Now, all of this may sound like old history. But the raw racism of postwar housing policy cast a long shadow over our society. For the 20 or so years that followed World War II represented a unique opportunity for the middle class to solidify its position — an opportunity that was denied to Black people.
You see, the ’50s and ’60s were an era both of relatively good pay for ordinary workers and of relatively cheap suburban housing. Wages were fairly high, in part because America still had a strong union movement, and houses were affordable, as long as you had access to those federal housing programs. So millions of Americans got a chance to build some wealth.
Then the window of opportunity closed. Wages, adjusted for inflation, stagnated. Housing prices soared, in part because building restrictions in many suburbs banned multifamily units. And Black families, who were shut out of a rising market at a time when many other Americans were sharing in the fruits of a housing boom, found the financial barriers to homeownership especially daunting.
So Trump’s Suburban Lifestyle Dream is basically a walled village that the government built for whites, whose gates were slammed shut when others tried to enter.
What is Biden proposing to remedy at least some of these injustices? Reasonable, significant, but hardly revolutionary stuff — things like expanding rental vouchers while cracking down on redlining and exclusionary zoning. Trump may claim that such policies would “destroy suburbia,” but that only makes sense if you believe that the only alternative to bloody anarchy is a community that looks exactly like Levittown in 1955.
And it’s very important to understand that none of the scare talk about a war on the suburbs has anything to do with the usual conservative rhetoric about “freedom” and not having the government tell Americans what to do. Individual choices and free markets aren’t what made America such a segregated, unequal society. Discrimination was a statist policy, involving the exercise of political power to deny people free choice.
And it still goes on. What the Black Lives Matter movement has done is to reveal to many white Americans that we’re still a long way from being a society in which everyone is treated equally by the law, whatever the skin color. (Black Americans already knew that very well.)
But the big difference between the parties now is that Biden and Harris are trying to make things better, trying to make us more like the country we’re supposed to be. Trump and Mike Pence, by contrast, are basically trying to make open racism great again.
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