“This is a book about home,” begins Professor Anita Hill’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home. She examines home “as a place and a state of being by interweaving discussions of law, literature, and culture with stories of individuals, focusing on women, and African Americans, in search of equality.”
In the recent foreclosure crisis in the United States, a disproportionate amount of women and racial minorities were the victims of subprime loans and mortgages with adjustable interest rates — statistics that speak to inequality in housing. For Hill, there is a “sense of belonging that comes from being at home” – so what happens when one is without a home? Reimagining Equality reveals that these biases are historic in the American construction of what “home” means.
Reimagining home and the struggles with these iterations are so important because “home” is an inherent part of the American dream. Freed slaves like Hill’s relatives went from being property to owning it; Herbert Hoover defined homeownership as a sentiment in the heart of American life; Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” describes a family’s dream and struggle to move into a predominantly white neighbourhood. In fact, Hansberry’s play was based on her own family’s move to a white neighbourhood in Chicago – a move that was met with fierce opposition from the white inhabitants. Hill goes on to cite other examples of “home” in the American cultural and historical identity, underscoring how the current housing crisis is part of a century-long struggle for equality with “home” being the keystone: the Jeffersons moved on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky when they finally got a piece of the pie; the Obamas are the first black family in the White House.
Anita Hill, professor of social policy, women’s studies, and law at Brandeis University, grew up in rural Oklahoma. Her book is part historical, part autobiographical, and part sociological. She recounts her family’s story: her great-grandparents’ were born into slavery in Arkansas, and after slavery was abolished, they were able to own a farm of their own — until “a combination of violence, threats, and the economy” drove them to Oklahoma. Hill uses her family’s story as a backdrop for painfully similar stories from families across the United States over the past century. Reimagining home is nothing new for American families, and marginalized peoples have struggled to own every iteration of the American home.
In the closing chapters of the book, Hill looks at today’s housing crisis through the lens she established in earlier chapters. In the final pages, she asks, among other questions, the following:
Within our cities, what are our plans to build community and put an end to the notion that individualism and neighborhood isolation will protect us from violence and crime in economically distressed areas?
Will we challenge the undemocratic exclusivity of an American Dream that can be achieved only by families with two incomes buying large suburban homes?
Can we imagine an American Dream founded on the idea that one’s gender or race will not predestine where one finds home – both the place and the state of being?
Reimagining Equality aims to raise these questions for discussion with the understanding that the issues discussed aren’t in a historical or cultural vacuum. By Hill’s own admission, “structuring a conversation about these and many other issues won’t be easy.” It is her hope (and mine) that the conversation begins — and I recommend this book as a point of entry.