How affordable housing is connected to school segregation, Charlotte protests and more

Braxton Winston protesting after the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in September.
Braxton Winston protesting after the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in September.

Charlotte’s been awash in forums about affordable housing over the past year, as rents keep climbing and events like the protests last September following Keith Lamont Scott’s fatal shooting by police laid bare the city’s fault lines.

At a public forum March 14, Clint Smith plans to talk about more than just the economic forces driving housing affordability problems in Charlotte. Smith plans to explore the causes and effects of housing prices and where we live on everything from school resegregation to social stratification to the deep-rooted anger that drove last year’s protests.

“It is important to understand the social and historical context,” said Smith, a writer, Davidson graduate, spoken word poet and Harvard doctoral candidate. “We don’t consider the very deliberate social engineering that is intended to create social stratification.”

He’ll be speaking at 5:30 p.m. at an event sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, at Central Piedmont Community College. Called Building Futures, it’s free and open to the public (register online here). Smith, who uses a mix of spoken word and traditional keynote-style speaking, will address how many of the city’s issues tie together.

In October, Smith wrote a piece for the New Yorker titled “The desegregation and resegregation of Charlotte’s schools.” He looked at how the success, and ultimate end, of Charlotte’s desegregation and busing programs fed into the protests last year.

At his March 14 talk, Smith said he’ll talk about how the history of practices such as denying mortgages in certain majority-black areas (known as redlining) and housing covenants that excluded blacks from buying in certain neighborhoods all contributed to where we area today.

“There’s a very intentional sense of amnesia about what’s been done to make certain parts of Charlotte look one way and certain parts of Charlotte look another way,” said Smith. “People create the sort of myths they want to believe about themselves.”

Smith said that ultimately, where we can afford to live and who we choose to live near has major effects, especially when multiplied through the lens of neighborhood schools that tend to concentrate poverty and minorities.

“The question of whether they’re doing it because there’s a fundamental racial animus in their heart is almost secondary, because the effect is the same,” Smith said of people clustering in neighborhoods mostly with other people who look like them. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have animus in your heart or be a prejudiced person to make decisions to maintain their mat wealth and circumstances.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo