In this episode of Who Belongs?, we hear from journalist and author Lawrence Lanahan, from Baltimore, about his new book called The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide. The book weaves together three storylines about people trying to overcome a host of barriers to opportunity and integration in hyper-segregated Baltimore and its suburbs. The book is the culmination of years of research and reporting on segregation in Baltimore, and draws from Lawrence’s 50-episode radio series, also called “The Lines Between Us,” produced for the city’s WYPR station.
Lawrence Lanahan: If you decouple the work of the affordable housing crisis or whatever you want to call it, from the work of disrupting and dismantling white supremacist systems, nothing's going to change.
Marc Abizeid: Hello and welcome to this episode of Who Belongs?, a podcast by what used to be called the Haas Institute and which is now called the Othering and Belonging Institute. My name is Marc Abizeid, one of the hosts of this podcast, and in this episode we have an interview with journalist and author Lawrence Lanahan from Baltimore about his new book called The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore's Racial Divide.
Marc Abizeid: The book weaves together three storylines about people trying to overcome a host of barriers to opportunity and integration in hyper-segregated Baltimore and its suburbs. The book is the culmination of years of research and reporting on segregation in Baltimore, and draws from Lawrence's 50-episode radio series, also called The Lines Between Us, produced for the city's WYPR station. This was our conversation.
Marc Abizeid: Lawrence, thanks for coming in.
Lawrence Lanahan: No, thank you for having me.
Marc Abizeid: Can you just start off by describing the premise of the book and the three interrelated storylines you have going on?
Lawrence Lanahan: Sure. You had a whole century of discriminatory housing policy in the Baltimore region and most metropolitan regions, and then The Fair Housing Act came along, and that was supposed to change things. And it was very clear with the uprising and unrest that followed Freddie Gray's death in April 2015 that much had changed, that the Baltimore region was very segregated and that racial inequality was very much tied to place.
Lawrence Lanahan: And so I had done a year long radio series exploring racial inequality and segregation in Baltimore in 2012 and 2013, and I was starting to propose a book in early 2015, and when everything happened with Freddie Gray, I figured that's the way to structure the book. So it's the life of a metropolitan region in a way that refuses to look away from racial inequality and segregation.
Lawrence Lanahan: So it's just five decades of the Baltimore region, the policies and processes that kept it segregated and unequal, and a lot of really ambitious efforts to dismantle structural inequality. And so the way that I did it, I wanted to cover policy, but I also wanted to show the life of the region, people's stories, so I followed two families.
Lawrence Lanahan: I followed a white family who lived in a middle-class, upper-middle-class white suburb, who because of their religious convictions moved into the heart of West Baltimore, very poor segregated neighborhood in West Baltimore called Sandtown out of their religious convictions to live in solidarity with the black poor.
Lawrence Lanahan: And I followed a black mom who wanted to move her... She lived in West Baltimore and wanted to give her son better opportunities and was looking for a way to move across the lines between us as it were out to this planned city in the suburbs called Columbia that had been built to be racially and economically inclusive in the '60s.
Lawrence Lanahan: So by showing a white family and a black family trying to cross the lines between us, the lines of segregation and opportunity, in different directions the lines between us come out in sharp relief when you see them trying to cross. And then for a third strand of the book, I follow a civil rights lawyer.
Lawrence Lanahan: She's fighting for fair housing on both sides of the city border and files a federal lawsuit over segregation in public housing. And I guess I'll spoil it that the remedy for that lawsuit created special housing choice vouchers that you could only use in whiter, wealthier parts of the region, even outside the city.
Lawrence Lanahan: So through those three stories, I go back and forth. I don't know if anybody's ever read Common Ground by Anthony Lukas, but you just cycle through these three stories and come out with the story of one region and it's two separate worlds.
Marc Abizeid: Starting out, I just want to set the foundation for the segregation in Baltimore. I like what you did in the beginning is you actually talk about some of their ancestral history, recent ancestral history of the characters, how they actually started off where they did because a lot of people don't understand that.
Marc Abizeid: They don't dig a little bit deeper to find out why are these different populations in different areas to begin with. So can you talk about that a little bit?
Lawrence Lanahan: Yeah, sure. Lots of regions have books to explain the history of segregation and racial inequality. Arnold Hirsch did it in Chicago, Tom Sager did it in Detroit. There's a book called Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City about Baltimore, and it covers from 1910, when Baltimore was the first city in the nation to enact a municipal segregation ordinance, white people couldn't move to majority black blocks and vice versa.
Lawrence Lanahan: After seven years, the Supreme Court was like, "You totally can't do that." Then there were restrictive covenants in people's deeds, like the deeds to people's houses that you can't rent or sell to blacks and Jews. There were all these red lining blockbusting, all these policies in the early 20th century that really set Baltimore's racial residential patterns in stone and, which you end up with.
Lawrence Lanahan: There's a great professor at Morgan State in Baltimore named Lawrence Brown, he refers to it as The White L and the Black Butterfly. If you go from the top center of Baltimore city, go down to downtown and take a left and go across the waterfront, there's just a whole string of majority white neighborhoods with a decent amount of wealth.
Lawrence Lanahan: But to the east and west of downtown, that's the black butterfly, these wings of great patches of racial isolation and poverty. And so it was a lot of official federal and local policy that set those patterns in stone. So I just banked through that in like six or seven pages, is just like, "This is how we got here." And I wanted the rest of the book to be about why it never changes.
Marc Abizeid: One of the themes I think that is threaded to the... Well, not a theme, but a debate that constantly gets brought up in the book is the debate between revitalizing an area and actually integrating an area. And there's all these kinds of excuses like we can't integrate because of this and that, but let's just put some money in here.
Marc Abizeid: Let's improve housing, let's improve the schools, let's do all of this, and at least that's better than nothing, but you point out in the book that it doesn't really work. Can you explain that?
Lawrence Lanahan: Well, I don't want to say anything doesn't actually work because there's work to be done on both sides. So what you see in the book is the black community that the white family moves to Sandtown, which became famous after they moved there for... that's where Freddie Gray was arrested and the uprising happened.
Lawrence Lanahan: In the '90s, a major developer and the mayor of Baltimore attracted tens of millions of dollars. They wanted to turn Sandtown into a place that had the same crime and anything else that you'd seen in middle-class neighborhoods, some place where anybody would want to live.
Lawrence Lanahan: People refer to those as the policy where there's comprehensive community initiatives or neighborhood transformation initiatives. Some more cynical people call it gilding the ghetto. And so the one theme that I explore in the book is, what does it look like when people come from the outside and try to revitalize neighborhood that way? And what is the bottom-up community led work look like?
Lawrence Lanahan: So that's one way that policymakers deal with trying to deconcentrate poverty and desegregate a place. The other way, which has become more popular in the last 30 years is housing mobility. Instead of bringing opportunity to these places, they say, "Well, these kids are in harm's way and the opportunity is in the suburbs where the crime is lower and there's more jobs and stuff. Let's move them to opportunity." It's called housing mobility.
Lawrence Lanahan: And so that is what happens with Nicole. She gets some federal assistance through the remedy in a civil rights lawsuit to move out to the suburbs. And so that has actually moved a lot of people to... I wish they would call it moving to where the opportunity is because you don't move out there and automatically get it.
Lawrence Lanahan: And there are criticisms of housing mobility that you're leaning too hard on meritocracy. You just get out there where the opportunity is and you'll get it, but whiteness follows wealth, blackness gets penalized, it's just how it happens in America. And so to be black in a high opportunity area doesn't necessarily mean you get that opportunity.
Lawrence Lanahan: I live in a rare part of Baltimore that's racially integrated. It reflects the demographics of the city, it's like 60% black, 40% white. It's economically diverse, and after Freddie Gray, I remember walking around my neighborhood the next morning thinking like, well, we got it on paper, right? We got what we need on paper, is this doing anything for black families? Is there equity? And I don't think the answer is yes.
Lawrence Lanahan: So there are challenges to say at least in moving people out to where the opportunity is or trying to bring the opportunity to poor black neighborhoods. What happens is those two strategies get pitted against one another when the resources are really tight, which they are. So Barbara Samuels, this fair housing lawyer, you follow her through that strand of the story and she walks through all these crucibles in which those two strategies are pitted against one another.
Lawrence Lanahan: She sued the city and HUD saying, "You guys segregated public housing when you built it. Now you need the white counties to take their fair share." And the city was just like, "Look, we're doing the best we could with the resources we had. We're trying to bring a little opportunity to the city, this county doesn't even have any public housing."
Lawrence Lanahan: And then you see developers fighting because they're like, "We want federal tax credits to do affordable housing and there's only so many tax credits, so we want to do it in the city where the poor people already are." And then people say, "Well, The Fair Housing Act compels fair housing choice everywhere, so you need to build some low income housing in high income areas."
Lawrence Lanahan: Then you try to do that and politically it's really hard because white people flip out. Even I grew up in a white suburb outside Baltimore, and when I was doing the book, my mom was like, "Oh, you're going to want to check into this. People in Belair are starting to talk about, 'Oh, they're putting section eight in.'"
Lawrence Lanahan: People don't really know what section eight is. It's a voucher to move into an apartment, it's on the actual apartment in most cases. And she's like, "You should look and see what this is about." And I went and looked and they were building a new apartment complex, and I went to see what kind of apartments they were, they were luxury apartments.
Lawrence Lanahan: People saw apartments and were like, "Ah, section eight." When it's people richer than them. To create even a small change in a segregated landscape, it's just epic. Baltimore is a place where you've seen some major experiments to do it and they're incredibly inspiring, but they get comparatively very little purchase on any kind of equity or desegregation in the region.
Marc Abizeid: You mentioned a little bit about Barbara Samuels... Barbara Samuels?
Lawrence Lanahan: Yeah, Barbara Samuels.
Marc Abizeid: Barbara Samuels and the lawsuit against HUD and also the city of Baltimore and the Henson was his title?
Lawrence Lanahan: Dan Henson, the housing commissioner.
Marc Abizeid: Right, a former housing commissioner, Henson, he really came under fire during this trial because they're saying, "Well, we have to revitalize these areas. We can't really do anything about integration within the city of Baltimore itself because white people don't want to live with black people."
Marc Abizeid: And then there's a quote here, what really illustrates this. In the court he says, "Baltimore is a city of either black neighborhoods or white neighborhoods. That Baltimore had a segregated housing market because the arrival of black families reliably triggered white flight." So white people keep running away. He can only do so much within the city of Baltimore.
Marc Abizeid: And then the judge, she start talking to HUD, federal people saying, "Well, did you guys try regionalization? Did you guys try this and that." So there's different approaches trying to solve this hyper-segregation, high poverty crisis. And so what do you think about that? About the limitations to what the city itself can do and how we can partner with other regional actors to be able to solve some of the issues?
Lawrence Lanahan: That's the question. Take my street up in Northeast Baltimore. I've got two vacants on my block. One of them, the owners let the weeds gets all the way up to the fence and it attracts drug dealers and it just creates a harmful dynamic on my block. And there's another vacant at the other end of the block and that's starting to happen.
Lawrence Lanahan: Take a wild guess how many of those two houses have owners who live in the city? Yes. Zero, one or two?
Marc Abizeid: I don't know. Zero?
Lawrence Lanahan: Zero, they live in the county. So when president Trump says, "Baltimore is a dump and it's Elijah Cummings fault." And all this stuff, it's like my block looks the way it does because of people who live in the counties and refuse to take care of them.
Lawrence Lanahan: One guy I used to call him like, "Hey man, can you cut your weeds?" And finally he was like, "Well, the city law will just cut it for me and send me the bill and a violation." It's like you're dragging city resources from the county, so I don't believe they're city problems, I believe they're regional problems.
Lawrence Lanahan: And so it makes it really hard when outside in Baltimore County doesn't have any public housing and there's like, what a former housing commissioner called a one way street for the poor from the suburbs to the city. The low income, the low rental market is in the city. People who live in the suburbs want to commute downtown to the city so they turn our main streets into highways.
Lawrence Lanahan: It's just like a totally regional dynamics, so the governments, the regional governments do have... There's a metropolitan council. Read sometimes that local governments get together and talk about this stuff, but there's no structure to do anything very concrete. And there's been talk about merging the city and the county.
Lawrence Lanahan: Politically I think that's almost impossible where I am. They were trying it in St. Louis and that blew up in their face. So when you talk about cities like Baltimore, it has to be a regional solution, and anywhere you have to deal with housing and school segregation at the same time.
Lawrence Lanahan: In Howard County, a wealthy county and pretty liberal county, just outside of Baltimore, the superintendent and school board have proposed redrawing school boundaries. You might end up going to a different school than you used to, and they're doing it because some schools are overcrowded, some schools are under crowded, they want even at them.
Lawrence Lanahan: But they said, "We're going to put equity into this. We're going to do this in a way so that no school has more than 50% poor students." And they're going to have 7,000 students change schools, and the wealthy white communities are freaking out and they're like, "You do this and we'll move."
Lawrence Lanahan: So you make policy in schools and the housing shifts, you make housing policy, we're going to put low income housing in a high income area and people will move, white people will move to a place for a school district. I took a picture of a sign I saw outside of a wealthy public elementary school or public elementary school in a wealthy community.
Lawrence Lanahan: It said, "Invest in the best, good schools mean high home values." And it's just like, it was clear as day. They said that quiet part loud. I was just like, "Is it good schools mean high home values or is it the other way around, high home values mean good schools?" And what's good? It's just a whole bunch of white students that the resources follow.
Lawrence Lanahan: And so you got to deal with it regionally and you've got to deal with it at the school level too. You're seeing bold moves in various places. New York city might be getting rid of the selective high schools that aggravate segregation. Minneapolis is banning single-family zoning.
Lawrence Lanahan: You can't have a housing zone that is only single family now. You can build duplexes and triplexes there and that we'll create some affordable housing. But I mean is there a region that has taken the school and housing fronts on at the same time at a regional level where people can't just play whack-a-mole and pop up in another community because they don't like what's happening in the housing and the schools?
Lawrence Lanahan: No. And from Washington, they're dismantling all these tools like affirmatively furthering fair housing and disparate impact, and I apologize if you're not a lawyer and you don't know what those things are if you're listening, but these are tools that the government has to allow accountability for these policies that have a disparate effect on minority communities, even if you can't catch them being racist, even if there's no discriminatory intent that you can prove.
Lawrence Lanahan: Affirmatively furthering fair housing means you have to take proactive steps to dismantle the segregation that the government created in the first place. You got to like every five years you do a report where it's like, "Here are the impediments to fair housing. Here's what we're doing about it." And if HUD doesn't like your report, they can withhold federal funds.
Marc Abizeid: Everything you've just described, it shows all the resistance to integration. Whatever their motivations, home values, safety, all these kinds of ideas, there are some minor exceptions like with the story of Mark and Betty Lange, and then the friends, the Tibbles who came to Sandtown who moved from the wealthy suburbs to Sandtown, one of the roughest, highest poverty areas in Baltimore.
Marc Abizeid: But I'm curious because you started painting this picture of Sandtown, really rough area, but then when they came in inspired by-
Lawrence Lanahan: John Perkins?
Marc Abizeid: John Perkins, by his philosophy, the three Rs philosophy. You talk about Mark and his ancillary, he's feeling something wrong with him-
Lawrence Lanahan: Yeah, why was I born white in America?
Marc Abizeid: Right, exactly. He feels the spiritual need to do something. I don't know if you call it guilt or whatever it is, but he feels like he needs to make this move. They make this move, just a handful of these white families end up doing this and they live...
Lawrence Lanahan: And some black, it's also higher income black people move with them too.
Marc Abizeid: So can you describe that, the philosophy of John Perkins, and this model, this Christian community development model?
Lawrence Lanahan: Sure.
Marc Abizeid: And then I have a couple of questions about that.
Lawrence Lanahan: Sure. When we talk about the lines between a segregation and everything and it comes to policy, it's often about moving people out of places like Sandtown, and my thing is just like, what is the obligation of the white person in a region that was segregated for his or her benefit?
Lawrence Lanahan: Not a lot of grappling with that and not a lot of burden on white people for deconcentrated poverty and desegregating, so I was really interested in this Christian community development movement. And what it is, is John Perkins, he was part of the civil rights movement in Mississippi and he got tortured by the Mississippi state police.
Lawrence Lanahan: And he had this experience of I can either hate the white man or I can love him, and he decided to go radical and love him and make racial reconciliation part of his work. He had already done a lot of cooperative grocery stores and low income housing and lots of community development through his church in Mississippi.
Lawrence Lanahan: But then he came up with this whole philosophy, and one of the things was you cannot help a poor community, a poor black community unless you're living there. These people have felt needs, you've got to feel them, that you can come in with your bright idea and make things worse.
Lawrence Lanahan: So he came up with this three Rs philosophy for community development. Relocation is the big R. That is, you've got to move to this place if you really want to help it and have the same things at stake. The second one is redistribution, which is not like communism, it's just if you are white or upper-middle-class black and you move into this community, your networks and resources are going to follow you and you're going to make sure they're used for the benefit of the community.
Lawrence Lanahan: And then reconciliation, racial reconciliation. You build racial and economic bridges and the community development, and economic development will grow from that togetherness. And the concern is... White people already do move to black neighborhoods, but they do it for coffee shops and this is for Jesus.
Lawrence Lanahan: But gentrification is still a thing, but the white people really come in with this attitude of I'm going to sit here, I'm going to listen, I'm going to help the leaders who are already there do what they feel like needs to be done, and they really don't want to be thought of as white saviors and they're fairly self-aware.
Lawrence Lanahan: So that's the movement is to like come in and you have this place of worship that serves as the place where these neighbors, where these souls bind. It's a deeper thing than just building a low income apartment complex in a neighborhood and hoping something changes.
Marc Abizeid: Okay. There are a lot of positive outcomes from this model that you detailed in the book, and it seems like a really great thing. Well, this is awesome, they're transforming this neighborhood.
Marc Abizeid: But then you get to the end of one of the chapters, and it shows, in fact, Sandtown is still super segregated, super high poverty, still a lot of drugs, still the worst schools and maybe doing better here and there, but comparatively to other neighborhoods in Baltimore, it's still fairing worse, the same or worse.
Marc Abizeid: Despite all those valent efforts to try to transform this neighborhood, did it really succeed? And if it didn't based on these indicators, why did you even profile this kind of model if it didn't really seem to have an effect in the larger scheme of things?
Lawrence Lanahan: Well, I think part of the reason I did it is because within this idea of place-based development, within the Sandtown story, I wanted to have two stories to compare. And one of them was the mayor and the big developer came into Sandtown and had all this money that came in and they tried to make it a community based thing.
Lawrence Lanahan: They created an organization called Community Building and Partnership and tried to grow a generation of leaders to carry it forward. That was the top-down approach with all the money. And then I had the bottom-up approach of starting from a church. The church only picked 15 out of the 72 blocks in the neighborhood and they created a habitat for humanity chapter and they built 300 houses.
Lawrence Lanahan: The thing that merited built way more houses, but the church had relationships with people in the houses. There was a community around their place of worship. The church led thing got a doctor to set up shop and do primary care for people, they had a jobs program. And so I think if you look at the systemic level, neither of them succeeded in transforming the neighborhood.
Lawrence Lanahan: If you look at the effect on individuals, I could introduce you to people in Sandtown for whom both of those efforts had an incredible outcome, if you want to talk about in terms of outcomes. There's like a dozen, dozen and a half people who really relocated to Sandtown. There's 10,000 people in the neighborhood.
Lawrence Lanahan: This was a really small thing and what they did was fairly outside, is they were punching above their weight. But at the end of the day, it was 12 or 15 relocaters, probably 150, 175 people in church on Sunday tops, so it's for what they did. If more people chose this way of doing community development where you have people having the same things at stake, they have relationships, I think it would be more effective.
Lawrence Lanahan: Can anything within the neighborhood change a neighborhood like Sandtown? You need resources from outside.
Marc Abizeid: You need resources from outside.
Lawrence Lanahan: You need resources from outside. And I would not characterize either effort as a failure. I wouldn't say it was a failure of the people who were trying, I would say it was a failure of a region that had so many things in place to punish these places. I talk about the metaphor of a quarantine.
Lawrence Lanahan: Early in the 20th century, it was literally treating these neighborhoods like a quarantine, the black people were 20% of the city and they lived on 2% of the land because they weren't allowed to live anywhere. There was a lot of tuberculosis and the progressives of that age, who progressive meant you were into eugenics back then were like, "This is a public health thing."
Lawrence Lanahan: That's the quarantine idea, but even if they didn't cop to it, they're trying to contain crime, they're trying to contain social issues. And you could argue that the kind of policing you have in Baltimore and three quarters of the police in Baltimore live outside the city. They come in and they enforce the lines between us, they contain this stuff.
Lawrence Lanahan: You don't see things like you see in Sandtown and neighborhoods of political power and resources. So when you've got that much pressure from the outside insisting that these places remain the way they are, nobody's going to come in and do it from the inside. It's a regional problem, so I feel like to the extent you're doing things in the community and trying to bring opportunity there, there's great organizing in Baltimore.
Lawrence Lanahan: Baltimore finally got an affordable housing trust fund. They put it on the charter and then they got the city to fund it, so there's going to be $20 million a year for affordable housing. And the organizers are organizing to make sure that the communities stay in control, how that money is spent.
Lawrence Lanahan: The city's about to start spending money on this and they are like, "You put equity first, you do permanently affordable housing." Not like something where in 15 years it turns away from a market rate, and they want community land trust, which is when people in the community buy the land in the community and decide how it's best can be used.
Lawrence Lanahan: Maybe they do a few houses that are going to be affordable for rentals or affordable to buy and will turn it over to somebody else that will buy them affordably. It's about communities gaining control of what development is going to look like. And Baltimore is not like San Francisco or Seattle or whatever where everybody wants to move there, and everybody's getting displaced, and it's getting expensive. It's a different dynamic.
Lawrence Lanahan: We are just like people are leaving Baltimore, we've got vacant houses, but you do see developers roll over black communities sometimes. So I feel like I don't think that you abandon the approach of bringing opportunity to places like East and West Baltimore. You do it in a way that you make sure you figure out who the leaders are, you listen to them and you develop it in a way that they want to see it develop.
Lawrence Lanahan: And you reform the police department, so they're not just locking everybody up for nothing, you desegregate the schools. There's so much other work than just going in there and building a few houses and having a jobs program. People won't even hire people with records and so many people in these communities have records.
Lawrence Lanahan: It's a ton of work, but you have to believe... I'm not the most hopeful person in the world, but you have to believe it's doable, that places like West Baltimore can change.
Marc Abizeid: One of the things the book does is, it reveals a lot of the racial wealth gap, especially in housing because you look at the white families who were in the suburbs like Mark and Betty Lange and the Tibbles, and they have all these properties and they keep on increasing property value.
Marc Abizeid: They gain all this equity, they're able to move where... They're able to divorce and each buy a house and then they're able to move back together, and so they have a lot of mobility there. And then contrast that to Melinda, she's a black mother-
Lawrence Lanahan: in Baltimore.
Marc Abizeid: ... in Baltimore. What does she do? She buys a house that needs a good deal except what happens? She ends up owing like twice what the mortgage is more than twice what the mortgage is.
Marc Abizeid: And then there's a part in the book where you talk about how, and I think like 2007 or something, 2007, 2008, they have this mortgage crisis that hits a section of Baltimore and she loses her house, it gets foreclosed on. And it reminded me of something that John Powell said once like a year ago or something.
Marc Abizeid: He was giving a talk and he talked about how actually the mortgage foreclosure crisis, it actually hit the black community a couple of years before-
Lawrence Lanahan: It knocked them way back.
Marc Abizeid: Yeah, and I never heard that before. And then I never dug into it, but then when I started reading the book, it reminded me of what he said, and then there's another section too where it talks about in Sandtown and like from 2007, 2010, did like 10,000 homes. I can't even remember.
Lawrence Lanahan: It's just a lot of foreclosure.
Marc Abizeid: It was a huge foreclosures. What is the role of private institutions like banks for example, and their predatory schemes in exacerbating the crisis there?
Lawrence Lanahan: Well, yeah, like Nicole's mom, when she finally buys a house, one, she was... In Baltimore, tenants have right of first refusal, so the guy that she was renting from, he wanted to sell and he had to ask her first if she wanted to buy it. He's like, "You want to buy it for 32,000?"
Lawrence Lanahan: And I went to the records and he had bought eight properties at once for however much it was. He had bought the house for $8,000, so that was an exploitative price. And then once she find to buy a house, she got the mortgage from the woman she bought the house from, and the mortgage rate was twice the national average, and it was totally exploitative.
Lawrence Lanahan: And the house needed work, so she got a home equity line of credit. And so she didn't understand the terms, ended up with a balloon payment. You see that more in black communities. And then during the real estate bubble in the last decade, you had banks partnering with black churches trying to encourage home ownership, but they were offering subprime mortgages to black families that could use prime mortgages.
Lawrence Lanahan: And so Baltimore sued Wells Fargo with a disparate impact lawsuit saying like, "You disproportionately targeted black communities for these loans, now we have these foreclosures all over the cities sitting there vacant and screwing up the neighborhood." And the bank settled, Wells Fargo settled with Baltimore with that.
Lawrence Lanahan: So you do see, and that's part of the racial wealth gap. I did a story for the radio series... I did a radio series about inequality before I did this book. And I did a story about 88 year old black World War II veteran. He comes back from the war and he does exactly what he's supposed to do.
Lawrence Lanahan: He gets married and he uses his GI Bill to buy a house and he gets a steady job. You're black in 1950, you can't buy anywhere you want, so he bought where he could, he actually managed to buy in a white neighborhood in Baltimore.
Lawrence Lanahan: Four years after he bought, that was a black neighborhood. And it was disinvested and it crumbled around him and he ended up with a home equity line of credit that tripped him up and his house went into foreclosure when he was in his 80s right when he needed to go into assisted living.
Lawrence Lanahan: And lucky for him, his niece was doing pretty well. She was a lawyer and she took over for him trying to help all this stuff happen, but she was able to help them get into assisted living, and while she was taking care of the house, she was getting short sale offers for like $11,000, $20,000 in 2012.
Lawrence Lanahan: He bought the house for like $6,000 in 1950 and he didn't live to see this, but it was his neighborhood where the unrest started. It was Mondawmin. Thank God he didn't live to see that, but his community got even... That community has... The reason that the kids were throwing bricks at the police because there's so many vacant houses there, they're easy to come by bricks when your community is literally crumbling.
Lawrence Lanahan: And that's where he lived, that's what his community turned into. The racial wealth gap was bad in the first place. Middle-class people build of their wealth through homes not investment. I forget what the percentages are, white Americans have way more times the wealth that black and Hispanic families do and so much of it has to do with housing.
Lawrence Lanahan: And while we don't do anything about what I'm talking about here, it compounds everything, so when the foreclosure crisis hits, black communities get killed by that and their home ownership rate is lower than it's been in 50 years and they lost tons of wealth.
Lawrence Lanahan: When you're growing up like I did in the white suburb outside of Baltimore, and the only experience you're getting another city is mediated by TV or what people in that suburb are telling you, you just look at Baltimore and you're like, "Oh, that place has a lot of problems."
Lawrence Lanahan: Roll up your windows and you drive through, and you just assume that the problems come from the people who live there. And it takes a lot of research and a lot of paying attention to understand how your own passivity and the people that you elect create the conditions and maintain the conditions that you thought were just people's fault.
Marc Abizeid: That's absolutely right. And one of the things that it reminds me of when I was reading the book and seeing all the resistance in the suburbs, the integration and bringing all these people, they're the stereotypes and you see the images and everything you described is, it reminds me of at the national level of policy we have when it comes to immigration, for example.
Marc Abizeid: I see something very stark parallels between how we try to shut people out, how they say, "These people are a threat, these people are going to come in and they're going to bring crime and drugs and violence and all this sort of thing." And it's like, whoa. I'm talking about the Muslim ban or if we're talking about building a wall, shutting border, all of these kinds of things.
Marc Abizeid: It's like you bring it down to the community level in the suburbs of Baltimore or anywhere else in this country for that matter and it's the same-
Lawrence Lanahan: It's the same.
Marc Abizeid: kind of conversation-
Lawrence Lanahan: And it's in the North, not just the South. Right?
Marc Abizeid: Right. Exactly. Here in the Bay Area, wherever it is. And I started thinking like the sentiments of the people are... I don't think that all these people who are saying, "No, no, no, we don't want these people," would necessarily describe themselves as white supremacists, but I think that this is really a white supremacist sentiment that they've internalized even if they don't recognize that.
Lawrence Lanahan: Absolutely.
Marc Abizeid: And I'm wondering how do you overcome that?
Lawrence Lanahan: You destroy white supremacy, you have to understand it as a systemic thing and not just... They hear the term white supremacy and they think somebody's under a white hood, KKK type thing doing something, and supremacy happens behind a desk too. I talk about this book when I go other places, I say, "The song remains the same, just each region changes the tune a little bit."
Lawrence Lanahan: Like here you're trying to deal with displacement, there's definitely displacement in Baltimore, but it's just we have hyper-segregation, you guys have hyper-displacement. But when I say the song remains the same, I think the song is white supremacy and it is the system that... Supra in Latin means on top, above, and the white supremacy is just a system that keeps white people on top politically, socially, economically.
Lawrence Lanahan: And we programmed that system a long time ago, it's on autopilot and we've never deprogrammed it. And The Fair Housing Act was an attempt, civil rights movement was an attempt, but you can see we have a lot of unfinished business, it continues unabated. And now you've got it being incited from the highest office in the land.
Lawrence Lanahan: When you say that you notice the similarities between what people say in the suburbs in Baltimore and what people say about the wall, the border and what people say about the Muslim ban, I agree with you 100%, and boy do I have an essay for you. I wrote an essay for Slate a couple of months ago exactly about this.
Lawrence Lanahan: I think it was called Trump Tried To Build A Wall Around West Baltimore. And there's a sociologist named Michelle Lamont at Harvard and she calls this boundary work about how symbolic boundaries turn into social boundaries. So you isolate like the way Trump did it in his campaign was he would draw boundaries around white workers, whatever you think that is.
Lawrence Lanahan: And he would draw a boundary around them and tell them that it's not their fault, or it's globalization and they're the best. And above you are these elites, cosmopolitans trying to screw you and below you are whatever Muslims, brown or black people, whatever, Mexicans. And he associates black and brown faces with scary black and brown spaces and creates those boundaries, this symbolic boundaries of like, you're here, you belong here. They're there, they belong there.
Lawrence Lanahan: You got a podcast about belonging, this is exactly what's going on. And so you create these symbolic boundaries of like, oh, I deserve this wealth that follows me into this community, whatever they deserve, whatever horrible things they're getting. And then they translate these symbolic boundaries into social boundaries, into policy, into physical structures like a fence to keep people inside of a public housing complex and out of a white community.
Lawrence Lanahan: The symbolic boundaries become social boundaries and policies that reinforce the notion of who belongs where, who gets to live where, where the resources go and who deserves to live among their own kind and not around other people. So you see it when you try to put low income housing in a high income community in Baltimore, you see it at the southern border of the United States and you see it in the Muslim ban.
Marc Abizeid: The book starts to close with the death of Freddie Gray. The Freddie Gray chapter is a little bit different from all the other chapters, in that it's like a play by play of what happened after his death, starting with his death and then the uprising that ensued. Can you talk about the killing of Freddie Gray by the police and how that fits into the larger context of the book and why you organize the chapter the way you did?
Lawrence Lanahan: No, that was my most experimental bit of writing in the book and I... The book is like six really long chapters. It's not like short chapters and I just... That event was so pivotal and so important for my region, I just wanted to set it off from the rest of the book. I almost put it... My editor and I talked about putting that chapter in a different font.
Lawrence Lanahan: We decided that be a little bit too on the nose that I had to do it through the writing just to distinguish it from the rest of the book. You get to that chapter and it's structured day by day and you see the events leading up to and following Freddie Gray's death. I don't tell you this happened, this happened, this happened.
Lawrence Lanahan: I let it all happen through the eyes of characters that you've mostly already met. It's was like I was just trying to be slick, bringing all these people into the story earlier and you're going to see him in the Freddie Gray chapter.
Lawrence Lanahan: And I set it up at that chapter that right before the Freddie Gray stuff starts, I have premonitions of this where the month before Freddie Gray, Doug Massey, the sociologist who had written the book, American Apartheid in the '90s, did a study of segregation in America.
Lawrence Lanahan: And he said, "There's 10 hyper-segregated regions." And surprise, surprise, nine of them are in the North. And he said, "As I'm writing this, the National Guard is in Ferguson, Missouri because of Michael Brown's death being shot by the cops." And he said, "This is one of the hyper-segregated regions."
Lawrence Lanahan: And he said something like, "If we're going to keep having this kind of civil unrest, you can expect to see it in the hyper-segregated regions." And you turn the page, Freddie Gray dies. And dies of injuries he got in police custody. So I just wanted people to see what happened that week from the inside out.
Lawrence Lanahan: And you see him arrested in front of a line of houses, that habitat for humanity had refurbished. And you see Mark calling Betty, his wife, telling her, "Don't take Queens Falls Parkway home, come into the neighborhood from the South because the police have riot gear in front of Frederick Douglass High School."
Lawrence Lanahan: And it's just like, I would hope that you can't read that chapter without seeing all these explicitly and covertly discriminatory policies coming to fruition, almost cause and effect. You see community just absolutely blow up.
Lawrence Lanahan: And seeing it right after seeing 50 years of us failing to fulfill the sentiments in Brown versus Board and The Fair Housing Act, it's just I was hoping that by changing the style of writing and everything's just different from the rest of the book, I really wanted to set it off like, do you understand how important this is? Do you see what happened to our community?
Lawrence Lanahan: Do you see that we have two worlds and that the Kerner Commission said in 1968, "Oh, well, the reason that black ghettos are rioting is because white society created the ghetto and maintains it and condones it." Well, it's 50 years later, the same exact thing happened. And I wrote it that the passages in that chapter are shorter than the chapter that proceeds it.
Lawrence Lanahan: So it's like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It just hits you like hopefully a ton of bricks. And I hope that it reads like a premonition for other regions because we don't do anything about this, this stuff could happen anywhere. You don't start dealing with homelessness on the West coast, this could happen here.
Lawrence Lanahan: It's just we are pretending our way around this problem because we don't want to deal with systemic nature of white supremacy. I went to a conference at the Minneapolis Fed a couple weeks ago and it was a conference about expanding housing supply. Places like San Francisco, everybody wants to move there, all the jobs are here. "We don't have enough houses. If we build more houses, prices will go down and make things a little more affordable."
Lawrence Lanahan: Yeah. And to their credit, I think this is why they brought me there. You can't decouple that work from destroying white supremacy. You can't just build more houses, they did build a bunch more houses in Sandtown for low income people. It didn't totally change things.
Lawrence Lanahan: If you decouple the work of the affordable housing crisis or whatever you want to call it, from the work of disrupting and dismantling white supremacist systems, nothing's going to change.
Marc Abizeid: That wraps up this episode of Who Belongs? I'd like to thank our guest,Lawrence Lanahan for joining me to talk about his new book, The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore's Racial Divide.
Marc Abizeid: For a transcript of this interview, please visit our new website at belonging.berkeley.edu/whobelongs. Thank you for listening.