By now, certainly, you’ve heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ landmark piece on reparations in The Atlantic. If you haven’t read it, the essay is less about reparations per se – writing checks and so on – and more about grappling with and acknowledging the basic sources of American racial inequality.
I won’t quote any of it here; you really just have to read it. Certainly you should read the middle sections, in which Coates lays out, better than anyone I’ve seen, the established facts: how federal housing insurance policies, contract buying, and good old-fashioned violence, both mob and state-sponsored, led to the segregated, deeply unequal world we currently inhabit. If you think you already know the story, and you are not a professor of 20th century American history, you are probably wrong. Go ahead and read it.
Pete Saunders and others have already said it better than me, but this is all central to the American urban story: not just if you care about housing disparities and the racial wealth gap, but if you’re interested in urban design choices that were made in and around inner city neighborhoods; or if you’re interested in why so many urban neighborhoods were locked out of loans to fund rehabilitation and reconstruction of aging buildings, condemning them to decline and setting the stage for gentrification once the artificial barriers to development were removed.
The bottom line is that, to a great extent, we don’t have to wonder about why Chicago is so segregated, and whether it matters. The research has been done. The answers, as Ta-Nehisi Coates likes to say, are knowable. And we all owe it to ourselves to know them.