“I don’t like to predict violence, but if nothing is done between now and June to raise ghetto hope, I feel this summer will not only be as bad but worse than last year.”
Those were Dr. King’s words in March 1968. That summer, his prediction materialized as Baltimoreans, frustrated with poor housing, unemployment and discrimination took to the streets. Those riots took place shortly after the passage of several historic civil rights bills. Why so angry?
The nation is erupting again and the same root causes are being cited, despite the election of a black president and in an era where a single “racist” comment can cost whites their livelihood. Again, why so angry? The anger today stems from the same places it did 1968.
While “rioters” are told to go home and create the American dream from scraps, there is awareness in their communities that the European immigrant was helped in ways they will never be: the American pie was sliced precisely with respect to race. In 2000, University of Michigan professor Trina Shanks estimated that at most, more than 92 million Americans may have descended from individuals who benefited from the Homestead Act. Millions of acres of land were given to settlers while freed slaves were told to build a life without land or meaningful assets. Michael L. Lanza’s researchon the Southern Homestead Act, designed to help remedy this problem, indicates that institutional racism and various other factors rendered that policy ineffective and short lived.
From 1934 to 1968, 98 percent of all Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans went to whites, according to Dr. George Lipsitz, a professor of Black Studies at University of California Santa Barbara. FHA guidelines essentially disqualified blacks from homeownership for decades. Federal Reserve studies indicate in 1990 and 1991, black and Hispanic applicants were denied mortgage loans two to three times more often than whites and in many cities, banks denied high-income minorities more often than low-income whites (see Melvin Oliver’s “Black Wealth, White Wealth” for more).
As long as government procurement has existed, black businesses have been excluded on the federal, state and local levels. While white owned businesses expanded and provided opportunities to white families off of government contracts, blacks watched from the sidelines, continuing to pay taxes. Some counties, like my own Montgomery County, Maryland, are trying to be proactive in correcting this disparity. Even so, this majority-minority county utilized black owned firms only .09 percent for construction contracts and 1.87 percent for professional services contracts in 2014.
In April we demanded frustrated Baltimore residents to return home and keep quiet. Generations of discrimination in the private sector crippled their communities but what’s more significant, monumental government actions continue to provide assets to other communities. Land, homes and government contracts were given to prop up whites but mentoring and recreational programs are prescribed to poor blacks today. Even our tax structure dismisses the disenfranchised: the federal government spends nearly $100 billion annually to allow homeowners to write off mortgage interest (compare that to the mere $6 billion we spend on the low-income tax credit annually) while renters receive no tax benefits.
Why so angry? They’re told there is no pie left for them and they’ll have to do it on their own; all under the watchful and judgmental eyes of a nation oblivious to their recent and massive government-catered slices. In Baltimore, they are told to build without assets and absent efforts remotely comparable to that which their suburban neighbors received over generations into the present day. Some individuals make it but the black masses are trapped, absent a serious initiative to distribute assets. Along with hopelessness, there is an awareness of all this and it’s maddening.