Reject the False Narrative

I am a huge fan of the American rock band R.E.M. One of my favorite lyrics is from the song Begin the Begin, “Silence means security, silence means approval.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like every day, there is something I shouldn’t be silent about…Today, it’s the statement made by Trump about how Biden will “Abolish the suburbs.”1

If you’re not clear why this language is problematic, a little history. In the 1920’s a developer named JC Nichols was building suburban developments in Kansas City.2 Simultaneously, cities also began implementing zoning and deed restrictions. Nichols became a prominent developer noted for his charitable work…he also “was among the first developers in the United States to promote the restrictions. From 1908 through the 1940’s, the J.C. Nichols Co. built dozens of subdivisions in the Kansas City area that prohibited housing sales to blacks.”3

Unfortunately, his impact extended far beyond Kansas City. In 1947, the Nichols deed restrictions would become the model Federal Housing Administration recommended to other developers. These deed restrictions bolstered redlining efforts which began in the 1930’s.

Redlining has its roots in the New Deal. The federal government mapped every metropolitan area in the United States and then color coded them. The color codes indicated where it was safe to insure mortgages… “anywhere where African-Americans lived, anywhere where African-Americans lived nearby were colored red to indicate to appraisers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages.”4 The wealth and equity built in the restricted neighborhoods would ultimately be passed from one generation to the next. As a result, by the time fair housing policies were established, generations of black families were priced out of these neighborhoods. Today, the legacy persists in neighborhoods with de facto rather than de jure segregation. Especially troubling is the impact on children and schools. Coded language is regularly used for schools and it comes in many forms… “safe schools,” “good test scores,” “urban vs. suburban,” and real funding inequities exist due to property tax values (which take us right back to our history of redlining).

The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, but housing discrimination persisted long past the passage.5 So when the President says “(Democrats) want to abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs” and “your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise,” realize this is not coded language…this is blatant. Fred Trump (Donald’s father) built his wealth in real estate… and that history includes a record of housing discrimination.6

At this point, if you want to yell at me:
“I’m not racist, I just want to be left alone to live in my neighborhood” or
“I worked hard to get into this suburb” or
“I don’t see color (we can have another conversation about why this is problematic)”

Then it might be time to live that value by rejecting this type of speech and the false narrative it is selling.


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Teacher educator, public education advocate and policy wonk. Dr. Michael Maher has dedicated his career to positively impacting the lives of children throughout North Carolina.

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