The heroes, tragedies, and hope of segregated housing

“Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald.

By Cara L. Gallagher, weekend contributor

*Warning! This post has the potential for spoilers.

Show David Simon a hero and he’ll write you a biopic tragedy full of injustices, passive-aggressive slights, and indifference. He’ll also create original characters, like Tommy Carcetti, Bubbles, and McNulty, who will test the needle of your moral compass on an episodic basis. You’ll want try to find the good one, the one who consistently plays it above board, the incorruptible. You’ll find yourself at bars and cocktail parties when the inevitable discovery that all parties present have binged The Wire debating who the least bad character is. But none such character exists in nearly any of his HBO series. I say nearly because I can’t speak for Treme. Like the rest of us, I never made it through the entire series. My hunch is he’s not in New Orleans either.

The latest Simon series, Show Me A Hero, a short six-episode HBO series about housing, race, and politics set in mid-1980’s Yonkers, New York is one of his more hopeful tributes to social justice, but no less delivers on the tragedy.

White citizens of Yonkers protest and riot against a federal court order to enforce desegregation by building two hundred mixed-income and public housing units. Newly elected hero mayor Nick Wasicsko campaigned on the promise to appeal the order, but discovers almost immediately after his election the appeal has been denied and he must enforce the law by building the homes.

Vignettes of women, almost all single, working Latina and African-American mothers, who seek the dream a low-story townhome in Yonkers – a refuge for their children from the violence, gangs, and drug dealing prevalent in the high rises – provide proportionate humanity to the legal and political battles in each episode. Though his character rarely if ever sees the housing issues through the lens of these women, Wasicsko changes his mind, seemingly worn down and physically exhausted by the unrelenting, violent, and venomous housing opponents. Down but not out, Nick becomes a champion for the cause he campaigned against, seeing the construction of the housing development through to the end.

Hope. A weird, unnatural feeling from a Simon series, right? Relax. Simon delivers on the rest of the Fitzgerald quote left off the show’s title–He did in fact write you a tragedy.

This one is chock full of injustices, “codespeak,” and indifference masquerading in 80’s hair, shoulder pads, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen hits. Gentle warning if you’re watching Hero and sub-40: Don’t be fooled by such tropes. You’re inclination will be to screen-capture the images and stories as events in the past that were extensions of the post-Brown v. Board integration efforts such as white flight and redlining. They continue today in cities and states everywhere.

Emboldening such delusions are cities like my hometown, Chicago, where vestiges of public and mixed income housing have been erased. Cabrini-Green homes, public high-rise buildings constructed in the early 1940s, loomed large over what is now a tony, predominantly white neighborhood. How would you know Chicago, like Yonkers, was the setting of similar housing disputes when a Target now stands in the old Cabrini lot? You wouldn’t. That was intentional, according to David Simon in an interview with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julian Castro. According to Simon, “Federal, state and local governments spent their resources, spent our resources to build a segregated society. We didn’t arrive at a Yonkers that magically self-segregated without a plan. We planned this society. We spent our money, our treasure, our tax dollars to achieve this over the course of decades. We spent it to create public housing when it was white folks who were the beneficiaries during the Depression, or the redlining that happened under the FHA, which was a New Deal program, or the great mainstream use of public housing to help veterans coming back from World War II. It was all a program that had widespread support — until people of color became the beneficiaries.”

SCOTUS reporters tried to write this into the mainstream political narrative during coverage of the surprising 5-4 decision in Texas Housing case from last term. It had the unfortunate timing of coming down the same day as the Obamacare decision (King v. Burwell) and the day before the same-sex marriage decision (Obergefell v. Hodges), thus it ended up lost in the frenzy.

A group called the Inclusive Communities Project (ICP) challenged Texas’ Department of Housing and Community Affairs for giving too many tax credits to housing in predominantly black neighborhoods. The credits were repeatedly awarded to housing developments in predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods which had the effects of keeping black neighborhoods black and white neighborhoods white. When money stays in the same neighborhoods it does nothing to integrate them, especially those segregated for decades. Think about the long term effects of a lack of housing mobility. It doesn’t simply limit geographic options, it impacts what schools children attend, the quality of their education, health (more food “deserts,” less quality grocery options), safety, access to transportation, job opportunities, and life expectancy.

These effects may not arouse your interests like a binge-watchable David Simon series does, but they are real and no less tragic today, in 2015, as they were in the 1980’s.

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

38 thoughts on “The heroes, tragedies, and hope of segregated housing”

  1. Bettykath,

    Thank you for the history. If you read the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights, you will not find your phrase “white men.” I guess that makes you the purveyor of falsehood.

    The Founders ended the dictatorship of monarchy. They “empowered” “ourselves and our posterity,” men of responsibility, ambition and accomplishment to “govern themselves” as a restricted-vote republic by applying appropriate criteria, because they feared a vote of the working masses. The rationale therein is explained by Alexander Tytler:

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the people discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy–to be followed by a dictatorship.”

    There is no point to a self-destructive, terminal form of government or one man, one vote democracy.

    The “Reconstruction Amendments” are and Lincoln’s entire “Reign of Terror” was unconstitutional.

    Slaves were legal property, with bills of sale, receipts and recorded deeds, under the law of the British Empire.

    Property, like pets or livestock, has no standing. No amendment, bill, program, proclamation or otherwise legal action may be brought on behalf of property without standing.

    To wit:

    Abraham Lincoln –

    “If all earthly power were given me,” said Lincoln in a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois, on October 16, 1854, “I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land. “…he asked whether freed blacks should be made “politically and socially our equals?” “My own feelings will not admit of this,” he said, “and [even] if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not … We can not, then, make them equals.”

    Lincoln may have been an unstable religious zealot but he had the law down pat. Compassionate repatriation is the only constitutional and societal solution for property, AKA slaves. America did not become a great nation because of diversity or “diworseity” as coined by Fidelity Magellan’s Peter Lynch decades ago. America became a great nation because its limited government existed to facilitate the freedom and innovation of great men. There is no affirmative action on the football field or Jeopardy. Vietnamese, Peruvians, East Timorians, Yemenis, Africans, etc., are all capable people who don’t need the help of affirmative action. Freedom and Self-Reliance is the American Thesis.

    The nature of representative government began in the home. Understanding that responsible, ambitious and accomplished men represented their families with one, undiluted vote, the American Founders established the election of representatives of the people as governance. It is a pointless exercise to provide the vote to people who indulge themselves and deviate from the norm of the family structure. Procreation is the only purpose to mankind. The 19th Amendment was antithetical decadence, a furtherance of perversion, unconstitutional, improperly ratified and must be repealed.

    To be sure, James Madison stated unequivocally his opposition to further modification fearing the destruction of the very Constitution itself.

    Consideration of the founding documents needs to end at the words of the founders. Interpretation and amendment has been terminally deleterious. It is past time for a total reset and re-implementation of the original, literal, and very binding, Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights. The singular American failure has been the Supreme Court which has failed to uphold, support and perpetuate the literal words and spirit of the founding documents.

    The American thesis is freedom and self-reliance. Discrimination is the first step of freedom. To vote is to discriminate. People must live with and adapt to their own characteristics and the consequences of freedom. The Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights were written, not to be modified out of existence, but, like the Ten Commandments, to stand in perpetuity.

  2. Folks, bettykath is a card carrying member of the White Privilege party. We must repent and make reparations.

  3. forgotwhoiam, hskiprob, The founding documents set up a structure that empowered white men of means to govern themselves and to enrich themselves. The phrase “We, the people” meant “we, the white men of means”. It did not include any of those I mentioned. It took ten amendments to expand the original Constitution to protect the individuals from the government. It took more amendments to allow women and African Americans the right to vote. It took another amendment to provide equal protection under the law for everyone.I don’t expect white men, those who have always been covered by the first ten amendments to “get it”.

  4. Tommy Carcetti isn’t a character. His name is Martin O’Malley and he wants to be President.

  5. bettykath

    Let me help you. Social Engineering is not in the American founding documents. Americans did not practice it in 1789. Social Engineering is antithetical to American freedom. Social engineering is unconstitutional.

    You may like it, but you can’t do it in America under the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights. Individual freedom and the right to private property preclude dictatorship and redistribution of wealth.

    You may engage in social engineering in a communist country under the communist principles delineated in the Communist Manifesto.

    The American founding document provide freedom, NOT success.

    Freedom and Self-Reliance.

    People live with and adapt to their own characteristics and the consequences of freedom.

    No governmental rule, tyranny, oppression or dictatorship.

    Take care of yourself.

  6. Yeah I remember Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor homes. The shootings, murders, the drug dealing, the litle kids tossed out the windows, the scorched walls, the no-go zones for whites, what a mess. Blame it all on whitey all you like. For those who saw them, they told us who we don’t want living next door. I don’t care what the stupid Fair Housing act says, my eyes and my brain have told me all I need to know.

  7. Where was “Social Engineering” in practice in 1789?

    It was in practice in the writing of the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
    Where is “Social Engineering” in the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights?

    It is a new way for the elites (white male landholders) to govern themselves. Nothing quite like it had previously existed. So on the one hand, some people got to govern themselves. On the other hand, it kept women, slaves, Blacks, Native Americans, and white men too poor to own land, in their place.
    “Redlining and housing projects were a social experiment that failed.”

    I disagree. They were an experiment that succeeded beyond expectations. It depends on how you view the “problem”. It was a failure if you expected it raise the living standards of Blacks and the poor. It was a tremendous success if your purpose was keep them in their place. I believe that the purpose of those who created and funded it was the latter.

    1. bettykath, any social or public policy which mandates that one must acquiesce an individual right for the benefit of the group is a social engineering project. We tried to set up a nation state in a democratic Republic format that would restrain government by specificity of limiting it performance thus hoping to protect the citizens human and property rights. We have not done so well. Other than slavery and suffrage, most of the other rights have been either fully or portionally usurped. Even they are under attach via both high incarcerations and voter registration requirements.

  8. When you take money from those it rightfully belongs to and give it to those it does not, this by analogy in my opinion is the definition of conflict. Those who benefit, the tax consumers, from the social policy will support those that enact and enforce it. Those who must pay, the tax producers, will support those that oppose it. It is the foundation of a two party system. Of course the tax producers on the alleged right would prefer to have their money spent on the military industrial complex so that, as shareholders of these companies, they end up getting more back than they put in, thus becoming in reality tax consumers. Is this not our two party system? The wealthier tax consumers on the left prefer to support the local graft associated with construction contracting such as Section 8 housing, public transportation, education, new courthouses and government buildings, libraries etc.

    Both claim a never ending need for greater and greater resources to accommodate their alleged general welfare policies. One is security through corporate welfare to maintain a strong police and defense and the other is helping the less advantaged through social welfare.

    I believe the majority would be better served if the wealthy were not allowed to be tax consumers at all. We now see the negative ramifications of the two party system where individual property rights are not protected; resulting in increased wealth, and income disparities and the highest incarceration rates in the world; almost all poor and middle class.

  9. “Where is “Social Engineering” in the Preamble, Constitution and Bill of Rights?”

    Are you kidding me?

    Is not the the very creation of the Constitution & Bill of rights ‘Social Engineering” in its purest form?

    Seriously, people… come up for some air.

  10. Biden is a mainstream American-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.

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