Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected Where I Live

All things considered, I am tremendously blessed to live where I do. While I have some small complaints, such as occasional noise issues or the yard being too small, I also have great neighbors, a variety of transit options, restaurants I enjoy, and a relatively safe neighborhood. Needless to say, when I talk about how institutional racism has affected where I live, I am discussing this from a position of privilege.

Indeed, institutional racism, which I defined in a previous post as racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions, helped my family afford to live where we ended up, and also resulted in my family living where we did (instead of somewhere else).

To understand how institutional racism helped my family afford to live in our current house, I should start by going back in time, not to 1999 (the year my family bought our current house), but to prior decades….

Back in the 1970s, my neighborhood was about as white as you can get, and in fact my neighborhood was the epicenter for the Italian mafia. However, people of color started to move into my neighborhood during the 1970s, and that movement accelerated during the 1980s and 1990s. By the time my family was looking for homes in my current neighborhood in 1999, it was a heavily West Indian neighborhood and most whites had fled the neighborhood. This was one example of white flight, or whites fleeing their neighborhoods to escape an influx of people of color moving in.

White flight usually depresses property values in the affected neighborhoods;[1] declining property values as a result of white flight is a form of institutional racism. In fact, white flight depressed property values in my current neighborhood so much that it became an affordable neighborhood for my family! In other words, institutional racism meant that my family could afford to live where we currently live.

However, white flight was not the only thing that had an impact on where my family ended up. Another factor was a facet of institutional racism in real estate—the fact that, at least at the time, realtors tended to mostly show us and other whites houses which were surrounded by white neighbors (which in turn would continue a form of racial segregation). This was the case even though my family made it painfully clear that we loved the West Indian culture in our current neighborhood (a love of culture that goes back to when my dad did graduate school research in Trinidad). As a result we ended up in what was, at the time, one of the small white enclaves of what was otherwise a heavily West Indian neighborhood. My family ended up where we live because of institutional racism.

In the end, though, things worked out for the better, in my family’s case. While my neighborhood is by no means perfect, I love the neighborhood in which I live. Indeed, institutional racism affected where I live, and in my case, it has affected where I live for the better. With housing, I benefited from institutional racism. However, many people are not nearly as fortunate as I have been.

[1] There are a variety of opinions as to what causes this to happen. A Washington Post article from last year cited a report from Brandeis University saying that the issue is white buyers steering away from neighborhoods with any black population, while sociologist David R. Harris (then at the University of Michigan, now president of Union College) says that sometimes race affects property values while at other times it is socioeconomic status that affects the values.

8 Replies to “Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected Where I Live”

  1. In my Human Service class we talking about that. We were talking about that in relation to the homeless. Mostly on people of color and sad reason for why they become homeless.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We’re studying this topic in my sociology class. Watched a 20 year old news documentary about it — the sad thing is that despite the age the video’s still very relevant

    Liked by 2 people

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