The American Dream Deferred…Again

“We’re paying and paying, but we can’t get ahead,” Jennifer said.

As I read this article about a once wealthy Black neighborhood now struggling, I shake my head in disappointment and confirmation of my original revelation: the system simply does NOT work for Black people the way it works for white people.

If we build our lives inside the system, becoming assimilated and emulating what mainstream America deems appropriate, we still end up with the short end of the stick–unmanageable debt and stress. There is no such thing as a real black middle class. It only looks good on paper. The reality is much more complex and unfair. Why? Because you never really know the rules of the game.

People went into debt securing loans on houses that before the crises were considered “good” loans on “good houses”–which, for the typical white American is the way that you build wealth. You buy and eventually own a home which has equity that you can use in times of trouble or that can be passed down through generations to continue to build on familial wealth.

This is not what happens for Black families.

We are restricted on which neighborhoods we qualify to live in because agents will only take you where they think you should live. My family is experiencing this now as we search for a home to purchase. Every initial suggestion places us in a predominately black neighborhood or suburban area, which is not necessarily a bad thing–until you realize that home valuations in Black communities are always much lower than that of predominately White ones no matter how well maintained the homes or how wealthy the owners. Equity increases at a slower rate as well–if at all.

Then there is the issue of predatory lending practices. An already esoteric topic for even those who work in banking, lending rules are often distorted and used to make money off of Black people even when they have a decent understanding of wealth building. Before the economic crisis of 2008, many young black people I know who have good stable jobs bought homes that they could technically afford had they been issued your basic 30-year fixed rate mortgage with a 20% downpayment.

Instead, they were “persuaded” to take loans that ballooned over time or had rates that fluctuated with the market or larger than necessary loans on homes that would not create that much equity. Some of them ended up in foreclosure. Others are hanging on for dear life, living basically in house poverty. While the lenders and sales agents and lawyers go home every night to their nice homes in nice neighborhoods without a care in the world, Black families are living paycheck to paycheck and using their savings to pay for loans–not houses–that they could not afford.

Why did they go with these type lenders, you ask? Because minorities with the exact same qualifications as a White person are denied conventional loans at alarming rates–even more so after the lending crisis. Even now, after the economy has shown recovery, Black people are even less likely to get a conventional loan (all things being equal) and predominately Black communities are not recovering value in their homes.

So, when you tell me that studying hard, working hard, and playing by the rules gets me my American Dream? You are lying to my face. It does not work this way on this side of the wealth gulf. If I do not have Oprah money, I am subject to some very different rules JUST BECAUSE I AM BLACK.

And that is what I am talking about when I talk about race: the system has set me up to fail even when I attempt to work inside it…unless I have a (wait for it) White sponsor to “vouch” for my value.

I will be back on THAT point another day.


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