A Four-Part Series Exploring the Realities of Marginalized Communities from Within.
What follows is a four-part series examining the reasons why poor and minority Americans are often unable to believe in equitable access to homeownership and the benefits that entails. Many scholars have studied the effects of poverty and institutional racism on the poor and minority populations of the U.S. Few from within these communities have been able to speak for themselves. This series is an attempt to let a member of this population speak for himself. The author, Aaron Morales is a Latino who grew up in poverty in the U.S. Southwest during the height of 1980s gang violence that ushered in our modern era of international gangs, cartels, and organized crime operations stemming from south of the U.S. border. Though his experience is in no way indicative of all poor and minority Americans, it is still a valuable insight into the root cause of the mindset of assumed exclusion.
Part One: “Why Won’t They Just Let Us Help Them?”
Socially conscious people are often baffled by the notion that those who they most wish to help seem unwilling or unable to understand or accept their philanthropic efforts. Why, they ask, won’t poor people use my charity to better themselves? Why, they ask, won’t minorities contact my equity/inclusion foundation and let me open doors of opportunity for them? Why, they ask, won’t someone take this grant or scholarship off my hands and go to school and take a huge step up the ladder of success? Volumes of academic works have studied this phenomenon. Countless interviews and surveys have been conducted. And still the questions remain.
These are all genuine and deserving lines of inquiry. After all, what could be more frustrating than knowing you have the means and resources to help someone and then watching person after person pass you by, unaware of your cause? Are they ungrateful? Oblivious? Just looking for handouts, wanting to give nothing back in return?
Maybe they don’t understand your intentions? Maybe they think the strings attached are too demanding or unrealistic? Maybe they like where they are, only grumbling every now and then when things erupt in such a way as to be untenable? Your occasional Black Lives Matter protest. Your occasional strike by underpaid Amazon or Walmart or Tyson employees. Your occasional occasion to disrupt, but then get back—eventually, inevitably—to the status quo. To fly below the radar and just exist. Don’t deport us. Don’t shoot us in the back. Don’t serve us with a no-knock warrant at the wrong address, please. Leave us alone to go about our lives.
And in these lives we might dream of achieving things like a college education or eventual homeownership—the biggest key to financial independence and to creating generational wealth. But we often don’t imagine, can’t imagine, that this is something we can actually achieve. After all, to own a home is to belong to a different segment of society, one where many of us do not feel welcome. One far beyond our reach—and growing further by the day. To own a home is to have access to one of the most defining elements of the American Dream, from which many of us feel purposely excluded.
Some of us have the vague notion that homeownership is the ultimate goal, though many of us can’t articulate the exact reasons why it is such an important step toward financial independence. We often just think, “Well, yes. Better to own your own home than to give your money to someone else.” That makes sense. But knowing that handing down a home to our children and theirs means an accumulation of wealth generation after generation? Knowing that entering the realm of homeownership opens doors of opportunity that will have immediate and long-lasting consequences in our lives? We can’t even begin to think that far ahead.
But why? Why do low-income and minority Americans believe we are not welcome? That we’re not the true beneficiaries of well-intentioned government laws and regulations and agencies? That philanthropic and inclusion-minded people and community organizations are not there for us? Because history tells us so. Because despite the good intentions of some of our fellow Americans, and despite the creation of laws, regulations, and government agencies promoting homeownership equality, the sad truth is that homeowner percentages broken down by race have barely budged since the end of WWII. And even when we do start to make inroads, every time a financial crisis hits—the Great Recession, the Covid-19 economy meltdown—poor and minority Americans are disproportionally affected. We know this. We can look around us and see it with our own eyes.
Our communities have more renters than owners. Our landlords are largely absent. The businesses reflect our standing in society. Check cashing. Payday Loans. Laundromats. Liquor stores. Corner stores. Fast food joints. Dollar stores. Used car lots telling us we need no money down and no credit. Outsiders lock their doors and roll up their windows if they must pass through. Police behave differently than they do in nicer neighborhoods. I could go on for much longer, but the point has been made.
So, then, why not take advantage of all the help that is out there to lift people like us out of poverty and into a better life? Make us active participants in the American Dream?
It’s not that we don’t want to belong. It’s that we cannot fathom how that would even work.
I can tell you this because I have lived it myself: our sense of not belonging—of exclusion—stems from the psychological barriers of financial hopelessness that accompany the impoverished identity, a multigenerational deep-seated mistrust toward the people and systems deciding our futures for us, and a lack of well-advertised and clearly targeted resources. If we can break through these barriers, maybe we can finally begin to achieve higher rates of homeownership in our marginalized communities.
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Aaron Morales is the Social Justice Writer for AHP 75, based out of Chicago, IL.