race and space

A House Is Not A Home

People have often touted property ownership as a way to acquire wealth in this country. To be fair, most of the wealth and power of this country has been found in who controls however much land. Without even delving into history, outsiders can see that the myth of homeownership is largely a preservation of colonialism, as predominantly White people have benefited from it. Even though people were on this land, no one valued the quality of the land until White people held ownership. Even when people of color were told that they could only live in certain parts of the country, they were then relegated to less and less of it when what they had was seen as desirable. Instead of continuing to spout the myth of how property ownership has been good and should remain good for everyone, people need to diminish the allure of property ownership and move towards land cultivation again.

For Indigenous people, even the phrase “home ownership” is disingenuous because they managed all the land of this country before any colonists appeared on the horizon. Rightfully, when European “settlers” began allotting large swaths of property for themselves, the Indigenous people were upset and demonstrated such regularly, not before attempting to reassert their ownership and management techniques. Rather than cease colonization and attempt to educate themselves of the guidelines needed to protect the land, the European “settlers” gave themselves permission to execute people who never wanted to cede their land to people who would excessively exploit it. According to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’ research, this mentality crafted the Second Amendment.

Even people of color who were brought here against their will were not eligible to legitimately own property, as would be proven by how the country continued to develop. When Chinese people were brought over to work as slaves, they were excluded from owning property even when they were freed and unable to afford passage home. The Chinese Exclusion Act removed the possibility that Chinese immigrants were eligible to participate in the same rights of citizenship as most others, which continued until 1933. Without being able to consistently root themselves in communities, they wandered until they found places were people would allow them to peacefully coexist. Consequently, while there are some larger cities with large Asian communities, many remained broken up, further alienating them from the rest of society.

Formerly enslaved Black people formed freedom colonies to maintain separate communities as was the law, but if the land was viewed as desirable by later “settlers”–a trend that is called both gentrification and displacement–then laws were created that removed them from that space. As history progressed, violence was viewed as an acceptable practice to acquire land for White people, as demonstrated by the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. When urban renewal made it possible to declare areas to be slums and blight, Black communities were decimated. Among all populations of color, Black people were the hardest hit by the housing crisis of 2008 in the United States. Therefore, homeownership has become nothing more than control for Black people with different permutations as time passes.

People have touted segregation as ideal to people of color, stating that when people live with “their own kind,” they have a much easier existence. Other than being blatantly racist, most people fail to recognize that people of color always have to interact with the greater society. Frequently, banks are not Black, Latino, or Asian owned and the banks that are remain out of reach from the majority of the population of color. To add insult to injury, property is valued less when people of color–especially Black people–control it. Therefore, even if people of color always maintained their property in excellent condition–made harder by the spatial mismatch of jobs and services–it would still be seen as less than that of White people, which is why those communities are routinely destroyed by gentrification and displacement.

This is why instead of continuing to praise those who are able to get past the mortgage requirements and who can afford to renovate their kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, we should be looking to foster more cooperative approaches to land ownership and cultivation. In Detroit, there has been success with creating a community that grows its own food and is looking for renewable energy for the homes. While there are some predominantly White neighborhoods which are able to reach this goal without excessive barriers, people of the United States should be working towards making self-sustaining neighborhoods which include all people. After all, owning the land should stop being more important than making sure it allows everyone to live on it.

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