By Dahvi Cohen, Neve Levinson and Abigail Dickstein
In 2017, NFTY launched a campaign for racial justice to call on Jewish teens to turn faith into action. Teens involved in the campaign are sharing their personal experiences, hopes for equality, and ideas for fellow teens to join the cause. For more information, visit NFTY’s Racial Justice Campaign.
As three white, upper-middle class girls from well-off communities in the United States, we have had the privilege of never having experienced racial injustice firsthand. However, we have learned about the economic injustice based on race that people all over this country experience. We want to take the opportunity NFTY has provided us in order to call on people across the country to take action on the issue of racial economic injustice. We are commanded in the Torah, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16). Both as Jews and as advocates of human rights, we must call attention to those whose voices have been systematically ignored for hundreds of years.
Jimmy McCarthy, President and CEO of Miami Valley Fair Housing in Dayton, Ohio, manages the organization and trains its employees. After speaking with McCarthy, we saw how many Americans face hardships due to racial injustice every day. We talked to Jimmy in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the economic injustice that minorities face in Dayton, a city in which roughly 43% of the population is African American (2010 US Census). McCarthy informed us that the majority of the population of Dayton are in moderate to low income households, living in less stable neighborhoods and are often forced to move. He commented that racial inequality in housing often crosses income level, explaining that the organization often sees people of color with well-paying jobs encountering racial discrimination when looking to purchase a home. Regardless of these individuals’ qualifications, they are denied or given a higher rate than their white counterparts. Because of this disparity between how much someone of color makes and where he or she can live, Dayton is extremely segregated, ranking among the top 10 most segregated cities in the United States.
Housing segregation is seen all over the country, with studies proving that qualified people of color are turned away twice as often as moderate to low income whites. This is due to redlining, the practice of selectively raising prices to residents of specific areas based on the racial composition of residents in the area. This policy began in the early 20th century with the introduction of the National Housing Act of 1934 and has continued into the 21st century, causing communities populated by minorities to be deemed “high risk areas.” Banks deny all mortgage capital to people living within these “high risk areas,” making it extremely difficult for these individuals to buy and keep their homes.
McCarthy shared stories about the difficulty the housing system in Dayton is having in escaping the habits of its segregated past. Just as in 1934, neighborhoods in Dayton today are deemed unsafe or undesirable depending on the number of people of color living there and are discriminated against by banks.
Nevertheless, there is hope for cities like Dayton, Ohio. McCarthy noted that while the system itself hasn’t progressed much since the 1930s, the people have. He explained to us that a lot of young people don’t seem to carry the same “baggage” that older people in the community do when it comes to race.
We hold the same confidence in the teens of NFTY that McCarthy has in the youth in his community. Although the individuals reading this blog post may not see these injustices happening in their own communities on a daily basis, we hope that they recognize the importance of pointing out discrimination when it is visible, on whatever level that may be. And now that they have heard real stories from people like Jimmy McCarthy, we hope the youth of NFTY will join us in raising our voices against racial and economic injustice. Through the powerful actions of Jewish teens across the country, we can elevate the voices of thousands experiencing racial economic injustice daily.