Racism Without Even Mentioning Race

Joan owns a house. She isn’t rich, she works hard, she doesn’t have a lot but she has that house. Sarah and her family move in next door, and now Joan’s house is worth less money. Sarah isn’t bad, she works hard as a stay at home mother and her husband is a plumber. Joan doesn’t hate Sarah, but that house represents everything she has and if the price goes down any more, her retirement is ruined. Joan cannot risk that. She cannot risk another family like Sarah moving in, so Joan puts her house up for sale.

Is Joan a racist?street

The whole reason Sarah moved into the neighborhood was because the schools were good. Education is Sarah’s passion. She has pinned her hopes for her children to those schools. After Joan left, another family just like Sarah’s moved in. This happened all across the neighborhood and the school district. Before long the whole area has turned over. House prices hit the basement and more and more people who wanted that good school moved in; motivated hard working people.

But now the school wasn’t the same. Many of those who moved out were the teachers. The school was funded from property taxes but now that property values had plummeted, so had school funding. Word got out real quick that the school wasn’t the same and now hiring good teachers to replace the ones who left got harder.

Sarah still owed 25 years on her mortgage and the real estate agent just couldn’t find her family anywhere else near enough to her husband’s job.

Meanwhile Joan lives a bit further out in the suburbs and is struggling to adjust to her new surroundings. She misses her old neighborhood, but at least here, her family and retirement are safe and the schools are good.

So again, does this make Joan a racist?


The question isn’t meant to be a setup, and no, the scenario didn’t even mention race at all, so how could anyone, Joan or otherwise, be called a racist? So no, I’m not asking the question to trick anyone but rather in hopes that we might all truly consider the scenario. Of course in the real life American scenario, whether I say it or not, Joan is white and Sarah is black, or Latino, or Asian, or something not white. When non-white people move in to an area the housing prices drop, no matter what Joan or anyone else thinks or feels. Joan and Sarah could be best of friends, soul mates of sorts, and the market would still react. It is our economic reality.

No one has to use the words black, or white, or even race, but school funding shifts, people move, and reality changes.

So the question isn’t only whether Joan is racist or not, but does it even matter what Joan thinks?

At the end of the day, almost no matter where Sarah and her family go, this reality follows them. Sometimes there is, or was, financial shelter if somehow a black Sarah moves in and then no one follows, the market stabilizes. For the most part Joan will always be alright, but not always. Sometimes Joan’s don’t get out in time and they lose a nest egg. Or they are stuck in a school that they see sinking into the abyss through no fault of their own.  All of this without anyone saying they hate anyone because of their skin.

But this is how race functions.

So today…img_0844

I see and hear so many white people, the good white ones not the crazy ones, the ones I think are just like me (because we all think we are the good ones), reacting poorly when  black people complain about racism. We get up in arms or defensive and reactionary pointing out that we don’t hate anyone. We look around at each other in wonder because so many of us have never called anyone the N word and we almost never even talk about race and cannot fathom why ‘they’ keep bringing it up. We want to know where all the racists are because they aren’t us and we don’t know them. We get so caught up in who does or does not hate who and why.

But all the while the Sarahs of the world live in sub par housing markets with bad schools and if they call it race, they are asked to name a name and point a finger and none of us are willing to be pointed at. We are so concerned that it not be us, because we don’t hate, that me get annoyed at the conversation and frustrated and say that parents just need to be more involved in ‘their’ kids’ lives. We say that all lives matter. We say that microagressions are just another word for thin skin and we are tired of being blamed for all your problems and why is it always about that when no one is even talking about that. I mean Joan has problems too. Joan had to move, Joan has to work hard, Joan might lose her job but all everyone cares about is race and I want my neighborhood back!

So at the end of the day is Joan racist, and really, does that even mater to Sarah?

11 thoughts on “Racism Without Even Mentioning Race

  1. To continue the story, Pam bought Joan’s house. It was a real bargain because Joan was caught in a financial bind. Pam and her husband had also convinced their friends, Jack and Jill, to buy the house next to theirs. The price for that one was rock bottom, because it needed so many repairs. But Pam and her friends had a sizable amount cash on hand and together with the sale of their suburban homes, they had more than enough to not only buy their homes in the city, but to fix them up inside and out. Nice carpet, furniture, cabinets – the whole nine yards. Now they could walk or bike to work, see plays, send the kids to the university just a few miles away. They liked the energy of the city as well. Just one of those intangibles that drew them to an otherwise blighted neighborhood. In fact, they made friends with Sarah and were pleased that they no longer lived in an all white development. The kids would learn tolerance and respect for those who differ from them first hand and not just through school videos. Others from the suburbs came and saw what Pam saw first. And they stayed. Property values soared, teacher came back, schools improved. Of course that meant property taxes went back up and now Sarah had a dilemma. Stay and pay or sell for a nice profit and move to an area that was not as expensive as her current block had become. It was a hard decision. She liked her new neighbors and the schools, but in the end, she just couldn’t afford to stay. Gentrification. Whites moving back to the city; buying up properties; making improvements that ultimately meant the Sarahs of the city couldn’t afford NOT to move. Was race a factor? It was, but in this case it was a positive attribute. Still, the minority home owner suffered as a result of the actions of her new white neighbors. Does that mean that those former suburbanites are to blame? Wasn’t the outcome was the same whether they meant to drive Sarah out or not? Well, perhaps race wasn’t the prime factor. I hope you don’t see that as a racist statement because if we pin it on race then we don’t have many options since the discussion so often comes back to ‘you’re a racist, no I’m not’. But if we look at poverty as the prime force, there’s a lot more room for agreement and cooperation. We’re not talking about the 1% vs. everybody else. I recognize that the divide is still great when we view poverty as the culprit. And the solution isn’t always to throw more money at the problem. Government has been doing that for years and poverty is still endemic. So what to do? It may sound overly simplistic, but getting a high school degree, having a nuclear family and bringing our youth back to church where they’re taught values would be a good start. But I’m afraid that many will call that racist. Of course then we’re right back where we started from. I’m hopeful though that won’t be the case and we can start to build up our city neighbors and neighborhoods so that everyone, regardless of race, can live together where in a place of their choosing.

    1. Rich, that is my point, no one in either scenario was meant to “be racist”, but no matter what the intent, Sarah still gets the short end of the stick, she cannot afford to live in a stable neighborhood with good schools. She gets kicked from place to place. The problem lies in that the system, or the levers that drive the system, were set up generations before us and were done so in an overtly racist fashion. The system was set up well enough that now, no mater what anyone thinks about any race, Sarah still gets kicked around. That is my point. This isn’t about you, me, or even Joan… It is about how Sarah keeps getting kicked. We do not need to call it race (though that is how Sarah got into the situation in the first place), but if we do nothing to help Sarah, we are complicit in our grandparent’s failings.

      1. I see it as being hard for Sarah because she’s a single mom, not because she is black. It’s very hard for a single mom to keep up with all the 2-parent families. I remember. What you describe here is what I saw going on in Long Beach, California in the 1970’s and 80’s. I thought we were past that now, at least in my neck of the woods. I live in a 16 yr old gated community. Just taking my street into account, 30% are white, 21% Asian, 21% black, 21% Hispanic, 7% Muslim. Nobody has moved away and our home values are stable. In fact, we get frequent phone calls asking if we’ll sell because of the demand to live here. We had a female, black principal at Terra Vista Elementary for about 10 yrs. We loved her! An amazing lady who did so much to unify the student body and stop bullying. Where are you referring to? I don’t see it here. You should come buy a house on my street, where people ignore race and treat everyone like family.

  2. So, the question I keep coming up with and have yet to receive an answer for, is, how do you solve the issue?

  3. How do we solve it? Great question. There have been and are plenty of proposals. This is where political arguments come into play and I think those are fair game. If we all accept that this, specifically and generally, is in fact a problem, how do we fix it? If that is the question go ahead and argue. Sadly there are many whose argument is simply that this isn’t a real problem and those who are impoverished, displaced, or pointing out discrimination, are wrong, mistaken, or are themselves the root of the problem. That is why I focus so much on describing the problem. I am hoping more people come to a better and more realistic understanding as to what is going on and why, so that we can have better discussions about solutions. The one solution that simply will not work, that will not provide opportunity, or erase the vestiges and effects of racism, is to do nothing.

  4. Here’s what I propose. First up, schools. Eliminate truancy; there are plenty of plans already out there and being implemented. Enforce good behavior; no more trashing teachers, other students or property. Provide perks for students who pass tests with a C or above. Require a dress code like they have in the charter schools. Second, family. Decrease the number of children born to single mothers. Eliminate the welfare penalty for marriage. Teach children from K – 12 the advantages of marriage (e.g. have students research the topic, write essays, perform plays) without blaming their single moms much as we would teach the value of not smoking to the child of a smoker. Inculcate these values. Finally, make church matter to young people. Encourage pastors, priests, ministers and bishops to involve the people in their neighborhood in non-church activities laced with prayer and expressions of love for God and the blessings of doing His will.

    1. It is unclear to me how any of these proposals will help Sarah’s challenges (unstable property value, the associated lack of ability to build wealth, and well funded schools).

  5. Sorry for Sarah, but building a future takes time and hard work. The government’s approach is usually a band-aid to help the immediate circumstances which then becomes institutionalized policy and never really addresses the core problems.

  6. Maybe Sarah should have moved to an all-Black enclave. My neighborhood is currently aghast because the first non-Black family has moved in. (An Asian family that owns a small chain of local corner stores) I live in one of those Southern neighborhoods where everyone waves and speaks and where everyone knows everyone else’s family.Upon hearing that this family was being shunned by their immediate neighbors, a group of us came together to bring welcome gifts (as was done with every Black family) and to introduce ourselves. The family felt so welcomed that they told their old Hispanic neighbors from their old neighborhood. The Hispanic family is now looking at lots in the neighborhood.

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