Book Review

Greetings Folks,

I just finished reading The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, and I wanted to share my thoughts.

In 1924, two years after the advisory committee had published its first manual and model zoning ordinance, the association followed up by adopting a code of ethics that included this warning: “a realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood…members of any race or nationality…whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

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Written by Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America uncovers how the United States government planned racial segregation and zoning, public housing, tax exemptions for prejudice institutions, violence against African Americans in white-only neighborhoods, and more. Through racially-explicit policies, the federal, state, and local government defined where whites and blacks would live. Rothstein argues that African Americans were denied the means and rights to integrate into middle-class neighborhoods through systematic practices, and the nation is obligated to remedy it.

I enjoyed the comprehensive breakdown of what many within my community already knew, but I’m confident that I won’t be picking this book back up again. The information was concise and well-cited, so I want to highlight a few points before I give my personal opinion.

  • De jure segregation is segregation by law and public policy.
  • Segregation in the housing market was a nation-wide project of the federal government in the twentieth century, but it has been practiced since 1866 after the abolishment of slavery. It was designed and implemented by the nations’ most liberal leaders.
  • After Reconstruction, when southern states adopted segregation statues, racial zoning and the subjugation of African Americans continued with Jim Crow laws.
  • Federally-funded public housing was created to keep black and white populations separate. For African Americans, the housing was poorly constructed and intended to be temporary. For whites, it was sturdily constructed and permanent.
  • Segregated housing policies were created in major metropolitan cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore.
  • The federal government refused bank loans to African Americans throughout the twentieth century for housing, preventing blacks from moving into white middle-class neighborhoods and accruing wealth.
  • Blockbusting was a scheme in which speculators would buy properties in black-white areas. They would panic the white families about a “Negro invasion,” which resulted in them putting their homes up for sale and leaving (white flight). The real estate agents would then rent/sell those homes to African American families at inflated rates, which resulted in them having difficulty making the payments.
  • With the growth of manufacturing operations during the twentieth century, toxic waste zoning turned African American neighborhoods into slums.
  • The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) created color-coded maps of every metropolitan area, with the safest neighborhoods colored green (white) and the riskiest neighborhoods colored red (black).
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would grant tax-exempt status to churches, hospitals, universities, and neighborhood associations who promoted residential segregation.

Again, I appreciate the honest and detailed breakdown of what I, and many like myself, already knew. But I’m still indifferent about the mentality of both parties; the unwarranted entitlement from one and the obsessive need for inclusion from the other. Case in point:

The idea that African Americans themselves don’t want to integrate is a white conceit. Many thousands of African Africans risked hostility, even violence, when daring to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. This history has generated considerable reluctance by other African Americans to try to follow them. When African Americans move to predominantly white neighborhoods today, they remain more likely to be stopped by police when driving home or kept under unusual surveillance in retail stores when shopping.

Fighting for a shared amount of resources so that your community can thrive like others makes perfect sense and is respectable, but forcing yourself into areas where you’re not wanted or treated right is the most non-sensical thing to me. That’s the only thing I could think of as I read this book. We’re almost 60 years removed from the supposed-repeal of segregation laws, yet race relations is a trending topic today. And this is telling me something.

I’m not invested in forced multiculturalism, racial harmony (which will never happen), or friends. I’m invested in being respected, and the only way you get respect is to have power. My community should focus on our justice claim that the government and society tiptoes around, and we should build & protect communities with so much promise that we won’t want to leave.

Until Next Time…

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