Tag Archives: segregation

Richard Rothstein’s Reparations Formula

New Orleans     Richard Rothstein, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. wrote a watershed volume several years ago, The Color of Law:  A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.  The title goes to the heart of his well-documented, thoroughly researched evisceration of local, state, and federal policies that fomented and enforced segregation targeted at non-white populations and assuring white supremacy and diminished wealth for minority families that endures to this day.

            One of the many interesting angles in the book was his documentation of these practices, so often associated with the South and large, urban cities, in the paradise by the Pacific, California.  He was back at it in an op-ed in the New York Times using San Mateo and its upper middle-class Hillsdale neighborhood as a case in point.  He catches the reader off guard by starting with the story of a young, white protestor who jointed the protests there in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rage over the killing of George Floyd.  Sophia Heath and her recruits initiated a small civil rights movement in her segregated city and neighborhood.

While forefronting the protests, Rothstein backgrounds the activity of corporations and governments that created the segregation.  He looks at the 1941 deed on Heath’s family home that required that “No persons other than members of the Caucasian or White race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of said property, other than as domestics in the employ of the occupants of the premises.”  The racial covenant was required and signed by officers of the American Trust Company.  Her house and many others in the neighborhood were developed by David D. Bohannon, who was also a bigwig in the National Association of Home Builders, and a principal in suits to block integrated neighborhoods.  The houses were marketed by a real estate firm, Fox & Carskadon, that advertised the restrictive covenants as “permanent” to recruit like-minded buyers.   Tragically, this is an oft-told story.

Rothstein turns the tables though to make his argument for their responsibility to pay reparations.  The bank is now owned by Wells Fargo.  The realtor is now owned by Coldwell Banker.  Bohannon is still in business as a developer of properties including high-end malls in the area.  The houses that first sold for $5000 now move for $1.5 million.  No surprise, he wants them to pay.

His real argument though is not about San Mateo or even these three companies and the protests being organized by Sophia Heath.  He is begging for activists and organizers to mount place-based campaigns all over the country.  He is making the case that to do so requires the kind of exacting research he did in his book and in looking at this case study in San Mateo in order to root out the facts, identify the targets, and ascribe specific, undeniable accountability.  Once the research is done, he wants people to then do the work and steel themselves for the fight with training, planning, and developing organizing skills.  As he concludes,

“Cities and towns in metropolitan areas across the country have a history analogous to San Mateo’s.  Uncovering it is hard work.  Undoing it will be even harder.  Winning the civil rights victories of the past required unusual dedication and persistence – extraordinary, really – and it will take more of the same to make Black lives matter in every neighborhood.”

Sounds right to me.  Who can disagree?  Who wants to join us in doing the work?

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The Big, Fat Long Tail of Neighborhood Segregation

Manchester     The “long tail” is a tech-marketing concept that pundits and futurists promote with some enthusiasm.  The heart of it is that some businesses, especially enabled by the internet and the Amazon world view, could make money on small, niche products, even at low sale volumes, almost forever.  Some things are not small market, but seem to have even longer, larger, and fatter tails, and one of those is segregation in housing and neighborhoods and its continuing ability from the Civil War through the white supremacists push back to end Reconstruction to the rise of the KKK and then embedded as an ideology nationally and in the South not just in culture but also in governmental policy.

In 2017, Richard Rothstein published a brilliant book, The Color of Law:  The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, that made it clear that the residual impact of segregation was a national policy, rigorously applied by government, private enterprise and banking in the middle of the 20th century going forward until the late 1960s and the passage of the Fair Housing Act and other reforms.   The book was also crystal clear that the racial wealth gap endured in robust fashion today, since so much of individual citizen wealth comes from home ownership and thereby neighborhood value, because of the enduring impact – the long tail – of these overly segregationist practices.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Rothstein reprised his Color of Law arguments in looking at the proposals of the Trump administration for housing policy now under Secretary Ben Carson to eliminate challenges to efforts to re-segregate or perpetuate segregation in housing.  Central to enforcement of Fair Housing requirements, upheld by all federal appeals courts, has been the ability to prove adverse impact through the theory and practice of “disparate impact” on racial minorities.  Essentially, even if overt racism could not be proven, if we were able to establish that the impact was averse to minorities, regardless of intent, then there was a remedy.

Trump’s HUD is now trying to unravel this doctrine, as Rothstein makes clear, by forcing complaints to overcome innumerable obstacles.  As Rothstein writes,

complainants would have to imagine every conceivable justification that the city might assert, and prove that each was not legitimate, without knowing what actual defense the city might claim or what standard of legitimacy HUD would impose. If the city then came up with a justification that the homeowners hadn’t refuted to HUD’s satisfaction … HUD could dismiss the disparate impact action. A process that requires complainants to refute defenses that haven’t yet been offered is one that is designed to block civil rights, not protect them.

This is a policy that seems so Catch-22 and bizarre that it seems unimaginable that it is even contemplated, much less in the process of being formulated and imposed.  Unbelievably, the new HUD policy seems to track the racist effort of Louisiana’s St. Bernard Parish to prevent a project’s construction with diverse and contradictory claims to disguise their actions as something other than discrimination.  The Supreme Court ruled their effort illegal, but now HUD is attempting to recraft their rejection of St. Bernard’s excuses, as requirements of their rule. Other new HUD policies, Rothstein notes, attempt to delete any mention of “segregation,” further diluting the protections of the Fair Housing Act.

Welcome to America where on one day we can celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King and on the next we can contemplate the work of yet another government agency and another racist administration doing its damnedest to eliminate the civil rights and economic justice won with a return to segregation perpetuating inequality.

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