The Burden Created by Redlining

DeVonte Gordon

I would like to dedicate my writing to the people who work to educate the youth on the blemished history of America, a country that fights so hard to appear flawless. Without teachers like Ayo Magwood, who taught me about redlining and many other things, I would have never known about it. It is important that we continue to teach young students of the history that surrounds us, so that they are able to recognize it when they see it, and can fight it from happening again.

Keywords: Redlining, Gentrification, Black, Difference

Imagine a world where you were denied loans, insurance, and credit because of the neighborhood you lived in, and essentially your race. African American neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., and around America were disadvantaged by redlining in the 1970s, as the neighborhood’s racial demographic influenced its credit availability. Meanwhile, the gentrification of metropolitan areas skyrocketed, which left the African American people without access to safe credit (Fighting Redlining and Gentrification in Washington DC). In a time when the price of housing and taxes were increasing in low income neighborhoods due to gentrification, and people were forced to find new houses in more affordable neighborhoods, the lack of access to financial assistance had an extremely detrimental effect on those communities. This is called redlining and it was, and still is, reality for Black people all throughout America. Redlining is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the illegal practice of refusing to offer credit or insurance in a particular community on a discriminatory basis (as because of the race or ethnicity of its residents)” (Legal Definition of REDLINING).

I take interest in this topic and am knowledgeable about the term because one of the main places that it partakes is Washington, DC, my home city. In high school, I learned about this topic in a class called Mapping In Inequity In Washington DC, which is where I first started to study the term and its effects. In this class, we talked about all the discrimination that went on in DC, and how to this day, certain parts of the city lack access to necessary things, such as good quality schools, hospitals, grocery stores, etc.

In this chapter, I address how the government intentionally worked to establish rhetoric of difference through redlining between the black and white communities, as they gave all of the funding to the white communities, while trying to ensure that black communities would not benefit from it. This is shown through, but not limited to, false explanations of why the two races/communities needed to be separated by the FHA leading to discrimination, the lengths that agencies went to in order to ensure that the communities operated individually, and the long-term effects that it has had on the African American population.

Redlining began with maps created by government administrations, including the Home Owners Loan Corp., the Federal Housing Administration, and the Veterans Administration, working together to color code neighborhoods that would and wouldn’t be logistically smart to supply mortgages in. In their color coding of maps, the neighborhoods that were scrutinized were the ones with majority African American people living in them or nearby. Whether it be the result of actual research, or just that they didn’t want to fund African American housing, African American neighborhoods were the ones that were deemed unsafe (Gross). In A ‘Forgotten History’ of How the U.S. Government Segregated America, Gross states that “The Federal Housing Administration’s justification was that if African-Americans bought homes in these suburbs, or even if they bought homes near these suburbs, the property values of the homes they were insuring, the white homes they were insuring, would decline.” (Gross) And from this, they decided that granting loans in these areas was precarious. In an interview, Richard Rothstein, the author of The Color of Law, claimed that there was no proof to FHA’s statement. He said, “In fact, when African-Americans tried to buy homes in all-white neighborhoods or in mostly white neighborhoods, property values rose because African-Americans were more willing to pay more for properties than whites were, simply because their housing supply was so restricted and they had so many fewer choices” which was quite the opposite of the FHA’s claim. The lack of housing supply in the African American community stemmed from the efforts to establish a rhetoric of difference by the government and its affiliated agencies between white and black populations. The contentious and ultimately disproved claims made by these agencies enforce that they needed to find measures to support their personal want for separation, rather than it being beneficial to the communities.

The lengths that agencies were willing to go to, in an attempt to guarantee the separation of communities is astonishing. One example of their commitment to redlining in its early stages came during WWII, when “the FHA would not go ahead … with this development unless the developer built a 6-foot-high wall, cement wall, separating his development from a nearby African-American neighborhood to make sure that no African-Americans could even walk into that neighborhood” (Gross). This is just one small, but powerful case, in a much larger, nationwide segregation, that was propelled by government funding, policy and encouragement. Rothstein states that “the Underwriting Manual of the Federal Housing Administration, …said that ‘incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities’ and ‘recommended that highways be a good way to separate African-American from white neighborhoods’” (Gross). The plan was there to segregate the two communities, and political figures were willing to go even as far as establishing physical barriers, like walls, highways, and creeks in order to ensure that it was clear which parts of the city were predominantly black and which parts were predominantly white.

There were many long-term effects from this rhetoric of difference that they worked so hard to build, that are easily visible today. “Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth” Rothstein explains. The explanation for this is that the value of middle-class families’ homes are normally how they accumulate wealth, so the gap between wealth in the two communities can be ascribed to the housing policies that limited African Americans from getting their homes early on (Gross). This promoted the lack of wealth, opportunity, and necessities seen in African American neighborhoods today.

While some, like former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, argue that government agencies did not intentionally marginalize African American communities, it just happened that the banks did not want to invest in poor communities, and oftentimes those two things aligned. Bloomberg says “banks took whole neighborhoods and said, ‘People in these neighborhoods are poor, they’re not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don’t go into those areas’” (Williamson). However, this is proven to be incorrect because FHA instructed banks and other factors to not sell to African Americans, whether it be in a poor neighborhood or if they wanted to buy one of the newer houses. Gross states “the FHA was subsidizing builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the requirement that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans” (Gross). Efforts and records such as these dismantle the poor argument made by Bloomberg and others that redlining was not intentionally used on the African American community.

As mentioned earlier, in a class in 2017, I along with numerous classmates and teachers conducted a study on the effects that a long history of discrimination through redlining, gentrification, etc., has had on the African American community in Washington DC by comparing maps of 5 main categories and many smaller ones, through the 1930s to 2014. These 5 categories included access to quality health, employment, housing, public safety, and education. In studying the maps, the conclusions were quite obvious, showing that “opportunity … is clearly concentrated geographically in the Northwest of Washington DC, … an area that is disproportionately white and wealthy.” On the other hand, it is visible that, as expected, “opportunity is significantly lower in areas such as Southeast DC that are disproportionately populated with low-income Blacks, with Rock Creek Park (a physical division of the city) as a stark racial barrier” (Opportunity Map for D.C.). Overall, these maps showed us that resulting from the redlining and other means of Discrimination in Washington DC, Black Washingtonians have far less opportunities to evade the bludgeoning of poverty in the inner city due to the racial and economic segregation. This rhetoric of difference began to be established a long time ago and is readily noticeable in many inner cities today.

Redlining in Washington DC, and all throughout the country, has formed a rhetoric of difference that provides for unruly lack of opportunity, and lifestyle choices for the African American community. Redlining has a lot to do with many of the problems we see among inner city youth today. It was the first step in establishing the difference of wealth between white and black communities, as black people were not afforded or allowed the opportunity to take advantage of housing early on.

Works Cited

Ansfield, Bench. “The Crisis of Insurance and the Insuring of the Crisis: Riot Reinsurance and Redlining in the Aftermath of the 1960s Uprisings.” Journal of American History, vol. 107, no. 4, Mar. 2021, pp. 899–921

Gross, Terry. “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America.” NPR, 3 May 2017. NPR,

Legal Definition of REDLINING.

Accessed 16 Oct. 2021.

Lloyd, James M. “Fighting Redlining and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.: The Adams

Morgan Organization and Tenant Right to Purchase.” Journal of Urban History, vol. 42, no. 6, SAGE Publications Inc, Nov. 2016, pp. 1091–109.

Magwood, Ayo, et al. Opportunity Map for D.C. d170533106b. Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

Williamson, Andre M. Perry and Vanessa. “Bloomberg’s Comments on Redlining Distort a History of Racism.” Brookings, 20 Feb. 2020,


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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by DeVonte Gordon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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