Black poverty and white poverty are not the same, and here’s why

Black poverty and white poverty are not the same.  As Ta-Nehisi Coates demonstrates in this brilliant article in The Atlantic, African-Americans have been subjected to continuous, intentional and organized theft by a kleptocracy masquerading as a democracy.  If you’re not angry by the time you’re done reading about how the US government maintained black poverty to benefit white people, you haven’t been paying attention.  The title, “The Case for Reparations,” is a bit misleading, as Coates is less concerned with a financial reckoning than with a moral one.

The article should be of especial interest to Chicago readers, as it includes an account of the scams and cheats and outright thefts which created today’s hopelessly segregated city.  The nearly-forgotten “contract sellers” bought houses low because they’d terrified white owners with the prospect of black neighbors, and then sold the self-same houses high to black families barred from moving into unsegregated neighborhoods.  Then they took the houses back on any pretext, or none at all, leaving their “purchasers” with nothing.  But these sellers were the only option for African-Americans who wanted to own a home, because the Federal Housing Administration statute and regulations essentially precluded bank lending to black people.

Come to think of it, the article should be of especial interest to anyone who’s ever been moved by A Raisin in the Sun.   Hansberry’s version of the story of housing segregation is more uplifting, but Coates’s is truer.

A must-read.


Cross-posted with

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

4 thoughts on “Black poverty and white poverty are not the same, and here’s why”

  1. He makes a fine equitable case, but … hello? Was there even an editor? At all? Completely uneven and in places quite bizarre. Frankly, it makes me wonder more about the Atlantic than about him.

    Still, I agree on the merits, and it's what we should have done with Native Americans too. Tribal sovereignty is kind of b.s. People should be able to keep their lands and traditions, but not having to follow the same laws otherwise is nonsense. Whose dumb idea was that? And frankly, separation and isolation don't seem to be good for people. And, don't get me started on casinos.

  2. Has no one ever read "The Jungle"?

    Contract selling in Chicago pre-dates black immigration by quite a bit-it's a major plot point in Sinclair's novel.

    1. Thanks for that clarification: I haven't read the novel since high school, and the most recent stage adaptation of it emphasized the labor rather than the housing injustices.

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