Baltimore journalist Lawrence Lanahan spoke at UC Berkeley on Monday, October 14 about his new book, The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore's Racial Divide. The book follows the paths of three characters--a Black woman trying to leave her neighborhood in Baltimore for better opportunities in the suburbs, a white man following a spiritual calling to leave his suburb to help uplift a crumbling neighborhood in the city, and a lawyer locked in a years-long battle with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support fair housing policies. Lanahan was later joined on stage by Director john a. powell for a conversation on the themes in the book and to discuss ideas for overcoming segregation in regions across the country.
Lawrence Lanahan: Since we're out West, I'm going to share a well worn line that Black people have all used back East to explain the North and the South. If you know the second half of this, I hope you'll do it for me. Here's how comedian and activist Dick Gregory put in Ebony magazine almost 50 years ago, "Down South, white folks don't care how close I get as long as I don't get too big. Up North, white folks don't care how big I get as long as ... "
Audience: Too close. You don't get too close.
Lawrence Lanahan: Louder, as long as I don't get too close. Again, "Down South, white folks don't care how close I get as long as I don't get too big. Up North, white folks don't care how big I get as long as I don't get too close," the North and South. Now, Baltimore is a border state. Not unlike St. Louis, Baltimore and Maryland are on the border. Baltimore and Maryland divided slavery, showed a lot of support for the confederacy, but it's one of the bluest states in the nation. It's always been a little conflicted. The first thing Baltimore did during the great migration, like a lot of northern cities, it created to the great migration with helping discrimination.
In 1910, Baltimore passed the United States' first segregation ordinance at the municipal level. If you were white, you could not move to a block that was majority Black. If you were Black, you could not move to a block that's majority white. It froze the racial composition in place at a time when because of discrimination, African-Americans made up 20% of the population but were allowed to live on about 2% of the land of the city.
This is the New York Times story about that. The Supreme Court, after seven years said you can't do that. Clearly, don't do that. There were other ways. There were restrictive covenants. If you bought a house, it might say the deed to the house can't rent or sell to Blacks or Jews. It took a little longer for the supreme court to get rid of that in 1948. There was redlining. The government saying, lend here, but don't lend here for mortgages. Block busting, where real estate agents would move a Black family onto a white lot and then go down the block saying hey you better sell. They'd sell low to the fleeing white families and sell too high to Black families that did not have enough places where they could live. There was displacement through urban renewal and the construction of public housing. That was the reaction of African-American moving to Baltimore and a lot of places.
That's what I'm saying, the beginning of the 20th century, there was just a message from metropolitan regions to Black people and that message was that certain races belong in certain places. Now, the Fair Housing Act, which was passed a week after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was supposed to change that. In my book, I write, "From the Fair Housing Act to the unrest following Freddie Gray's death of injuries he received in police custody." I start with the Fair Housing Act and I write right up to Freddie Gray. It was clear that April day, 48 Aprils after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, that America was still giving Black communities the same message, if not as overtly as it had before the civil rights movement.
In the book, I chronicle the five decades of structural racism that bound and continue to bind my metropolitan region in state segregation and racial inequality. But, I also show work by activists, community leaders and lawyers to dismantle segregation and racial inequality, and I tried to show what its like to live it. White or Black, poor or rich, my book is in short the life of a metropolitan region in a way that refuses to look away from segregation and racial inequality. And I tell much of that story through the stories of two families. I'm just going to read for a few minutes here from the prologue to my book, which introduces these two families.
All right. The first half of prologue is called Nicole. Nicole Smith sat in her living room, looked to the afternoon's television talk shows. A thin, easygoing, 25-year-old with warm, dark eyes, Nicole savored the rare peace and quiet of the house. She was enrolled at Baltimore City Community College, but she didn't have class this day. Her younger sister was not home, her mother was out running errands, her son Joe was at the after school program at his elementary school a few blocks away. Outside on this winter afternoon in 2007, the sky was gray, the air was cold, and on the ground lay the remnant of a typical Baltimore wintry mix, a frustrating slush that turns the color of ash when it hits the street and piles up alongside the curb, styrofoam cups and plastic miniatures of vodka.
From her living room window, Nicole saw students walking past brick row houses with missing steps and boarded up windows. Across the street the corner package liquor store with the little bar in the back, a staple along the major east/west North Avenue corridor, did steady business. Around 4:30 p.m., Nicole's mother Melinda came through the door. She stayed long enough to say hello and left to run more errands. After Melinda walked out the door, Nicole heard what sounded like a gunshot out in front of the house, then four more pop, pop, pop, pop.
Despite its grime and abandonment, this neighborhood had been a step up for the Smiths. Nicole, her mother, and her two younger sisters had lived in some of the most violent parts of West Baltimore including Murphy Homes, a notorious public housing high rise. Their new neighborhood still made the news for poverty, violence and drug dealing, but the trouble seemed to elude the Smiths here. People called them the Huxtables after the family on the Cosby show. Nicole's father had left when she was three, but her mother still ran a right ship. Melinda hadn't tolerated cigarettes or cursing. She knew who the girls' friends were and where they hung out, and even the roughest neighbors left the Smiths alone. Sometimes they sat on Smiths' steps but they moved on when someone came out the door, a sign of respect.
Nicole thought that the neighborhood had deteriorated in technical 12 years since their arrival but nothing had hit this close to home. After she heard the gunshots, Nicole ran to door. As she scanned up and down the block for her mother, she saw someone run out of the corner bar. She picked up the landline and called her mother's cellphone but no one answered. Then she noticed that her mother's car was no longer parked on the street. A sense of relief washed over Nicole. She realized that her mother must have already driven away.
Then the police knocked. Someone had been fatally shot in the head inside the bar, and the police were canvassing the block for witnesses. "Did you hear the shots or see anything?" an officer asked. "I heard shots," Nicole said, "And then someone came running out of the bar." "We might have to get you down to the station to question you," the officer said. Nicole blanched. She wished the police would just use her answers without making her testify. "No, don't come back and ask me nothing," she said. "I don't want to be part of that. I'm not going to the police station or court. The police moved on, and after about an hour, Melinda came back through the door.
Normalcy returned, at least what was normal for this part of town. But the incident remained with Nicole. She wanted out. Every effort Nicole took to get out seemed to be met with an obstacle. She enrolled to Baltimore City Community College hoping to transfer to a four-year college and become a teacher but the administrators kept placing her in classes that didn't count toward her degree. She put in an application to the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for a rental unit in public housing or for a Section 8 voucher, which is named for a federal program where low income households pay 30% of their income toward a rental in the private market and the government pays the rest. The voucher offered the possibility of moving outside the city, but the Housing Authority's waiting list included nearly 30,000 people. When her aunt told her about special vouchers you could use in the county, she applied but was rejected. Still, Nicole kept dreaming of getting herself and Joe out of the house and out of the neighborhood and into a community with safe streets and good schools. It was just a matter of that.
Mark. Mark Lang and his nextdoor neighborhood Kenny chatted on the sidewalk along Hunters Run Drive, a long stretch of single family homes and had the growing sprawl of the small town of Bel Air. Mark's house and Kenny's house were nearly identical, a garage on the left side, gabled roof and a louvered vent, a short concrete driveway wide enough for two cars, a square front lawn bisected by a sidewalk, rows of vinyl siding, crisp gray shingles. Each house was an island of right angles in a sea of right angles helping the neighborhood achieve a sense of order and pride.
Down the street just four doors away, however, was a complete aberration. A house with half the square footage of its neighbors. Only one story tall, it looked like someone had shoved half of it into the ground. Not only that, but the owner was building an addition in the back with siding that didn't match the siding in the front. This of course, had invited the threat of a lawsuit from the homeowner's association. That house doesn't belong here Mark said. Kenny agreed.
Mark was born just after his parents moved out of his paternal grandfather's home in a working class neighborhood of Brooklyn, about 30 minutes down interstate 95 from Bel Air, just inside Baltimore City's southern border. That move made in the late 1950s was the first chapter in an interrupted story of upward mobility for Mark. The story was reaching its climax here on Hunters Run Drive. Mark and his wife, Betty had bought the house in 1987, and now a decade later, he had finally started his own business, Mark had achieved the American dream and it could only get better. A nice house, in a safe affluent neighborhood zoned for good schools. A home like that was sure to appreciate in value. The nuisance house with the mismatched siding was helping though. Mark thought it was 60% or what his or Kenny's house would sell for, 70% tops. "It's to helping our property values," Mark said. Kenny agreed.
Not long after that conversation, cognitive dissonance overcame Mark, an evangelical Christian, he knew what his very namesake had written in the bible. According to Jesus, Mark 12:31 read, the most important commandment after loving the lord god with all your heart was thou shalt love their neighbor as thyself. Mark considered what he said about his neighbor's little house. That he decided was not Christly thinking. Mark did aspire to be Christ like in a casual what would Jesus do bumper sticker kind of way. You could see it in his intense boxy face. He wanted his actions to be guided by the exact truth. If you misrepresented the truth or failed to live by what you claim is your truth, Mark's estimation of you withered.
Mark found Jesus when he was 17, and at that point he began reading deeply, not just about scripture but about how the truth embedded in that scripture should govern the way human beings treat each other. Dr. John M. Perkins, a veteran of the civil rights movement whose beating by police in Mississippi still caused him physical pain decades later captured Mark's imagination. Perkins argued that Christians who wanted to help the poor needed to live among them. It sounded radical, but in the mid '80s when Mark was moving to the house on Hunters Run Drive, his best friend Alan Tibbles, under the right Christian under the spell of Dr. Perkins was moving with his wife and two little girls from an affluent neighborhood in Howard County to a renovated shell of a row house in a Sandtown-Winchester, one of the most racially isolated, poor, violent neighborhoods in West Baltimore.
More and more, Mark's frictionless existence in Bel Air riled him. Why was his lifestyle accorded so many white Americans, when so many people of color were denied it. Why, he kept asking himself, was he born white in America? It had been a decade since Mark and Alan had moved to what may as well been different worlds, Mark out in Bel Air, Alan to the inner city. At that time, Alan, his wife Susan, and a pastor named Mark Bornack had helped start a multiracial congregation in Sandtown called New Song Community Church.
During that same decade, Dr. Perkins helped start Christian Community Development Association. The CCDA asked for practitioners across the nation to have something personally at state in efforts to bring economic development and social capital to struggling communities. Perkins' belief that anyone who wanted to help a poor Black neighbor ought to move there was rooted in what CCDA proponents called incarnational ministry, the idea that god became flesh and shared in the suffering. The CCDA helped his member organizations build relationships within a community that bridge racial and economical divides, hoping development will grow outward from that foundation.
What this meant to Mark Lang was that an infrastructure existed to help people like him move to places like Sandtown. New Song Community Church was a CCDA member. Alan began bringing longtime residents of Sandtown up to Mark's house to watch movies. Mark started visiting Sandtown to help New Song set up their IT system. As Mark felt himself pulled into New Song's orbit, an emptiness grew in him. Once again, he questioned the truth that he felt should direct his life. On top of that, he and Betty had an argument. Part of it was about children. They had trouble conceiving and Mark hadn't been willing to spend as much money on fertility treatments as Betty had. More generally, their worlds were drifting apart, and Mark was drifting toward Sandtown. "Why don't you move in with Alan and Susan?" She would ask him.
The lines between us, the lines of segregation, opportunity. I had hoped if I wrote the book the way I tried to that the lines between us stand out in sharp relief in this story because I followed people across them. Through Mark's and Nicole's story, we learn about three decades worth of efforts to bring opportunity to Sandtown and three decades worth of organizing and legal action to crack open the white suburbs, so poor African-Americans can access the opportunity that is already abundant out there. Mark and Nicole are probably half or two-thirds of this book and the rest is devoted to fair housing advocates and activists who identify and then attempt to dismantle underpinning of segregation in the Baltimore region. I hope the book articulates the shared faith and obligations of people in any given metropolitan region.
john a. powell: Let me start off by just saying, I really enjoyed the book. It's important to be upfront. I was just at a meeting about a week ago back at Ford Foundation and people made, and there's a big effort now there's a thing about narratives and stories, and one of the tensions someone said, well you tell a story and it's about someone's personal life and it's episodic. It doesn't enlighten how the structures work, so it doesn't actually call for structural intervention. Or you tell a structural story with data and graphs and maps and watch people go to sleep. That's that tension between ... Especially when you think of things like race and discrimination in this country, we have a tendency to think about it very personally. In the book and in the case, I had trouble dealing with that as well.
One of the things that Mark does, excuse me, that Lawrence does, which is quite remarkable, it's only been done well I think in a handful of cases. I think of Racial Rap as being one example where you actually tell a structural story through a personal lens, that you actually get to know the people and you feel other people. I think that's the most powerful way to tell a story where you have to humanize it, as they say, but you don't want to lose the context, which all just takes place. I think you've done a remarkable job.
Lawrence Lanahan: Thank you. It was important to me in writing that that was absolutely my strategy.
john a. powell: I hope they capture that when they make it into a movie. The other thing I want to say, and then I have a number of questions for you. The other thing is that as evidenced in part, the country is still radically segregated. We just produced, Eli and others just produced a piece about how the Bay area was supposed to be liberal, never fought on the side of the Civil War, but they still have these dynamics of being segregational and my story is to explain it. Whether it's money or it's personal choice or whatever, but not racism. That doesn't happen in the Bay area. Of course, it does. Again, I think your focus is really important in that regard as well. Then bringing us to Freddie Gray.
One of the questions I have, I'm pointing this out by saying, it's amazing to me how much of America lives in segregated states and how little it understands segregated space. Part of the reason is we talk about it and conflate segregation just with phenotype, just with how people look, so it's largely Black versus white, maybe Latinos and Asians and even Native Americans, but it still talks about people's personal identities. You get questions even from Supreme Court Justices, like why is it necessary for Blacks and whites to live together? Don't Blacks want to live by themselves and whites want to live by themselves? We're sort of back to a benign separate but equal.
Within the book, and what I got with, and some of you may know, it was discombobulating reading the book because I was an expert witness in the case and I helped create the remedy in the case and I was picky. You talk about this in the book because one of the things, I actually fought with lawyers for the plaintiffs. Barbara Sanders is a good friend of mine, and I said you can't really address the problem within the city of Baltimore. This is a regional problem, and you have to address it at the regional level. A lot of complications and Lawrence actually talks about this in the book. You take the money designated for Baltimore for affordable housing and move it to the suburbs. It's one of the confusions, it's the long way of getting to it, but one of the confusions is that we help give birth to something called opportunity mapping, which is to map out distribution opportunity in the region.
Part of the way I talk about segregation is a way of actually segregating some people from opportunity. Yes, a white, rich area may be as racially isolated as a poor Black or Latino area in the city, but there's a difference in terms of opportunity. One of them is opportunity hoarding and the other one is opportunity deprived. Part of what we're trying to do is redistribute opportunity. I'll say two other things about that and get your response because as you said, part of the argument is that these areas are largely people of color in concentrated poverty. Why don't we just bring opportunity to those places and not move the people? Then there's other people who are like no, we need to actually move people out to the suburbs or wherever those opportunities are. My approach is largely agnostic. Sometimes people confuse it. They think I'm talking about mobility strategies, moving people out to the suburbs versus in place strategies, which is moving opportunity to people. My approach is neither is that opportunity is just distributed through a complex set of structures and people should have choices and a range of opportunity.
Sometimes it would look like mobility, sometimes it would look like in place, but at the end of the day, we have to have people associated with opportunity. You can map opportunity and talk about through a number of different things. Even the "progressive" housing community is confused by that. Opportunity shifts so like in San Francisco now as a city, historically we thought of the suburbs as high opportunity and the city as low opportunity. In a place like the Bay area, we're more like Europeans where the city is high opportunity, and the suburbs are low opportunity in terms of jobs, schools, resources. I'm not sure we ever really got that. That's one question. We thought in talking to the characters, knowing Baltimore, we never got to the point where people understand that this is the real remedy was about opportunity. You said in your book the opportunity work idea didn't talk about race per se, it wasn't about race per se. But it's actually very heavily correlated with race because opportunity [crosstalk 00:22:14]. Exactly.
Lawrence Lanahan: And with the Supreme Court, everybody not wanting to race-based remedies, there's also that pressure to do economic, which is just a back door way of doing it.
john a. powell: Do you feel that there is even after all this time that there's been any kind of understanding that it is opportunity that is really at the heart of it and how we distribute opportunity through a racialized lens, but we're really trying to redistribute opportunity, not just redistribute people?
Lawrence Lanahan: Yes and no. I think to a fault because I think we're up to our ears in the word opportunity, because policymakers are finally coming around to okay, maybe we should get people in poor Black neighborhoods out to the opportunity that is already out there in the suburbs. That was local governments, people in suburbs fought that tooth and nail for a long time. Now that the state and local government has come around to this idea and now they'll do what you have been doing, put a bunch of variables together, crime, poverty, jobs, create an index of opportunity and map it. Some indexes use 14 indicators of opportunity, some of them use 97, but they're all down with it now.
The state government has a map, an arc GIS map that you can click and see if it's a community of opportunity or not. They say that, this is a community of opportunity, this is not, and they use that to make policy with. This year we like moving poor Black people to the suburbs, so we're going to give all of local housing tax credits for developers who want to build in the suburbs to communities of opportunity. This year, we want to put the low income housing in opportunity zones. Depending on which way you swing politically, opportunity means different things.
It's a community of opportunity if the opportunity is already there. If it's an opportunity zone, and we if we want the opportunity to go there, and what happens with opportunity zones, it's a tax break for investors to invest in poor neighborhoods. They find the most gentrified part of that zone and do it there. We are up to ears in that word opportunity. I think people get that opportunity is tied to place. People get that race and place are the conduit for class to divide us. It's not being cynically manipulated in the opportunity zones. I think part of what I'm starting to realize, what's dawning on me since the book has come out, is how clinical these lines are when it is a data-informed policy driven approach to opportunity. You put the variables in the index and the map shows where the opportunity is and isn't. Then everybody wants to pull people across to where the opportunity is. Like you said, it's both.
You have to look at the opportunity of these neighborhoods where people are leaving. What is the burden on white people where they fly to? Nobody ever asks them to cross a line unless they see a whole bunch of coffee shops in a neighborhood and they might want to move there, and then they will. I feel like the burden of when we're figuring out where opportunity is and isn't and where people should go, so often it's a community of color. If it's a place-based development to bring opportunities where you already are, we're going to change the curriculum in your schools, we're going to tear buildings down, put buildings up, do something to your roads. You've got to sit there and deal with that in your neighborhood.
Or why don't you leave your church and your bus line and your family and friends and move out to a suburb where the policymaker probably wouldn't want to live themselves. What is the expectation, the obligation we have of the white person for whom the region was segregated for their benefit? I'm asking you, I'm not a journalist, I can turn the tables. What is the obligation of the white person in that region?
john a. powell: You can think about our housing development as really for white people, right? Here in the Bay area and we're in East Bay now, probably most of the people in the audience live in East Bay. I went to school here in the 1960s, college. People with means were trying to get out of Oakland. Now, people with means are trying to get into Oakland. Those people with means are more likely frankly white and Asians. Oakland lost a third of its Black population in the last 10 years. If you have time to drive around, it's like every two blocks there's a new building going up. It's not bad, whatever, if you can afford it. But opportunity is coming to Oakland who live there for 30 years will not necessarily benefit, especially if they're renters. It's like actually tying it up to the people, not just spatially. Because you can flip, I mean Oakland was a majority Black city, and now it's 25% and declining. Washington, DC used to be called Chocolate City, is now majority white.
Lawrence Lanahan: It's vanilla suburbs, that's the other part of that.
john a. powell: It's really tying into people. What I would say in terms of white people, we actually have all these policies to protect them and their tax rate, which you talk about, but also facilitate. I did some work in Portland, and again, the Black and Latino community had been trying forever to get both a light rail line and the streets cleaned up. Lo and behold, there was a tax vote and they built bike lanes, and people in the community call them white lanes because they weren't built for the people in the community. They were built for the gentrifiers. It was a different end in my life. I think part of it is holding on if we really want to, it's not all that hard. We could build mix use, we could build ... They've done it in Montgomery. We could say a certain percentage of the houses will be low or moderate income and a certain percentage of the houses will be for people who are already living here.
Lawrence Lanahan: But then again, that's on the region. New York City just in trouble, the mayor just in trouble because they have a lottery for affordable housing but they made an accommodation to make it easier for people who already live where they're building the affordable housing. That ends up compounding segregation because it's already so segregated racially and economically so that the poor people who live in a racially isolated place, they do get a nice new affordable place to live but it's still in a segregated place.
john a. powell: That's an easy problem to fix. I've been doing this for a long. If you want a mixed income, Hope Six is a terrible example, but if you want a mixed income neighborhood with opportunity distribution, you actually create it, it's not that hard. You don't want to maintain a racially and an opportunity isolated neighborhood. If you put all of the affordable housing, which they did in places like New Jersey. New Jersey had a fair share plan except you could opt out and pay another jurisdiction [crosstalk 00:29:59]. Camden and Newark were getting all the units, but they were having more and more opportunity isolated. You don't do that. It's not that hard to do to say a healthy neighborhood, we can construct a healthy neighborhood. It's not all poor, probably not all Black. There are decent schools. As the schools become better and better, we don't people who have limited means to be pushed out, we don't want this turnover of the market. It confused me in a way with the wrong words, but it doesn't seem that hard.
Although I will say this, people say you stop dealing with race, it's not rocket science. I say, you're right, it's harder than rocket science. It's not because it's conceptually so hard, but I thought that line it's like if you are going to do these things, sort of a promotion of actually having an empathetic relationship with a community like Mark, that you're actually engaged. You actually have an investment, you recognize whether you come to it through a Christian thing or not.
Lawrence Lanahan: It doesn't have to be.
john a. powell: Fear is deliberate. Going to back to Baltimore for a minute, Mark moves to the city from the suburbs. Nicole moves from the city to suburbs, Mark moves from the suburbs to the city. They both made a decisive choice. That's the other things that's really important in this case. When constructing the case, we said no one should be forced to move, that there's a lot of demand. If you want to live in a racially segregated neighborhood in the Baltimore area or much of America, you have unlimited opportunities. If you want to live in a stable, racially integrated opportunity rich neighborhood, there are only two places in the country. You throw a rock, you're going to hit one of those racially segregated neighborhoods. But people who really want to live in a racially integrated neighborhood, an opportunity integrated neighborhood, have much fewer choices.
Lawrence Lanahan: Yeah, I lived in one of the few parts of Baltimore that is racially integrated, fairly economically integrated. Is it opportunity rich? I don't know. Does the beautiful diversity on paper mean anything for Black families who live there? I don't know. Another word that white people are learning to say that's not opportunity is equity. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But that is when you talk about where people are going to move for what opportunity, if you don't do it with equity foremost in mind then whatever development or moves you make to equalize things out, if the equity is not there, it's going to flip over. If you don't do housing and school policy at the same time, people are going to move around. I think the one constant I find because as I'm starting to leave Baltimore and talk to people about this stuff, I mean my book maps on to whatever American region you want to go to. What I say about it is that the song remains the same, different regions change the tune.
I was just talking to somebody in Portland and they were like, "Yeah, it doesn't quite like in Baltimore here. It's not people moving to the suburbs for opportunity. What we're trying to do is get some anti-displacement measures in place so that traditionally Black neighborhoods that have gentrified and the opportunity came when the Black people had to leave. We're trying to look in eminent domain records or look through municipal records to actually identify families who used to be in this neighborhood and give them chance to come back. That's a different dynamic. But what is at the root of it I would say is white supremacy. Wealth follows whiteness, and blackness gets punished wherever it goes. You can move Black out to a white suburb outside of Baltimore, they might not access the opportunity. Certainly, if you're in a city like Baltimore with Black political leadership, Black people can get into a white space with white wealth and get some of the benefits but really there's just so much shuffling. If you don't bring equity into the equation, it's just going to keep shuffling.
john a. powell: One of the things that Mark's book deals and he's actually dealing with it now, I keep calling you Mark. What Mark is dealing with is complex systems. You can't really focus on one thing because if you know anything about complex adaptive systems, so you think of Brown V Board of Education. We never really integrated the schools but we did desegregate the schools, which is quite different. The schools today in many instances more segregated, certainly more segregated economically than they were before and all the times more segregated racially. It's a little bit complex because you used to think about segregation just in terms of Black and white, sort of binary. What we're doing now is trying to move beyond binary because we have three or four groups living in an area and all metrics don't work when you have multiple groups. But gain, that's technical and easy to fix. But the point is, is that despite this landmark case and despite work on desegregated schools, schools are segregated. It's interesting, the most segregated city school system in the country is ... Anyone?
Audience: New York City?
john a. powell: New York. It's not the south. Why is that? It's very controversial. They actually tried to do something here in Marin. Marin has three Black people, and they're saying, they should be able to go to school with the other kids. Liberal Marin, liberal rich Marin said, do we have to?
Lawrence Lanahan: I didn't really know.
john a. powell: Exactly. It's crazy. It's not that hard to fix on some level. But one of the reasons it do make it a little more tricky is you are dealing with complex systems. If you just focus on this thing over here, and some of you just focus on process as opposed to outcomes, it looks like we have a good process, we have choice, we have movement, we have this, and we don't pay attention to the outcome. I say no, you start with outcome. The outcome has to drive what you're doing. If you have the school, even if the school is integrated in terms of the building, then you look at classrooms. The classrooms aren't integrated. All the AP classes are white kids, and all the remedial classes are Black and Latino kids. You have an integrated school building. There's all these different ways of gaming the system.
Lawrence Lanahan: There's always a way out for people who want out and have the resources to do it. In Howard County, which is a very liberal, blue county outside of Baltimore, between Baltimore and DC, their superintendent of the school board said, all right, we've got some schools with too many students, some schools with not enough. We're going to re-draw the school boundaries. We're going to have 7,000 students change schools so that schools even out. Also, we are going to make sure that no school has more than 50% poverty rate, 50% free lunch. They put equity into the equation. People are losing their minds in Howard County, where a developer built the city of Columbia from scratch to be racially inclusive and economically inclusive after the Fair Housing Act. What's everybody saying? If you force busing on me, I'll move. You redraw the boundaries for who goes to what school, and then the people with the money move to the same place.
Just today in the New York Times, Baton Rouge, the white part of Baton Rouge just incorporated itself as a new city. That's going to be this municipal fracturing where we're going to keep our taxes here, do our police, do our own schools. It started because they tried to do some school stuff. They tried to deal with school policy, and the white part of town was like, how about our policy and they incorporate. That's what happened in St. Louis County. White people fled St. Louis, incorporated a town. I talked to a historian about this and he said, "Yup, six people, we're a town." The Black moved to the town and they were like, move a little further out, incorporate another town. St. Louis County has 90 municipalities. What happens when you fracture municipally like that is you compete against each other for economic development because you're too small. You've got to have cops, you've got have courts, you've got to have schools, and you start competing over economic development.
Then you're like, we can always fine Black people for jaywalking. They start with all these fines and fees for Black people. They analyzed what happened after Michael Brown in Ferguson. When they looked at it individually, racism, people mad. When they looked at it systemically, it was perverse incentives to extract wealth from poor Black people, which is what's been happening, what Ida B. Wells talked about.
john a. powell: A couple of comments and then ask you some questions. There is also good news though. I don't want you to have to run out and take some antidepressants. For example, if you look at Wade County, which is in North Carolina, they actually did the same thing in terms of saying no school would have more than 40% of students on free lunch. We had a hand in that. We did the same thing in St. Louis with the Tea Party. The point is, when they did that in Wade County, the Black students and Latino students performance on standardized tests more than doubled. White students actually went a little bit, no one lost. It was approached by this community as part of the research triangle. This community basically said, if we're going to stay and invest here, we need to have an educated workforce, so they actually pushed them to do it.
The reason it worked is because we have regional school districts. You couldn't move two miles and go to a different school district. The south tends to have large regions. The northeast tends to have these small fractured communities, which are easier to segregate, easier to escape. If you do things at a regional level or even at the statewide level, and for every incentive that actually works against you can make an incentive work for you. I'll just give you one more example. There are a couple of liberal art colleges that are experimenting ... Okay, two examples and you respond and then we'll open it up. There are a couple of small liberal arts colleges that say, we actually value diversity. If you went to a diverse school, you get extra points. Now, in an all white school there's a disadvantage.
The reason that white parents are sending their kids to these private schools that cost $50,000 is not because they think they get just a great education, they think it's a gateway to Harvard, to Brown, to Berkeley. But if Harvard, Brown, and Berkeley said, that's not the gateway. The gateway does your child have a diverse experience? You can actually change it, and they actually have positive incentives.
Texas is another example. Texas, right? The affirmative action case in Texas. Texas 10% plan, I think most of you know that. The 10% plan said, we will take the top 10% of each school to go to flagship colleges in Texas. Now, I'm white, actually I'm not, but I'm white and my kid the 13th percent. She can't get into a flagship school. I move to a Black school where I think my kid can be in top 10% so they can go to flagship schools. White middle class parents are actually reconfiguring themselves because it's more important to them that they be able to go to UT Austin than they have an all white experience. I'm just saying that we can actually play with the incentive structure and make this work. There are actually examples of it working reasonably well, but we have a lot of forces against us from HUD to a white supremacist in the white house, to local policies, to local control, to tax incentives, to transportation. Again, I think if we're clear in what we're trying to do, we can still do it. What's your response to that?
Lawrence Lanahan: Okay, okay, we can end on something hopeful. You're exactly right, that's a great point to land on. Do you know Alla P. Johnson?
john a. powell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lawrence Lanahan: Alla P. Johnson is a law professor and she talks about equality directives. These are things that already exist in American policy to incentivize equity, to incentivize integration, economic integration. Like an affirmative program for fair housing, this is a provision of the Fair Housing Act that says if you get money from HUD as a local government, you're obligated to take proactive steps to dismantle segregation that the government caused in the first place. Not just don't let us catch you saying a racist thing or doing a racist thing, do the work. When HUD bothers to enforce that, places change their tune. After Brown V Board, the south massive resistance to integration. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says you can't discriminate with federal money. The federal government says, I don't see all the speed down there in your integration of schools. Perhaps, we'll have to hold back the purse strings and boom, you've got integration. I'm pretty sure today the southern schools are ... No schools are integrated well, but they desegregated better in the south than they have in the north. The way I think about it, I keep coming back to white supremacy. It's not like the KKK, it's not like white people under white hoods, it's people behind desks just perpetuating a system that keeps ... White supremacy keeps white people on top, economically, socially, politically. If you want to dismantle that, you create incentives in policy, in regulation, in whatever. You talk about there's one or two places that are integrated in the country. Incentivize development there. Not like Oak Park, Illinois or Shaker Heights, Ohio are perfect, but these are places where people decided together to make integration that would be a priority. Say your city has some funding for affordable housing. You leave it alone and somebody is going to be like, let's make some affordable housing for artists... Make it so that equity is the first thing in mind when you make decisions about affordable housing. We have some incredible advocates, organizers in Baltimore that are trying to force the city housing department to use their new affordable housing money for community land trusts, which is where you go to a poorer community and you give them some money to get a hold of the land and they decide what they want to use that land for, a farm, some permanently affordable housing, and so if you incentivize this stuff, it can stick but you absolutely need bottom up organizing to get everybody to buy in and realize like with the school desegregation when the achievement gap narrows and white people actually do a little better. It's when everybody buys into equity that things can get better. We'll end on that. Things can get better.
john a. powell: I think there are some questions. We can't end just yet. I saw a hand went up.
Audience: Going back to something you had said earlier Dr. powell, was about complex systems and need to not focus on one factor. You said something about process, like instead follow the process or you were suggesting some kind of process that could maybe involve the different interlocking or interconnected systems. I was wondering if there was anything more you could say about that or about examples where you see that. You have been offering some examples, but I was just wondering about the different systems that play in a given city for example.
john a. powell: I've got a question, so two things. One, the opportunity mapping that now it's been done all over the country. We're doing it now for California. We're trying to get California to think about housing in a way that the distribution ... California has about two million units short of housing, so the next couple of decades. But we build so that everyone has access to it, so the housing is close to transportation, close to schools. That's not hard but you do have to deal with these complex systems. The point that I was making is not saying that people have the right to comment on the regs. We want an outcome. State what that outcome is. You say you really want equity and the community to be racially, economically integrated. That's the outcome you want. The process of getting there. But still what we do is we say we allow people to participate in the outcome and then people game the system and the outcome is worse.
I'll give you this one example. I think it's okay to say this. The Seattle school district contacted me about three days ago. They have AP classes, and AP classes are disproportionately white. Seattle is like a lot of cities on the west coast. It's rich, growing in terms of wealth. It's becoming more polarized in terms of money, and there's no majority in the Seattle schools, but the whites represent 44% of the students, they represent I think 67% of the students taking AP classes. Blacks represent 15%, they represent 1% of the students taking AP classes. Then the Asians and Latinos are in the middle. People said that's not fair. The solution they've come up with that I'm going up there in a couple weeks and I think I'm going to try to talk them out of it. The solution they've come up with is to get rid of AP classes. They'll be no AP classes.
Lawrence Lanahan: That's like New York.
john a. powell: It's like, whoa, wait a minute, slow down. What you're really saying ... What would happen is that people, meaning strictly whites, will leave the system. It's actually confusing, you said equity, this is actually equality, let's treat everybody the same. As you know, I talk about targeted universalism which is you don't treat everybody the same. It shouldn't be racially coded. What another school system has done including Shaker Heights, they don't test into AP classes. Anyone can take advanced calculus, except I'm not going to take advanced calculus because I don't like math. But if I do like math, if I want to be an engineer, if I want to be a computer nerd or whatever, I can get in the class, struggle to do the work, or do the work.
What they've done in some school districts, this was one school district in upstate New York, they've actually closed the racial gap in terms of those classes by making those classes available to everybody. Instead of having this arbitrary ... Anyway, instead of contracting it, saying we have a system that's unfair let's therefore make it the same for everyone, now it's fair? You can expand it to say we're going to make this an open system. We're going to remove these barriers that are doing this work of sorting people. We want to do more than that. We actually are going to incentive young students of color to take these classes.
Anyway, I think you have to really be thoughtful. To me, that seems logical, seems obvious. It also seems obvious that the solution that Seattle is considering is worse than the problem. They will actually not only drive the white students out of the Seattle school district, they will drive money out of this district and this district will be worse off. The goal is not to have this Black system, but to have a fair system. I don't know if they'll listen but that's what I'm going to talk about. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Lawrence Lanahan: No, I think you said it perfectly. Especially going back to your point about the outcomes. What outcome do you want? That can dictate what you do. In Baltimore, Under Armour, the apparel manufacturing, they're growing. They opened a brand new corporate headquarters in Baltimore in a brand new waterfront neighborhood with retail, there's apartments. They wanted a tax break from the city, so they applied. They said, this is going to be great. For the apartment, we're targeting high earners and millennials and baby boomers. That's their outcome, that's what they wanted. I guess that's not going to include in Baltimore. The organizers said, here's the outcomes we want. We want poor and Black families to be part of this too. You're going to have a new neighborhood with all these rich people, you're probably going to have a school that everybody wants to go to. We know white people love to move to Baltimore to get into one or two school districts. Can Black families move into this new neighborhood and get access to the school? Our outcomes are 20% affordable units in your new apartments. There you had it. You had the two outcomes, the two different worlds that Baltimore wanted. They met somewhere in the middle. The organizers didn't get everything they wanted but the outcomes were very clearly stated. One was about equity, one was about just like anybody can live here in our super fancy apartments.
john a. powell: Right, for $6,000 a month.
Lawrence Lanahan: Sure.
john a. powell: Other questions or comments?
Audience: I want to ask a question about public investment. It seems like in respect to housing and public education too-
john a. powell: Can you hold the mic a little closer to you?
Audience: If you have a deficit of two million houses, you can pass a lot of rent control, you can have certain percentages of affordable housing, but if you can't increase the total supply, which would really feed into it for affordable housing, like we had in California three decades ago, you can't really solve the problem. Don't we really need $25, $30, $40 million state investment in public housing in order to address these problems of integration, which are crucial?
john a. powell: Again, what do we want? Like New Jersey, New Jersey has fair trade housing that basically said about 30-40 years ago they said if you build housing under the general welfare clause of the state constitution, and the supreme court of New Jersey interpreted general welfare to mean not housing for rich people, not housing for white people, they said it means general. They built housing in New Jersey that's to be for general purpose, which means everybody. New Jersey requires that every municipality in the state, when they do their housing needs, it's not just for who is already there, it's for the region, and you have to have a plan to then build a whole range of housing, not just the top end, but also the bottom end. It didn't work that way for many years because they had this thing that you could pay, one region could pay another region to build its affordable housing.
The richer, whiter areas paid Camden and Newark to build all the affordable housing. It actually deepened segregation. It produced housing. I've been involved, and I was involved in the case there, and we finally got that removed. It's been removed now for three or four years and it's starting to make a difference. Again, it got confused with process. You could do that in California. There's so much money in housing. What my position is, you don't put it on a city or even government, you say it to the private housing market, which they do in Montgomery County, that every building over 10 units, 15% of the units have to be affordable, and 5% has to be available for people on public assistance, every unit.
Literally, there was a case where someone was building housing on a golf course, and the housing was for Montgomery County, the housing was extremely expensive. They said, we're not going to build any affordable units, we're just going to give someone the money. They said, no, you have to build the units. They said, on the golf course? They said, yes. You're building 120 units, you have to build a certain percentage of them. They did it. Not only that, they went further. They said, you can stigmatize people by walking down the street in this nice neighborhood and all of a sudden, what's that unit there? It looks kind of tacky. It doesn't have elan, it doesn't have this. You can say, that's the public housing. That's the subsidized housing. What Montgomery County did, is they said, the units have to conform to each other, so walking down the street in the area, you can't identify which units are low income. In fact, sometimes the low income units can move around.
Again, not so hard. They've been doing that for 40 years. It's had really positive outcomes in terms of both racial integration, economic integration, and the Black students and Latino students in particular, are doing substantially better than their Black and Latino counterparts in other parts of the country. They're not always doing as well as the white students and people say, see there's still a gap. It's like, yeah, there's a gap but there's less of a gap than if they didn't do it, and it works. Montgomery County is the third richest county in the United States and money hasn't gone. Ross Cheney has shown over and over again if you do this well, you actually make your region more viable, economically more competitive.
For now, about four or five years the majority of children in any school, are children of color. I think as of last year, the majority of people in the workforce are people of color. How do we actually continue to grow and continue to be competitive in the world if we're saying half the people we don't care about. There's all these economic arguments as to why we should we should move against supremacy. There's not enough white people to actually keep this thing going for a whole bunch of reasons. That's true in the United States and it's true in Europe.
The other thing I want to say that's interesting and very complicated, the country is racially divided. That's not news to you. But actually, the country is less racially divided, more ecologically divided. But that I mean, it's not white people per se that's the problem. There are more white people today that support things like affirmative action, that support racial justice, that support reparations than almost any time in history. Yes, they have a polarization within the white community. You have, I'll just it, white supremacists, white nationalists, Trump supporters, but you have other people who are struggling with can we do it differently? Sometimes it's conflated. That's true across every group, it's particularly true among Blacks. If you have, I'll just pick a number, let's say 55% of whites actually have some notion of equity, to try to work it out, try to figure out. But we're not helping them in terms of structures, in terms of stories, in terms of practice. One master and then I'll stop. Here at Berkeley you see, where you're at right now.
A couple of years ago the university comes to me and is like, we have a problem. What's that? We have all these white students come to Berkeley and they complain that there are no Black students in their class. What we're thinking is taking one Black student and putting at least one in each class so that white students would have at least one Black student in their class. But the research suggests that when you put one Black student in a class of 200 students, the Black students don't do so well. What she would do? Get more Black students. But the point is, it's a good thing that the white students want to have experience with Black and Latino and Asian students. Berkeley, this is a smart school, smart people, and our solution is so incredibly stupid. I think that there's some energy to do something in a much more positive way. Right now though people are doing things in a negative way, hold the purse strings and a microphone, so we have to break through that, but I think there's a chance to do that.
Lawrence Lanahan: If I could just say real quick, I was at a housing conference a couple of weeks ago and it was full of economists and people across the country clearly realize that there is a market aspect to this that you put such a low supply, the high demand for housing is driving prices up. There is like everybody right now is like more houses, more houses, more houses. The question is, that and what? What is the equity process that can be in that? Maybe some of the good sounding ideas could screw up the market and make things worse. You really have to think about the market aspect of it in tandem with the equity and not on two separate roads.
john a. powell: I see a couple of hands. What I'm going to do is take two or three questions and then we'll respond, so try to get all the questions in, so one, two, and then we'll come back over here again.
Audience: I'm with this regional government agency. My question is this, is applying fair housing in the Trump era, and this idea that until January 2021 we're probably going to have to do it ourselves? I want think through with you two gentleman, how can you leverage affirmatively furthering fair housing when we have little cousin legislation here in California and specifically in our regional housing needs assessment, how can we further fair housing using our local tools. Because even if we are a very liberal Bay area as Professor powell as pointed out, we have our counties of resistance and our versions of Westchester, so how can we balance this local control need with this regional need that's not working, that segregation is continuing. We need to use fair housing rules to change that.
john a. powell: Thank you.
Audience: One of the local digital TV stations was rerunning episodes of an old interview show from the late '60s and '70s, the Dick Cavett show. Robert Kennedy was on there and was talking about in a way, I haven't had time, haven't had the memory to reproduce as articulately as he did then, was talking about the ways that low income housing can incentive just like market rate housing is incentivized. I think a lot of people don't realize that market rate housing is incentivized too. We have these monster apartment blocks in Berkeley and in Oakland, some high rises, and one of the incentives they give for these big developers is to get height variances because these big developers want to make big money and they're not satisfied having market rate housing that's 12 stories high. They want to have it, I think one in Oakland is going to be 20 or 22 stories. I'm just throwing that out there that a lot of people don't realize that market rate housing or housing for the rich is also incentivized for this big developers who come in and do that.
My question is, I hate to interrupt the flow with a technical question, we all assume that we know what opportunity zones mean, but can either one of you actually say what the definition or the criteria for an opportunity zone is, so we're all kind of on the same page about that. With regard to transportation hub housing. We had the BART station down in Berkeley and the cost of the housing in that area has gone up astronomically. A block away from the BART station in Berkeley, you have studio apartments that go for $3,000 a month. The highest apartment in one building I know of, about a four or five-story building, but the apartments on top because you can actually see the bay from the balcony facing that way is $8,000 a month.
The last thing I'm going to say real fast about AP courses, you may or may not want to respond to that given the time restrictions, and I don't want to throw a wet blanket on this, but the fact is a lot of students who are in AP courses tend to be white or Asian, they have parents who are professionals, who not only have the educational resources at home to provide their kids, but can provide their kids help if they're taking AP math or AP organic chemistry. As a Black person, I was almost flustered one day when one of my white roommates could call home and ask her mom for help on her organic chemistry homework.
Lawrence Lanahan: I would say, real quick on opportunity zones, I don't have it memorized but one of the things was this census track and empowerment zone under Clinton in the '90s. Otherwise, I think it's your typical what's the percentage of poverty in this area. On the regional thing, that's a great question, I'm glad you asked it. In my book, I talk about how when the vulnerable region is assessing its own fair housing impediments, it says we have a lack of a regional structure in getting things done at the regional level for fair housing, the fair housing impediments that are regional in nature. Maybe this is what your organization is, when you have a coalition of local governments, one thing they did in Baltimore in the last couple of years is they did a pilot of project-based Section 8. They just did 100 vouchers that go to opportunity areas anywhere in the region. A lot of it is the infrastructure at the regional level to actually enact things, do things.
You can't always compel local governments to do things but you can over their head to the state. What the people did in Maryland was it used to be if you wanted, a developer wanted to use federal low income housing tax credits to create some affordable housing somewhere. Wherever they wanted to do it, they had to go to the local government and say, can you please approve this and make a contribution? They said no, the application went in the trash. Then finally, the Fair Housing Act got them to change it a little bit. The state said, how about this? You don't have to go ask their approval. But if they don't like it, they can get their county council together to vote it down and the application still goes in the trash.
Eventually, the state, and they kind of snuck this through the legislature, the state repealed local control. They just rolled right over it. You can no longer tell a developer they have to throw their application for tax credits in the trash. They can build wherever they want. That doesn't mean a county can't say, oh I'm sorry it's not zoned for that or boy gosh, connected the sewer is just going to be a little too much, I don't know. They have their ways. But you can go to the state level, which in California, how many million of you, it's not so easy here. There has to be 50 at that table. But in finding the infrastructure that will support the decision making to put equity in the housing policy. I don't know if that's helpful for you. I think you work in one of these organizations, you know better than me.
john a. powell: Great questions, both of you. I keep saying this, actually it's not that hard. There is a lot of research. We know that the more fragmented you are, the harder it is to achieve fairness and equity in more racially strapped model. You can have a mix. As Lawrence says, most people don't realize that most of the gains we made in education, especially for Blacks actually come from the south because the south is not strapped by it. The south was big regions. You couldn't move two miles and be in a different region, you were still in the same school district. You come to a place like the Bay area, and you've got all these stratifications, what you could do is have some mix. You say look, here's the thing, here's the floor. You have to build your fair share of affordable housing. You could be more granular than that. We're agnostic how you do it, but you have to do it. If you don't do it, we'll do it.
In New Jersey what they say is that when they gave the developer the right to accept a deal, and a developer wants to build low income housing, the assumption is it's okay and the city or county that wants to stop it, the burden is on them. They just flipped the switch. You can do that. It's interesting, I'm sure you saw the business round table basically saying, maybe we need to rethink corporate America. Why are they saying that? Maybe because they're concerned about any inequality in America or maybe they're concerned that there would be a president war and she'll come after them. It's like we need to do something before Bernie or Elizabeth does something. Again, incentive structure I'm not against people making money, and I'm not against some kind of local control.
Local control is a new issue. It actually did not exist almost at all in United States jurisprudence before the 1940s. The initial assumption was localities are just an agent of the state and the states can do whatever they want to. We started changing that around zoning things. A lot of it was racialized. It's like, okay, Black people moved there, we want to control this, and then the court flipped in its decisions about local controls are so important and we've always cared about them. It's just not true. It was a new form of states' rights. Again, I'm not against states having some rights but states rights was all about Black wrongs. We want to be able to lynch and not have them tried. Don't tell the federal government to tell us what to do. You can do it through a carrot and a stick. Lawrence already mentioned that.
For example, there are some states that have said, if you don't do certain things, you don't get any state money. All the arguments about the state shouldn't regulate us and don't interfere with the market. This actually was partially Maryland. They were trying to have infill development in Maryland, and they got all this pushback about we're not Oregon, we don't want government control, don't tell us what to do. What they did, it was very smart. They said, do what you want to do. But if you don't infill development, you don't get any state money, which means you have to go to your own rows, your own electric. All of a sudden, the cost of everything doubled. They actually got infill development. They just changed the incentives. No one builds without subsidies, they're just hidden in a certain way, we don't call them subsidies. A whole other thing, all these big, giant multi-billion dollar companies go to Detroit, which is where I'm from, and billionaires there, they want to build a stadium. What is the first thing they do? We need a tax subsidy. You've got a billion dollars and you need a tax subsidy.
Lawrence Lanahan: Segregation is often subsidized.
john a. powell: To its credit, and I'm making a shout out for Google, but Google is building this huge campus down on Salaze, we don't want any public money. That may not seem like a big thing, but no one else has said that. We have enough money.
Audience: They don't pay no taxes.
john a. powell: What?
Audience: They pay no taxes.
john a. powell: But the people in Detroit don't pay taxes either. What I'm saying is that's a step in the right direction. It's not everything, but it's something. All I'm saying is think of this as incentive structure. California and the Bay area, we'd be willing to help you with this at the Haas Institute. We got my team is sitting right in front of you, best in the country. Just say, what can we do under the current system, because the system is really kind of messed up, but we're not going to change it legally. One of the local mayors who called himself a socialist, when they tried to do something in terms of affordable housing, he said this is war because it violates local control. You can't use local as a NIMBY. You can't use local control to say we're not going to have any affordable housing. That's what local control means. You actually, local control, but you're going to do your fair share of housing, and if you don't, you're not getting any tax breaks, you're not getting any subsidies from the state.
Anyway, in terms of schools and stuff, it's sort of interesting. Just a couple of interesting factors. In 1975-76, half the engineers in the United States working in AI were women. Where'd they go? Yes, students don't get the proper training and sometimes basically Black and Latino and maybe Native American students don't. Again, I just want to just acknowledge that today is Indigenous People's Day. But people have different abilities, but races don't have different abilities, genders don't have different abilities. I may be better at that than this person, but I'm not better than that than women. I'm not better than that than Asians. When we see these racially coded things, that's to tell us something is going on. How is that no one woman now is good at computers when 30 years ago a lot of women were good at computers.
There's other things, all these structural things. Then it gets played out on the individual. My daughter lived in New York, she took some standardized math test. She got the second highest score in the city of New York, she was in junior high school. The next year she went to high school, and I said, "Are you going to take math?" "No, I'm not good at math?" "What the hell are you talking about?" She had bought into the whole narrative that girls are not good at math. We couldn't dissuade her from that. What do you mean you're not good at math? Her brother, he did okay as well. But his confidence, he got on a D on a test, on a math test, and his response was it must have been a dumb test, because I'm not dumb. It's a complex thing.
I would actually support, and we work here in the Oakland school system, Black and Latinos are not taking AP classes. They actually tested well enough to join, they actually test well enough to go in the classes, but they say, I don't belong there. That's a white space. This is a hostile space. They don't need, in this case more academics. They need a sense of belonging. They need a sense that it's theirs, and we can fix that. Wherever we see these huge gaps, especially if they're historic, it tells us the system is not working.
Audience: I just want to say real quick, I agree with you when you're saying it's multifactorial. I certainly agree with that. I have a brilliant white American who graduated from Berkeley, totally math phobic. She could do anything she wanted to in math, science, or whatever, majored in political science. But I was one of those Black kids who was the only Black kid in AP chemistry and AP calculus. Part of what I'm saying, although it is multifactorial, I think has some basis in truth. A lot of the white achievement for that or even for college courses in engineering, does come from having professional parents. If you have an engineering course where you're supposed to do a particular projects, a lot of the white kid get their projects from their parents. I agree, it's more than one thing. But I'm saying, I've been in that situation, so I have some ability to judge that. No, Black kids are inherently less capable of math than white kids, but you have to start before you get to the AP courses.
john a. powell: Yes and no. There's some good news, and we're going to take these last two questions and start closing out. Today actually it's different than that. For example, one of the things we hear all the time is parental involvement in support of how the students do, and that's only partially true. Parental involvement is important, but it's not your parent. In other words, if you're in a school where there's large high form of involvement, you benefit. If you're in a school where there's not parental involvement, but your parents are involved, it actually drags you down. In that sense, it's not ... When you think it's my parents, it's not always ... Again, there's a new book out by Rutger Johnson on education. Yes, it helps to have parents, it helps to have a collective group of parents because they can actually restructure the whole school.
There's a book by Dr. Gordon from Longview, and he looks at all the hidden supports that people get in schools. He's identified 232 additional supports outside the schools that the families provide. Even having said that, it still doesn't explain why there are so few Black and Latino kids in these AP classes. If you come in and help them fell like they belong, you don't put a kid in a class and say you're the only one. That's Claude Steel's work. He even indicated, any person, any identifiable trait that you think that person can only work, you're actually depressing the student's performance.
Audience: I was the only one and my performance was great.
john a. powell: There will always be people who can run up and down the escalator. But that's not how you want to structure it. I was too.
Audience: I agree with you.
john a. powell: Let's take these last two.
Audience: Lawrence thanks for your time. My name is Matt, I go to the theological union across the street, and so my question is actually about one of your characters his faith community upheld him to come across these lines or invest. In your work in Baltimore and maybe around the country, where have you seen faith-based communities working for racial equity, and working against it. It probably goes both ways. I don't know if you encountered it in Baltimore or elsewhere.
john a. powell: Let's take the other question.
Audience: Hi, Polly Leibowitz, I'm a doctoral student in the graduate school of ed here at Berkeley. I do research in San Francisco that looks at the relationship between gentrification and public school enrollment. What I found was that as neighborhoods increase in gentrification, public school enrollment decreased. I think what's interesting is that in San Francisco the school assignment process is not a neighborhood model. A parent can't move into a neighborhood and be like, oh I'm going to go to a white school. White parents also tend to know the research that their kid will be fine or be better in a racially integrated school. They also have buy-in in terms of having their child be prepared for joining a racially integrated workforce because they're intact and they kind of value that or say they value that.
That is all to say that there's a lot of factors already in place that should be incentivizing them, but in fact, 70% of white kids in San Francisco go to private school, and that number has remained stagnant through the great recession. I'm wondering if either of you would have any idea of how to create incentives or pathways to really get white parents to buy in to public schools knowing that there's already some of these pathways, that both of you have identified, in place.
Lawrence Lanahan: I'll take our question first. Places of worship engage in social issues like inequality across denominations, we see it happening. What I don't always see happening is an acknowledgement of the systemic nature of things. When John Kirkus talks about reconciliation, he's talking about reconciliation first of god and man. But some churches that talk about god and man, it's like one person got that man humankind. You take that out of a theological context and put it in a social context, they see things as interpersonal and choices rather than barriers. Put it this way, people love Martin Luther King's line about little white children and little Black children holding hands. A church could, I don't know, have a little moon bounce at their spring fair for a white neighborhood and a Black neighborhood, great. Now, if a little Black girl in Sandtown walked out of her door in the morning and wanted to find a little white hand to hold, how far would she have to go? She's going to get called home because it's going to get dark. She's not going to find any. That is where I see religion falling short.
It is perhaps because religion can be such an undefinable to the outside experience between a person and their god. I think that translates into the social understanding. I think it needs to be more of a social systemic understanding from the church. Not to say church is bad, but I went to talk at a church, it was full of old white people, god bless them. Some of my best friends were white. But they were grappling with this afterward. How can we deal with the systemic nature of this? Because that's what I was all over that, and then they want to, they want help. I feel like whatever kind of leadership within the denomination, within the theological school, they eat that up. You're going to school. I think they want to, I think they don't totally get it.
On schools, man incentivizing white parents to send their kids to public school, there's a New York Times map where you can see by census track what percentage of families send their kids to private schools, and it's a lot. It's one of these ways out. I'm afraid you've stumped me on this one.
john a. powell: It's a great question. Linda Darling Hammond wrote a book called, Education in a Black World, it's looking at I think it's Denmark or Finland. It's one of the Scandinavian countries and basically, they went from somewhere in the middle or lower middle to the second best school system in the world. When you tell people that, it's like they're not very diverse, but they actually are very diverse. Europe is actually changing very fast. The majority of the kids in Amsterdam were not native born children, so that's half of them. The question is how do you actually create an education system that's for everyone, and they've done it. They have different sensibilities, so we went to some Scandinavian countries, there was actually a team of us, and it went well. What do you do where private schools are basically nonexistent. People kept saying, what if someone wants to send their kid to a religious school? We don't do that here. What if they wanted to? They don't do that. They couldn't make sense of it.
I think you could incentivize them in two ways. The Louisville school system when it was challenged getting parents involved, they invited me down to help them. It was interesting because they were forced to desegregate, in the 1970s, and they had a positive experience. Then they were considered integrated, and so the Supreme Court said they could no longer use race to maintain integration. With the parents involved, they said, you have to stop using race, we're just going to read racially and economically segregated schools. They didn't want to. Some of the same people, some of the same organizations, they wrote this beautiful amicus brief to the Supreme Court saying, we wrote an amicus brief 30 years ago saying if you forced us to integrate, all hell was going to break loose, the schools were going to go to hell and housing prices were going to all deteriorate. We were wrong. In fact, just the opposite happened. All these positive things happened. Please don't make us go back to the old system. Of course, no, you can't use race.
Anyway, all I want to say is using three or four factors, you can get almost a one to one correlation of race, so you can get around that. Remember, those of you read Kenneth Sabaugh, Kennedy said, you could use proxies for race, it was okay. We use proxies and we actually created schools that were economically and racially integrated. One of the questions, there were two outlier groups, one were parents of color who were concerned that their kids would be abused and miseducated. They said, with don't want to go to schools where teachers will not respect our kids. I said, you shouldn't send your kids to school. They said, you agree with us? I said, yeah. We came up with some mechanisms to deal with that.
Then the other group were a small group of upper middle class white kids parents who were like, if we do this, is my daughter going to be able to go to Harvard or Stanford or Berkeley? I said, I don't know. But I can tell you this, if we do it right, their changes will not be diminished. In fact, their chances will probably be enhanced. We almost lost no parents. We spoke to their anxiety, and they had different anxieties. The parents of families of color worried about discipline, worried about the kids being ignored. Middle class parents just worried about getting into elite schools. Part of the anxiety is everybody was worried about will I have a job in the future? Will have income in the future? Will I have retirement. In a way, it's too bad because these are deep structural issues, and they try to solve them at a personal level. Okay, there's going to be climate change, maybe I should get a gas mask. Good luck with that. When we spoke to anxieties, they largely stayed. I think you could change incentive structures. Again, I think you say, I don't know if you're able to do this, but you could say thinking about public schools, you could say no more than 10% of our kids will be in private schools. That would piss a lot of people off. You'd have people gaining. Okay, my kid is going to private school and has a diminished chance to go to Stanford or Berkeley, I'm not sending them to private school. All they're really doing, because high school education is just a gateway to college. All they're really doing is trying to get their kid to college. If you get the colleges, and if you like you can read about this, if you get the colleges to say, this is the kind of citizens we want, this is the kind of experience we want. We've got to incentivize that. I'm not saying that's the only one, but there is one.
I have one last question for Lawrence, and then we'll get ready to buy some books. One thing you said that I thought was really provocative, a precursor to this statement, one of the contradictions that we're dealing with is we're dealing with issues of white, Black, Latino, Asian, Native Americans as if they're stable categories, and they're not. They're constantly shifting, and they're shifting very fast. We're paying almost no attention to that shift. I'll give you two examples. One is that new family formations in California, I think in 2025, new family formations will be interfamilies, that is of different racial ethnic groups. It's already very high, and pretty soon it's going to be the norm. My some accounts, at the end of the century, or sometime thereafter, that will be the norm in America. The largest single group will be mixed race, mixed ethnicity. Even they'll change their racial ethnicity, the meaning of racial ethnicity will change. This is an interesting thing to play with.
I just read a piece about how the Irish become white, not the Irish, but the Italians becoming white. Not that they changed their genealogy but they changed their social station. What race means, what racial categories mean is constantly shifting. There has been no true census, no true consecutive census where racial categories stayed the same. It is radically inconsistent. I'll give you way to much information. Plessy vs. Ferguson. Homer Plessy was an octoroon.
Lawrence Lanahan: They did that New Orleans, that makes things a little complicated.
john a. powell: Yeah, very complicated. Homer Plessy was an octoroon. What race was he? He was a mulatto, he was a creole. The Blacks wanted to challenge the law in terms of Jim Crow based on it was illegal because it separated Blacks. That was what Plessy's challenge was. His challenge was largely you miscategorized me. I'm not Black and I'm not really white, I'm something different. If you've been down to New Orleans, you know Creoles, they did have separate communities. They didn't consider themselves white, they didn't consider themselves Black. The courts didn't pay attention to that. There's some complexity. This is a long way to get to your question, Lawrence. You said, talking about all racial identities become what they are becoming, this is really what Trump people are concerned about. That racial purity is slipping away and racial dominance is slipping away. Obama was sort of a signifier of that. A Black guy in the white house, that's really scary. You said, why was I born white in America? Asking people to interrogate, especially whites, interrogate their racial identities and what that means and what it can and should mean could be very productive. I don't know if you've done anything with that or are you thinking about that?
Lawrence Lanahan: The way I thought about it was, I had very deliberately considered myself to be a white journalist. It locates me socially when I'm going into a story. If I'm growing up in Bel Air, and I'm going to write a story about Sandtown, write a story about this region, I've got to know who I am. In journalism, we often see people in a story, if they're not labeled, they're white. It's the default. I wanted to change that in the story. There are lots of different ways of being white in this book. There's a lot of different white characters and a lot of different ways of being white. I did that to be provocative and may people locate themselves in the story. Which white person am I? How am I being white? How am I being white by region? Us is in the title on purpose. That includes you and me and I. If you live in a metropolitan region, you are one of these people. Unless I really didn't cover the ground. It's all in there, the different ways of being white are in there, and I want white people to think about that in the context of place. As far as what's white going to be and things changing, if you go way back, I think this got to the Supreme Court, a Japanese guy tried to get courts to certify as white, so he could access benefits of whiteness under Jim Crow.
john a. powell: I think he was an Indian guy, but go ahead.
Lawrence Lanahan: Maybe it was both. What determines who is white? I'm going to answer three questions at once. You're wondering how do you get localities to cooperate regionally? How do you get white families to go to a public school? Money talks. Wealth determines whiteness, doesn't it? Our racial capitalist system is what determines who gets the benefits of whiteness. It's not like what is white, who is white? What is white is sketchy. You're going to see who gets it. If we're majority multiracial at the end of the century, it's still going to find the white people, and it's still going to define who they are. To me, you can't pull race away from that. When I say money talks to you guys, I'm just being like the local locality is not cooperating in a regional initiative, find a way to-
john a. powell: Access them.
Lawrence Lanahan: Find a way to help them get there, it's the carrot and the stick. People in San Francisco have money to send their kids to private school. That's insane to me, but okay. That they still have that kind of money sitting around. I don't know, tax them till they can't. Have some kind of monetary incentive to get them into the public schools. I don't know what that would be, I'm shit on politics, I'm sorry. Excuse me. I'm not going to get into taxing and that kind of thing. But money talks and money says you're white in your job. I don't think, people like this whole George Carlin thing of like we're all going to have sex until we're all the same color. That is an interpersonal, to the level of birds and bees, that's an interpersonal issue. I just don't think that's where we ought to be looking. I think we've got to look at the system and not the people and who the system is saying with its money and power who is white.
Audience: It doesn't cure things in Brazil. Everybody is mixed and there is color complex hierarchy. john probably knows this, Professor powell. There's plenty of racism in Brazil. Nobody would every claim, almost nobody, would ever claim that they're pure anything.
john a. powell: Yeah, I call Brazil a paper-tocracy. With that, I'm going to bring it to a close and hopefully, you'll come up and say hello and buy a book, so join me in thanking Lawrence.