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What is a Covenant?

Racial covenants are clauses that were inserted into property deeds to prevent people who were not White from buying or occupying land.

Excerpt of racial covenant: "That said land or buildings thereon shall never be rented, leased or sold, transferred or conveyed to, nor shall same be occupied exclusively by person or persons other than of the Caucasian Race."

How racial covenants impact us today

More than a century after they were first embedded in the built environment, racial covenants continue to scar the land and the air. Even though racial covenants have been illegal for more than 50 years, these racial restrictions laid a foundation for contemporary racial injustices and continue to shape the health and welfare of the people who inhabit the landscape they created.

Homeownership gap

During most of the 20th century, covenants, redlining, predatory lending and other practices depressed Black homeownership rates. Nationwide, more than 75 percent of White families own their own homes, compared to about 42 percent of Black families. This chasm is wider in the Twin Cities, where only 23 percent of Black families own their own homes. This is the largest racial homeownership gap in the United States.

Wealth gap

Racial covenants were obstacles for Black people seeking to buy homes. The consequences of this practice have been intergenerational, as homeownership has been the primary way that Americans amass wealth and pass it to the next generation. White Americans today have 10 times the wealth of Black Americans, on average.

Access to green amenities

Covenants “greenlined” neighborhoods, signaling to public and private investors that they were safe places for investment. Private real estate developers worked in tandem with public officials to build parks and plant trees in areas with covenants. These green amenities enhanced property values of houses with covenants.

What actions should we take?

Mapping Prejudice is making a case for reparations. By the time racial covenants were outlawed, the damage was done. Without strategic action to make amends, the inequities created by these practices will only grow worse. Mapping Prejudice collaborates with community members to identify and map racial covenants. But this data only has meaning if it spurs meaningful change.

Acknowledge and teach the history

White supremacy is anchored in amnesia. White Americans have sought to forget the racist practices that created contemporary racial inequities. Teach this history. Invite people to participate in a collective reckoning around this history. Resist campaigns to obscure the past.

Rinse and repeat

Structural racism can be dismantled. But there are no shortcuts or any single action that will remedy the harm that has been done. Especially for White people, these are practices to be cultivated over the course of a lifetime.