight when many are against change.

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