It’s been 150 years since the end of the Civil War and 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act. However we still have a divided society – whites on one side and blacks on the other. Richard Rothstein in his book The Color of Law argues that the racial divide stems from a deliberate segregation of housing fostered largely by federal, state and local governments in cahoots with bankers, real estate developers, labor unions and the general public. He discusses many issues resulting from housing discrimination, including unemployment, household income, wealth accumulation, education and crime.
Rothstein begins about 100 years ago with a history of restrictive covenants and “redlining” mortgage lending practices in housing markets across the country. Public housing had very similar restrictions as private housing; and, unbelievably by today’s standards, this was Federal Housing Authority (FHA) policy. Restrictive covenants were upheld by the Supreme Court, with three of the sitting justices at the time recusing themselves from the decision because they themselves lived in homes with restrictive covenants. In addition to restrictive covenants, violence against new black home owners moving into an all-white neighborhood was a huge problem from the ‘20s through the ‘60s. There was rarely an arrest or prosecution of perpetrators. Rothstein also discusses the issue of white flight, both in public and private housing. The FHA justified its racial policies because they were worried that both black home ownership and white flight would contribute to FHA mortgage defaults. So, the FHA built white-only or black-only projects. Blacks were frequently denied both FHA and VA mortgages, and thus they might only be able rent a home, which prevented them from accumulating wealth as home values appreciated. Blacks frequently ended up obtaining risky private contract mortgages where missing one mortgage payment meant foreclosure. Newspaper stories just last week in my home city of Chicago indicated that blacks still pay much higher property taxes than whites for comparable housing. To help meet expenses and insure against foreclosure, many black home owners rent part of their house to additional families to help cover costs. This over-crowding leads to neighborhood deterioration, crime and over-crowded schools.
Rothstein maintains that racial segregation was created by government action, and once entrenched, segregation is difficult to reverse. He argues that did not need to happen. He argues that starting about 100 years ago, if the government had declined to build racially separate public housing, and had not allowed suburbs to adopt exclusionary zoning laws, and had told developers that they could not have FHA guarantees unless the houses were open to all, and state courts had not blessed private discrimination, and if churches, universities, and hospitals had faced loss of tax exempt status for their promotion of restrictive covenants, and the police had arrested rather than encouraged perpetrators of violence, and if real estate commissions had denied licenses the brokers who used unethical blockbusting techniques, and school boards had not drawn attendance boundaries to insure segregation, and if highway planners had not been allowed to demolish African-American neighborhoods to build new roads, and if African-Americans had the same access to labor markets as other citizens, we would live in a very different country. I love his idealism, but to accomplish what he wanted during what I remember of that period of time seems Herculean.
I believe the real culprit was not the government, but the basic prejudice of many Americans, especially then. Political leaders can push for change, but in the end in a democracy like ours, the will of the people prevails. The good news is that attitudes have been changing for the better. I personally see a vast change from the attitudes of my immigrant grandparents, who lived in their own little ethnic enclave and barely spoke English, to my very successfully integrated, diverse children and grandchildren. My family and friends are a mix of people of all shapes and sizes, religions and colors, with differing sexual orientations. This country is changing. Unfortunately, it takes such a long time.
Question: Why does everybody hate Trump?