Please watch this video first:
Home, where you feel safe, comfortable, and respected. The good, old and vintage American Dream compelled countless Americans to work day in and day out to acquire a house, a car, and a happy family. On this promised land, stated by the Declaration of Independence- “all men are created equal”, African Americans had a completely opposite experience on the path of purchasing and renting a house or an apartment during the Great Migration (African Americans are still discriminated by various institutions today). During the course of AFRAM 101 about segregation, I recalled articles and videos from the New York Times that I have read in the real estate section because they all portray minority groups’ experience with housing. I find many of the articles and videos relevant and insightful to discussions in the class, yet, “One residence, two different worlds” film by Colin Archdeacon provides remarkable perspective on the African American housing issue in New York City.
Colin Archdeacon isn’t someone an equality activist nor an advocate for African Americans in particular. However, he is a passionate video journalist who understands fundamental causes of the problems in the United States and is eager to educate and inform people what undergoes within our society. Colin Archdeacon has worked for multiple news media; now he serves in the New York Times in the Video news section. As a cultural artifact, his short video “One residence, two different worlds” perfectly captured African Americans’ point of views on housing and life in New York City.
In the video, Archdeacon interviews tenants from the mixed income building in Chelsea Apartment, New York. It opens with a happy statement made by Brandon Deese who beat out hundreds of applicants for the below market rate studio in the residence. Archdeacon narrated that “Developers have been constructing mixed income buildings for low-moderate income tenants because of the lucrative tax benefit and permission to construct larger buildings”. Then he shows low income tenants’ thoughts on the program as well as some comments from the regular resident on living with mixed income tenants. All these observations, feelings, judgements, and reflections from the interview redirected me to think about what we have learned from the course, the reasons and effects of segregated neighborhoods and causes of low education for African Americans.
When many people think of the ones who are low income or live in the “ghettos”; the assumption that these people didn’t work hard enough and didn’t go to school normally come up in their mind first. Yet, the truth is always hidden and staggering. A quote from Brandon Deese in the video perfectly portrays the experience of African American under segregation: “I have a bigger view through my window, but when I was at my mom’s place, the window has been just a little square. So my perception of life was different”. His conclusion from living in a different apartment demonstrates a detrimental effect of housing area, because he acquire a new perspective on life now. With the African Americans’ and Asian Americans’ effort of fighting fair housing, Supreme Court declared segregation in housing is unconstitutional in 1917(Lipsitz 25). This did not stop these crazy exclusions from the white community, after the announcement from the Supreme Court, “white real estate brokers, politicians, and banks turned to restrictive covenants and other private deed restrictions to prevent integration and consequently enhance the material rewards of whiteness.”(Lipsitz 25) This shows that it isn’t because African Americans had no ability to afford those expensive houses in the white neighborhoods, but the whites couldn’t handle the fact that African Americans were demonstrating the opposite of the stereotype, poor, uneducated and unskilled. During the Great Migration, African Americans who moved from the south also faced housing challenges compared to their white counterparts. Blacks were housed in the least desirable areas and they have to pay more than market value rent. Thus diminishes African Americans to retain a happy family and acquiring a decent education.
Separation in housing not only effects on people’s perception on life but also changed their ability of receiving a decent education. Due to the fact that the Unite State public schools are funded by property tax, segregated neighborhoods often times contain the lower quality schools compare to white communities. Even 60 years after the case of Brown vs. Board, which desegregated schools, United State school still shows a trend of segregation in school. “The average within-district index of dissimilarity between black and white public school students was about 0.80 (Logan & Oakley 2004, Johnson 2011); the average within-district variance ratio segregation index was 0.63 (Coleman et al. 1975). All of these measures exceed Massey & Denton’s (1989) threshold values for high segregation”(Reardon and Owens 199-218). Due to the fact that these communities are separated, interactions between them are lost. Then separating communities and schools created an enormous cultural, educational, and economical gap undoubtedly between the whites and black. It is absolutely bizarre to judge anyone’s action, style, and cultural without knowing the meaning and history behind them; because our society, our politicians, our real estate brokers, our banks, etc, intentionally invest in whiteness. Ultimately, that creates what Sydney Padilla, another mixed income housing tenant, refers to “two different communities in the same residence” in the video.
Another impactful line from the video is “the government supply to help these people. Im not say it is fair; but it is not unfair because these people need help.” by Carmen Padilla, a Schaefer landing resident. I’m really glad that the government is doing something now, but why did they need help at the first place? The answer is that despite the outlaw of discrimination in housing and lending, institutions still find loopholes to invest in whiteness because the individuals in these institutions understands the value and convenience being white. Thus they use instruments like “redlining(denying loans to areas inhabited by racial minorities), steering(directing minority buyers solely to homes in minority neighborhoods, and block busting(playing on the white fear of a change in neighborhood racial balance to sell low and then sell high to the minority buyers)” to keep African Americans from purchasing houses and going to schools around whites(Lipsitz 26). In addition to these old styles of discrimination, African Americans today are six times more likely to get a subprime loan, a loan that is high risk and high interest rate designed for low credit score lenders, than their white counterparts(Pittman, Lecture). Because banks and real estate agencies are so obsessed with the idea of segregating, many of African Americans today suffer from the incapability of owning a house and paying an unreasonable high price for the least desirable places. Therefore, it ties back to the idea that all these stereotypes of low-income and “ghettos” are the results of possessive investments in whiteness. They not only created a cultural differences in our society between two major parties in the United States, but also undermine the capacity of African Americans to express their full potential in education or work filed and the chance for African Americans to achieve the American Dream.
By filming then presenting this video on New York Times, Colin Archdeacon demonstrates a key issue the society today is facing to the public; he shows people that even in the year of 2015, racial discrimination in housing still affects many African Americans. In addition, We often times close ourselves up from others, resisting the unfamiliar phenomenon, judging a book by its cover, and underestimating one’s capabilities to reach for stars. Less of these ridiculous assumptions would happen if racial segregation didn’t occurred. Like what Brandon Deese lastly said in the video, “it is just one avenue difference, but I feel like I am so far away.” I have never had any problems with housing; therefore, I would never truly understand the difficulties that African Americans experienced during Great migration and even now. Yet, from watching and reading articles like what Colin Archdeacon produced in the media, I acknowledged the existence and urgency of the housing segregation and racial discrimination issue within our society. It’s heartbreaking to know that one of the basic requirements in human life-shelter-can make such impact on one’s life. Mixed income buildings program is a wonderful start shown by New York City working toward the solution to this problem. However, within these buildings they are still separated due to many of reasons. I have no idea how to solve it; but I know that it is important to inform and educate the general public the consequences of racial segregation.
Colin Archeadcon, “One Residence, Two Different Worlds,” New York Times video, 2:49, August 29, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/video/realestate/100000003081287/unlikely-neighbors.html.
Pittman, LaShawnDa. “Great Migration Part 2.” University of Washington. Saveray Hall 260. 01 Dec 2015. Lecture.
Lipsitz, George. The possessive investment in whiteness: how white people profit from identity politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. Print.
Reardon, S., & Owens, A. (n.d.). 60 Years After Brown : Trends and Consequences of School Segregation. Annual Review of Sociology, 40, 199-218.
Colin Archdeacon. Resume, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2015.