In the fight for housing justice, it’s impossible to isolate housing and homelessness from the oppressive structures that impact our society and our people. In even trying to do so, it negates the experiences of those who have suffered at the hands of institutionalized oppression. That’s why here at the Resident Action Project and Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, we are committed to rooting ourselves firmly in equity and anti-oppression work – because that’s the only way we will truly end homelessness.
Fundamentally, housing is about land. It’s about land use rights and how land is developed. There are a lot of words used to describe housing, but in the end, it breaks down to who gets that right to use land. From the United States’ founding, theft by Europeans from Native Americans has been the root. The city of Seattle currently sits on land that was taken from the Duwamish tribe by the European settlers. The city of Spokane currently sits on land that was taken from the Spokane tribe, also by European settlers. This can be said for every city, town, village, county, state in the entire United States, just with different thieves.
Land has been at the root of many acts of violence committed by those in power, from stealing and displacing Africans from their homes, enslaving them, and forcing them to work the United States’ stolen land, to the inhumane treatment of Mexican citizens during the Bracero program, and then their forced displacement from this land (warning, this link contains information about a government program that was titled a racial slur).
There’s a whole history of the Doctrine of Discovery, slavery, the Indian Removal Act, the Dawes Act, redlining, and much more that’s important to acknowledge to understand the role that we as housing advocates occupy. The Doctrine of Discovery, Indian Removal Act, Dawes act and more are seen today in the poverty and homelessness on native American reservations, and in the fact that the United States took 137.2 billion dollars of assets from Native lands they were managing, but settled the lawsuits for only $492 million in 2016. The history of slavery and segregation can be seen today in the current inhumane treatment of migrants at the US border and the wealth inequity in African American communities to redlining. It can be seen in the fact that 19% of transgender people are denied apartments due to their gender identity. These histories are still here today.
Housing justice can’t be isolated from these histories, because these histories are why housing justice is necessary. Racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression were and continue to be central in the development of this country, and in the creation of the housing crisis that we find ourselves in. It took work to develop these unjust systems, and it’s going to take work in order to dismantle them and rebuild new ones.
The RAP Steering Committee met on Monday and affirmed their commitment to equity and anti-oppression work. We learned about powerful and traumatic moments of US history and discussed the importance of anti-racism work.
The RAP steering committee team discussed two elements on how racism can show up/cause barriers in our work, colorblindness and this misconception of reverse racism. Color blindness, commonly associated with the phrase “I don’t see color,” often has positive intent, with one meaning to send the message that they see people of color as their equal. The issue with this line of thought is that is negates the real experiences that people have based on their race. By saying that one doesn’t see color, the message they are sending is that they don’t honor the different life experiences that someone else may have had based off their non-dominant culture or heritage, that the beauty of their differences are erased or co-opted, and ignores the privileges that come with whiteness in US society.
Reverse racism is an idea that has come to the forefront in the modern-day United States. It’s the concept there is a whole system that has formed to oppress white people from those of color. One definition of racism is prejudice plus power. This means that there’s systematic power to back up your prejudices. Ever since the first European settlers arrived on this land, up until now, those who have had the power are white. This can be seen today when looking at the United States congress and even the Washington State legislature. In current US society, it is impossible for reverse racism to exist, for the power structures are firmly in the hands of white people.
RAP and the Housing Alliance understand that in order to grow and build a strong movement, it needs to not just be inclusive, it must actively work to dismantle these unjust institutions. Because in the end, that’s what we’re doing in housing justice: Working to pull one specific, housing shaped thread in the tapestry of systemic oppression, armed with the knowledge that with our growing community effort it will unravel.
-Written by Emily Strange, Organizing Fellow with the Housing Alliance