Poverty as a put-down

American’s have long conflated class with race. Emily Badger’s article in the Washington Post shows how Section 8 housing (which covers both public and voucher programs) became synonymous with poverty, violence, and blackness and how, when linked together, these attributes are a used as a slur.

Because of the history and media coverage of the mismanaged public housing buildings in large cities (Pruitt-Igoe, Cabrini-Greene. and Red Hook are three of the most infamous) our public consciousness cannot decouple depravity and subsidized housing. In much the same way poor, immigrant whites were reviled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (before slum clearance and the introduction of public housing and sanitation laws), so are Section 8 residents today.

Those who live in subsidized housing are viewed as problems to be solved, not as potentials to be realized.

Changing this line of thinking is a monumental task. Prejudices are deep, and often unconscious. Although, just as often, they are zealously blatant, as when communities lobby against affordable housing on the grounds it will ruin the character of their neighborhood (by which they mean: the demographic will change and then our homes will look like those horrible photographs of Cabrini-Greene in the months before its demolition). I do think that the recent SCOTUS and HUD rulings are a start, but these federal decisions only have the power to change the structure of our cities. As Badger’s article shows, a fundamental shift in perception is needed to create change that stretches beyond the power of liberal politics and becomes the new unconscious paradigm.


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