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  • Writer's pictureMicah French

WTF is Redlining, and why do we keep bringing it up?

Redlining is the practice of denying services (typically home and business loans) to residents in certain areas based on their race.

Redlining officially ended in the 1970s, why do people like me keep talking about it 50 years later?

I tracked down the 3 maps below of Tampa, FL (fairly neutral city in my state) and stuck them next to each other to illustrate the problem. The first is a redlining map from 1936, 84 years ago. The second is a demographics map today showing population density by race. The final one is a current poverty map, the lighter areas showing the most impoverished places.

Segregation in the US has been illegal for a while, but simply by the nature of how money works we're still a pretty segregated country, primarily when you get close to a major city center, and largely due to redlining practices from our past.

Side note here, some of the worst redlined cities in America were in the North, so this isn't just a Jim Crow south problem. Chicago, Washington DC, and New York were all aggressively redlined cities for example.

If on the center map you're in a green or orange area of Tampa there's a much greater chance you go to school with a majority minority student body, and your school has less money which means they don't have funding for the robotics club or a mathletes program, etc.

If you're in the green or orange area your home value isn't going up, at least not nearly as much as the surrounding areas. Nobody with money wants to move to the bad part of town, and demand drives home value. It means you're not going to build wealth that way, wealth you would otherwise leave to your children.

If you're in the green or orange area there isn't as much business investment; it's a less educated, lower income population so that makes sense. It means there aren't as many opportunities around you.

Of course there are people that overcome their circumstances, and of course there are people in "good" areas that have it tough for a variety of reasons, I'm talking in trends not individuals. There will always be anecdotes of people who are exceptions to the rule, but if you're using those stories to establish your broader expectation then you're painting the picture you want to see, not looking at reality.

Why people like me point to redlining from 50-100 years ago is because it is one of the most direct examples of how our sins of the past haunt us to this day. The problem was artificially created, it was designed, it did not happen naturally. Those actions set in motion a reoccurring cycle, and we have to acknowledge it's existence so that we can work together to break that cycle.

I hope this helps someone out there better understand what people are talking about when they talk about redlining.

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