Racism in Education: Redlining

NEWSLETTER WEEK 40  – MARCH 2, 2021


Hi friends,

It’s officially March again, which means it’s been March for a whole year now. At the risk of sounding like a wellness newsletter and not an antiracism newsletter, we have to take a moment to ask, how are you doing? You okay? Drinking enough water? Getting some exercise? We’re taking advice from Johnnie Frierson’s Have You Been Good to Yourself to keep us in check with our own needs the past few weeks (thank you to our friend, our consultant, and our provider of all the best music recommendations, Garrett, for this one).

March also means we’ll be spending the next four weeks talking about education and racism: classrooms, IEPs, economic disparities, higher education, athletics, HBCUs, you name it! If you have burning questions about racism in the education system, send them our way by replying to this email or entering them in our anonymous question bank if you’d prefer some confidentiality. Per usual, disclaimers heading into the month: we are *not experts* on education policy, the history of the American education system, or education-system activism (though, Ellie is a public school teacher with years of experience, which absolutely counts for something). What we do offer is what we know and what we are learning ourselves. 

We want to make a point this month to start with a gentle reminder: we can’t “fix racism” without understanding its roots. And sometimes digging for those roots can bring out feelings in us that we didn’t even know we had. What we don’t want to happen is to read this month’s content and internalize shame about the choices we have made for ourselves or our families thus far. We haven’t had to make this statement in a while but we want it to be loud and clear heading into education month: we believe that when thinking about our past tense selves, most of us have done the best we could with the information we had at the time. That doesn’t absolve us from harm we may have caused or contributed to, but it does mean we can give ourselves some grace as we grapple with our actions and make decisions in the future. Conversations about our own choices, especially ones as personal as where we send our kids to school or where we collect our own paychecks, can trigger a lot of defensiveness in us. It’s okay to feel flustered by the state of the education system – we sure do! What we don’t want to do is then decide that we’re just going to tap out because it’s emotionally taxing to grapple with the multiple layers of systemic failure (and our own choices within those systems).

Education is one of the few systems that actively and intimately touches each of our lives at some point. It is literally illegal to not attend some form of schooling. Even for those of us who aren’t teachers, aren’t parents, aren’t employed by any sort of school district, aren’t currently students in some capacity, have a close tie to the education system. I mean, in order to read this, somebody taught you. Even those of us who aren’t thinking about school these days all experienced it in some form or another, and this might bring up feelings about that experience. That’s not a bad thing! 

We’ll be getting into the nitty-gritty systemic analyses of how and why our education system(s) are oftentimes set up to fail Black students and students of color, but we wanted to start the month with a primer on one of the main culprits for the United States public education system’s macro-level failings: redlining. 

WHAT IS REDLINING?

Redlining is a practice wherein banks in the United States would deny mortgages to people to prevent them from buying a home in certain neighborhoods, predominantly based off of race, despite a family having a decent enough credit score to make them eligible for a loan. Starting with the National Housing Act of 1934 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Federal Housing Administration, operated through the promoted homeownership by providing federal backing of loans—guaranteeing mortgages exclusively to white buyers, which deemed it as the “best practice for responsible lending.”

In effect, the new housing program established and reinforced segregation, as banks, real estate firms, other mortgage lenders, and the federal government itself drew red lines encircling neighborhoods that all parties refused to invest resources in based on racial demographics alone. These red lines were reinforced with the Home Owners Loan Corporation, who physically drew the districts across the entire nation from 1935-1939.

In some neighborhoods, these red lines on a map were reinforced with literal lines – walls or highways that served as physical barriers for “nice white neighborhoods” to ensure their property value would not be diminished by being in proximity to Black neighborhoods. In fact, redlining is a massive reason behind much of today’s transportation infrastructure in the United States. 

ISN’T REDLINING ILLEGAL NOW THOUGH?

The redlined HOLC maps were abandoned when the Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned racial discrimination in housing via the Fair Housing Act. However, the impact remains. Nationally, nearly two-thirds of neighborhoods deemed “hazardous”for investors are inhabited by Black and Latino residents. And those neighborhoods are obviously also exposed to economic disparities as well. On the flip side, 91 percent of areas classified as “best” in the 1930s remain middle-to-upper-income today, and 85 percent of them are still predominantly white.

Although redlining is technically outlawed today, it effectively laid the foundation for diminished property values in areas predominantly occupied by Black and Brown residents. And the disparities don’t stop at the property values themselves. Redlining’s diminution of property value has translated to other disparities as well: credit card redlining, as Black applicants from redlined zipcodes are often barred from certain cards or are subjected to higher interest rates; student loan redlining, as students attending community colleges or applying to loans from certain zip codes experience underwriting on loans that cost them far more in interest than their (mostly white) counterparts; and insurance redlining, where applicants from certain zip codes (most of whom are Black) are charged higher rates on car insurance. 

Generations and multiple Supreme Court cases later, the results of redlining in real estate can still be felt. In 1996, homes in redlined neighborhoods were worth less than half that of the homes in neighborhoods that the government deemed “best” for mortgage lending; that disparity has only increased in the past two decades. The destructive legacy of redlining has been more than economic. A new 2020 study by researchers at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition finds that “the history of redlining, segregation and disinvestment not only reduced minority wealth, it impacted health and longevity, resulting in a legacy of chronic disease and premature death in many high minority neighborhoods….On average, life expectancy is lower by 3.6 years in redlined communities, when compared to the communities that existed at the same time, but were high-graded by the Home Owners Loan Corp.”

HOUSING POLICY IS EDUCATION POLICY

Most of the time, students attend schools they have been zoned to based off of their zip code and neighborhood. School funding for public schools is apportioned based on the property taxes from that zip code and neighborhood, which are contingent upon a host of factors: an area’s tax rate, the population density of the surrounding area, and most notably, the generational wealth concentrated in that particular zip code. Generational wealth was created in part by that decrease in property values of predominantly Black neighborhoods and reinforced by housing programs that almost exclusively bestowed the opportunity to own property (and thus allow it to accrue in value) to white families. This wealth gap is a major reason for the massive disparities in the cost-per-student from neighborhood to neighborhood.

While there are areas where funding for students in lower income school districts is highly supplemented, this supplemental support is not a silver bullet on these disparities. Schools located in poor school districts, many of which serve a predominantly Black and Brown student body, are more likely to have higher rates of teacher turnover, less parent involvement*, lower quality facilities, and fewer extracurricular activities available to their students.

* we’re just all going to make this pledge now. Raise your right hand and say it with us: “I (insert your name here) will not blame Black or low-income parents for the systemic failings of their school districts that have resulted in disparate outcomes for their children. When I read anything about “parental involvement” I will immediately think to myself, “wow! It would be so difficult to be a parent and to make ends meet with a low-wage job when the average apartment in the United States runs an average of $1343 per month for a two-bedroom and the federal minimum wage is still $7.25/hour, which means you would have to work at least 46 hours per week and not pay your taxes just to rent your apartment!” When I think of parent (non)involvement, specifically, I promise to consider all factors that might affect a parent’s ability to be involved with their child’s schooling and assume the best of that parent, their ability to raise a child, and their love for their kid, despite what society has taught me to think about low income parents, especially low income Black mothers.”

Image of Brooklyn, NYC’s redlined districts from Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America

A NON-FINANCIAL WAY TO TAKE ACTION

This week, in the spirit of education, we’re all going to google “[your city], teacher support organization” or “[your state], education advocacy organization” and do five minutes of research on your local educational equity demands. Because we’re all from South Carolina (ranking 50 out of 50 for lowest educational attainment and, after the way this state’s treated teachers during covid, it’s no surprise), we’re going to be centralizing our efforts to South Carolina-specific needs.

Our local organization, SC for Ed, is asking for South Carolinians to ask our state senators to support S.317 to extend the State Teacher Salary so that local school districts don’t bear the burden of paying veteran teachers for five more years of service so that veteran teachers are able to stay in the classroom longer. A report came out just yesterday about teacher shortages in the state; it’s never been so important to support qualified, veteran teachers (especially after such an immensely difficult and awe-inducing year). If you’re in South Carolina, you can look up your elected official and call on behalf of SC for Ed here! You can learn more about SC for Ed here

If you’re not in South Carolina, reply to this email and we’ll help you find your state’s local teacher’s union or advocacy group working to keep teachers and students safe during covid closures, get teachers on the vaccine schedule, or get more funding to low-income school districts. We’ll even help you write a script or draft an email!

Alright team, we’ll be back in your inbox Friday to talk about racism in the classroom and how it exacerbates disparities in learning outcomes. We are so thankful to learn alongside all of you!
In Solidarity,
Ellie, Emily, and Hayden

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