Disinvestment in Black and Latino Chicago Neighborhoods is Rooted in Policy. Here’s how these Communities Continue to be Negatively Impacted.Historians in the News
tags: racism, education, segregation, Chicago, urban history
It’s an oft-quoted statistic: White families have significantly more wealth than nonwhite families in America — nearly 10 times that of Black families. The racial wealth gap continues to greatly impact the differences in opportunity and access, from long-term health outcomes of a global pandemic, to education and income levels, to what happens when a business doesn’t make enough money.
Wealth inequality exists primarily because of legal federal and local policies that prioritize white wealth, says Darlene Hightower, vice president at Rush University’s community health equity office. “When you’re thinking about why white wealth is preserved and protected and Black wealth isn’t, I think it’s just our origin story, like in a superhero movie,” she said. “I think our country has an origin story and it is built on racism, racist policies, oppression and white privilege. It’s an origin story we can’t seem to get beyond.”
By 1970, the Great Migration brought an influx of Black people to Chicago. Chicago leaders, however, did not integrate Black students into majority-white schools. Instead, they were sent to school in shifts, or by mobile classrooms, called “Willis wagons.”
“When they were protesting in 1963, it was a desegregation protest but the things that people were chanting were like, ‘What do we want? Books! When do we want them? Now!’” said University of Illinois at Chicago history professor Elizabeth Todd-Breland. “These were young people saying, we’re entitled to new textbooks as well; we shouldn’t have things that are falling apart.”
There remain Chicago Public Schools policies that continue the ideas behind redlining, though less explicitly, said Chicago Teachers Union researcher Pavlyn Jankov. Jankov referred to certain policies he said have been harmful: The School Quality Rating Policy, which ranks schools by testing results; the student-based budgeting policy, which awards funding to schools based on enrollment; the proliferation of charter schools in Black neighborhoods, which privatizes education and prioritizes expansion. According to his 2017 research on segregation in CPS, the Black student population has dropped from close to 60% in 1981 to less than 40% in 2015.
“When you have schools and communities that are disinvested, you have students leaving these schools, and you have schools that end up in a death spiral of declining enrollment and resources,” said Jankov.
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