Driving

Octo𝘣𝘦𝘳 15, 2020

We watched a show last night on PBS called “Driving While Black:  Race, Space and Mobility in America.”  This documentary explored the effect of the automobile on the Black Community and chronicled the history while interspersing personal experiences of Black individuals.  While the film drew on a variety of recent scholarship, it was based on Gretchen Sorin’s Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights, published in 2020.   The film examines the history of the Black experience with the automobile from the depths of the Depression to the height of the Civil Rights movement.  While the film talked about being pulled over for “driving while black,” many other phenomena were explored.

While my realtor brother probably knew of the concept of redlining in the 1930s, I only knew it referred to racing the engine in your car.  Government surveyors graded neighborhoods in 239 cities, color-coding them green for “best,” blue for “still desirable,” yellow for “definitely declining” and red for “hazardous.” The “redlined” areas were the ones local lenders discounted as credit risks, in large part because of the residents’ racial and ethnic demographics.  Neighborhoods that were predominantly made up of Blacks, as well as Catholics, Jews and immigrants from Asia and southern Europe, were deemed undesirable.  Anyone who was not northern-European white was a detraction from the value of the area.  Loans to these areas were either unavailable or very expensive.  While declared illegal 50 years ago, this practice is still a reality.

The redlined communities were hardest hit with the coming of the Interstate highway system in the 1950’s and 60’s.  A combination of low property values and a lack of power to resist meant these thriving minority communities were carved up to make way for the new highways.  This not only destroyed the continuity of historic Black neighborhoods, it literally demolished landmark hotels, restaurants, and stores that had flourished during the mobility of the “Green Book” era.  Now, few still exist in their original locations, if at all.  It always seems “progress” comes at the expense of the marginalized.  

𝗧𝗛𝗢𝗨𝗚𝗛𝗧𝗦:  When the small business loans went out in April the monies were quickly snapped up.  While the loans were intended to supplement the salaries for small businesses struggling to stay open, much of the money was gobbled up by small multimillion-dollar enterprises.  These firms had few employees, so they qualified as “small.”  They also had high credit lines and in some cases huge liquid cash flows.  Many of the minority owned businesses who were intended to receive help could not get banks willing to lend to them until the money was gone.  Wealth in the United States is distributed highly unequally, with the wealthiest 1 percent of families holding about 40 percent of all wealth and the bottom 90 percent of families holding less than one-quarter of all wealth.  Economic equality (or even fairness) will never be achieved unless there is a concerted effort to do so.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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