Suburban Discrimination

ACORN Community Organizing Ideas and Issues

New York City: Wake up and it’s another day, voice or no voice, in the madness and mayhem of the city.  In a cruel scheduling irony though I had committed to speaking to a class at Sarah Lawrence College and being interviewed on the train going up and back to Bronxville from Grand Central.  This was laughable!  Whispering my way through the morning, I had just enough voice to be understood somewhat hoarsely in the auditorium where we talked about politics and the role that community organizations like ACORN and unions are playing these days.  The students were kind and generous, so no permanent harm was done.

 Professor Ray Seidelman drove us back to the train station from the college, and we inquired about housing prices.  The sky seems to no longer set the ceiling on prices in the suburbs.  Modest frame homes were pushing a million.  Brick with more appointments soared past that mark and farther than the mind could grasp.  Ray shared that the demographics of Bronxville thanks to the quick 25 minute odd train ride from there to Grand Central still make this area a rare suburban enclave that was still mostly white, still staunchly Republican even compared to the rest of Westchester County, and still almost as anti-Semitic in fact as its reputation had made it for many decades.  Who says rapid transit doe not matter to the upper middle class?  It was a casual, but profound, lesson in how the more things change, the more they seem the same.

 I was reminded that for all of the issues in our cities, suburbs are still dangerous and frightening places on some very basic social and human justice issues.   Recently, ACORN’s Long Island office, based in Hempstead, released a report that on housing discrimination by race and ethnicity in Nassau County for example.  ACORN has used “testers” in dealing with real estate rental agencies in order to see if African-Americans or Hispanics would be dealt with in any different fashion in securing apartments in Nassau that whites.

 Here is what Long Island ACORN found.  White testers sent into real estate agencies were told there were apartments available 93% of the time, while black and Hispanic testers were told the same thing only 53% of the time.  Furthermore, nearly a third of the minority testers were steered to different, usually less affluent areas, while only 2% of the white testers were steered elsewhere.

 Tragically for our communities and society, we all know that this problem is not isolated in Nassau, but is ubiquitous in suburban — and even urban — America.  So common that many African-Americans and Hispanics simply can not have the time to devote to filing complaints about each occurrence of discrimination.  Eventually, people become hardened, if not inured, to this problem.  They try to get on with their lives, scars and all, or their lives would be nothing but waiting in one line after another, at one agency after another, watching their lives leak out while filing another complaint about discrimination which is obvious, systemic, and increasingly trivial when measured against enforcement.

 Meanwhile Westchester home values soar, Nassau tries to maintain some level of exclusivity, the national housing crises goes unabated, overcrowding in cities accelerates, generations of Americans are scarred and diminished permanently, and the train runs like clockwork into Grand Central Station.