Posted by Yvette Hilaire, ATLANTA, GA -- For my Race and Ethnicity class last semester we read Sociologist Mary Pattillo's seminal book, published in 1999 entitled Black Pickett Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class. This book is an ethnographic account of a Chicago inner-ring suburban Black community, one I believe was very close to where I grew up. It chronicles what many “color-blind” Americans still cannot comprehend today: social class does not trump the deeply-embedded and largely institutionalized racism that continues to undergird our society. Like Dr. Pattillo argues, we may not have Jim Crow Laws anymore, but we still have pervasive residential segregation -- a circumstance resulting in an unequal housing market, regardless of income level. Black middle class neighborhoods are far from just middle class, and many times include some of the same social problems of poor inner-city Black neighborhoods. This is not something you would find in white middle class areas.
Black Atlanta, regardless of social class, faced pervasive mortgage fraud during the recent housing bubble burst, a practice historically motivated by Redlining. But I was not prepared for what I saw in one of these neighborhoods: abandoned and derelict apartment complexes, as well as fallen-down "For Sale" signs on eroded once white-colored picket fences. Surely, this area where the main street bears the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and is the home to some of the most well-known Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) deserves more attention and respect from the city and surrounding region which proudly claims it's “Too Busy to Hate.”
The Supreme Court just handed down two historical rulings: one was a Civil Rights nightmare and the other a precedent-setting victory. The core of the Voter’s Rights Act of 1965 – one that Dr. King fought and ultimately lost his life for – was struck down. Subsequently this same Supreme Court deemed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. Many view this latter decision as another groundbreaking civil right victory by allowing same sex couples to marry. But does this current landmark decision mean that past, equally as landmarked ones need to be declared obsolete? Brown v. Board of Education was handed down 59 years ago for a very good reason, just like the Voter’s Rights Act was in 1965. But public school segregation and inequity in the voting polls continue. These laws have been on the books for a very long time because discrimination based on race remains alive and well.
Yvette Hilaire is a Sociology Major at Georgia State University.