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A Tale of Two Families, Two Racisms

In 1957, my parents moved into Levittown, Pennsylvania. It was a brand-new suburban community and these homes were finally at a price that Army veterans could afford. That August, another family moved into Levittown. The father, Bill Myers, had served in the US Army. The mom, Daisy Myers had a bachelor’s degree. And the Myers family, like my family, was growing: they had three young children, and we had two.

When my family moved in, we were greeted by a smiling member of the local Welcome Wagon. When the Myers family moved in, they got a different greeting.

The local newspaper reported: … Small groups of agitated Levittowners are already gathering in front of the Myers home. By midnight, more than 200 shouting men, women and children cluster on the Myers’ front lawn. A group of teens throw rocks through the Myers’ front picture window, and 15 police officers are dispatched to the scene. … Now, with the violence increasing, the sheriff wires the Pennsylvania State Police asking for immediate assistance. His request states, “... the citizens of Levittown are out of control.”

What do we learn from this tale of two families? We learn there are two kinds of racism. The first kind is “personal racism,” like we see in the 200 people who mobbed the Myers’ front lawn. But there is also a second kind of racism, “structural racism.” The kind of legal and financial structures that make sure whites like the Millers get a loan and a home and make sure blacks like the Myers, don’t.

The Levitt Organization had already sold over 15,000 homes in Levittown: and every single one went to a white family. Bill and Daisy Myers bought their home directly from an existing owner, so they were not screened out by the Levitt Organization. But they also had to get around the structural practices of our federal government. The FHA and VA “only subsidized post-war housing, like Levittowns, on the condition that the homes weren’t sold to African Americans.”

It's bizarre that I was raised in a planned community that was carefully designed from its beginning to be all-white, to keep out persons of color. But here’s what’s even more bizarre: We ALL live in Levittown. Every single one of us who lives in America is living in a culture that from its beginning was created for the benefit of white people and for the exclusion of non-white people.

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