The Color of Law

by Harry on May 31, 2017

I just finished Richard Rothstein’s brilliant—and far from uplifting—book The Color of Law. It’s been getting a lot of favorable press, and rightly so.

The book accepts (for the sake of argument, maybe—Rothstein is always parsimonious in his arguments) the principle that Chief Justice Roberts puts forward when he says that if residential segregation ‘is a product not of state action but of private choices, it does not have constitutional implications’. It is devoted to showing that, contrary to the prevailing myth that residential segregation (between whites and African Americans) is a product of a private choices it is, in fact, a product of government policies, all the way from the Federal level to the most local level, and this is true in the North as well as the South. Housing segregation in the US is de jure, not de facto. And… it shows just that. He makes his case in careful, meticulous detail, but in unfussy and inviting prose, packed with illuminating stories that illustrate the central claims.

Here are some of the basic mechanisms through which government in some cases reinforced and in other created housing segregation:

  • The Federal Housing Administration, founded in 1934, insured 20-year bank mortgages that covered 80% of purchase price, and were fully amortized. But properties in racially mixed neighborhoods or that were just too close to black neighborhoods were considered too risky to insure. Here’s a quote from the Underwriting Manual: “If a neighborhood is to retain stability it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes. A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and a reduction in values”
  • Courts systematically upheld and enforced segregationist restrictive covenants (which bound future purchasers of properties to sell on only to same-race buyers, thus ensuring that a housing development would remain white over time).
  • The IRS granted tax-exempt status to organizations such as churches, hospitals, universities, neighborhood associations, and other groups that promoted residential segregation, and regulatory agencies were complicit in the segregationist behaviors of banks and insurance companies they supervised.
  • Until the national highway program was almost complete highways were routinely routed through African-American neighborhoods which were demolished, and their denizens pushed deeper into African-American ghettos.
  • Incredibly he documents how city and county governments throughout the US have extracted disproportionately more tax revenues from African-Americans by systematically over-valuing properties in African-American neighborhoods for real estate tax purposes.
  • He also documents many cases of police and courts refraining from prosecuting threats and violence against African-Americans who dared to purchase properties in white neighborhoods, leading to those African-Americans being driven out of those neighborhoods and, more importantly, creating large disincentives for others not to move in.
  • You don’t need to be told about the widespread practice of drawing and redrawing school attendance boundaries to ensure segregated schools which had effects on house prices and thus accessibility of neighborhoods to those with less means to purchase.

One striking consequence of neighborhood segregation, given that home ownership is the main mechanism of asset-accumulation in the US, is that African-Americans have simply had less opportunity to accumulate, and pass on, assets: it is a striking explanation of why African-Americans and whites with similar incomes do not, nevertheless, have similar levels of wealth. But there are many other familiar costs, both to African Americans and, as Rothstein points out, to the rest of us.

I know we have a lot of jaded leftish readers, who might think ‘well, obviously, that’s no big deal’. But really it is a big deal, and it is worth dwelling on—and learning—the details of the case for the purpose of spreading understanding, and arguing with your friends and neighbors, a group the racial make-up of which is a result of the history he tells. Its an easy, and often gripping, and always thoughful, read.

The book’s not uplifting because it’s not as if there is some straightforward reform we can agitate for, let alone get implemented. Federal subsidies for African-Americans buying homes in previous;y all-white communities are, as he acknowledges, a non-starter. More politically feasible (but still not very feasible) would be banning exclusionary zoning. But even if that were implemented across the country, it would only affect new developments, so integration would take—well, I haven’t worked it out but surely more than a century? Even requiring inclusionary zoning (which is practiced in New Jersey and Massachusetts and many municipalities including the one I live in) would be a slow road. He sensibly suggests increasing the value of section 8 vouchers (and increasing the supply of section 8 vouchers: he amusingly asks what people would think if we had a limited supply of first-come first-served Mortgage Income Deductions), and making the mortgage income deduction and other tax breaks dependent on desegregation efforts. But, as he says in response to Jared Bernstein’s observation that they won’t be coming out of the Trump administration, “they would not have come out of a Clinton administration, either. Until there is a consensus around the reality that we have de jure residential segregation, I see little possibility of effective remedies”.

Helping to forge that consensus is the point of the book. My one practical suggestion, which I plan to act on. If you’re at a college, university, or school which has one of those “all-school-read” programs (ours is imaginatively called “Go Big Read“), suggest The Color of Law for next year.

{ 63 comments }

1

Cranky Observer 05.31.17 at 11:57 pm

_Crabgrass Frontier_, Kenneth T. Jackson, 1985 also contains discussions of this topic with bibliographic references.

2

SamChevre 06.01.17 at 12:22 am

I find it problematic to consider points 2 (courts enforced private contracts) and 3 (tax exemptions available without regard to viewpoint) to be “state action”. I cannot think of another context where those would be considered state action.

3

PDixon 06.01.17 at 1:35 am

TNC dug deep into this subject and came to the same conclusion – there is no justice in reach.

This may or may not be related to his decision to move to Paris.

4

Dr. Hilarius 06.01.17 at 2:03 am

SamChevere @ 2: the refusal of courts to enforce agreements or contracts held to be against public policy is well established. A quick search pulls up cases going back to the mid-1700s. English common law prohibitions against champerty and maintenance are clearly limitations on private contracts in litigation. Nothing new or novel.

5

Collin Street 06.01.17 at 2:08 am

I find it problematic to consider points 2 (courts enforced private contracts) and 3 (tax exemptions available without regard to viewpoint) to be “state action”. I cannot think of another context where those would be considered state action.

In all contexts contract enforcement is regarded as state action, reason being:
+ it’s the state that does the enforcement, using its monopoly on violence,
+ no state ever enforces all putative contracts: the limits to what a contract can contain are determined by local [~state] law.

Anything done by the courts is done by the state. Anything done through the courts is done through the state.

[also: under the common law, contracts are not and have never been enforced. An action under contract looks like an enforcement action, but it’s actually a damages claim for breech, with “enforcement” being done as an equitable claim, “the best way to fix the damages is to perform specific action X”. With this understanding, large areas of otherwise-confusing contract law — penalty clauses, for example — make substantially more sense. The US’s legal framework has — rather to the detriment of US jurisprudence — somewhat lost track of this.]

6

Mitch Guthman 06.01.17 at 2:18 am

SamChevre at 2,

I don’t see why you find it problematic to consider the use of state power to enforce private contracts as “state action”. There would be no such thing as an enforceable private contract if the state didn’t maintain a huge judicial establishment and frequently deploy armed force to enforce those decisions. Plus, the state gets to pick and choose which private contracts it wants to enforce—most contracts are enforceable but some contracts aren’t enforced on the ground that they’re “against public policy” such as those arising out of meretricious relationships or gambling debts or promises obtained by threats aren’t enforced. That’s a choice which represents “state actions” in my mind. The choice of whether the courts should deploy state power to enforce racially restrictive covenants is exactly the same.

7

marcel proust 06.01.17 at 2:22 am

I suspect that TNC’s move to Paris had something to do with the unexpected and unwelcome publicity surrounding his attempt to buy a Brooklyn brownstone.

8

Matt 06.01.17 at 2:40 am

More specifically to what some have said above, after Shelley v. Kramer, in 1948, racial covenants were no longer enforceable. Of course, lots of damage was done before that, and such agreements could still have impact, even if not given legal effect by the state. (Lots of agreements work “in the shadow of the law” rather than through it.)

The Section 8 idea sounds better than nothing but less than ideal to me. I have a bit of second-hand experience with apartments rented to low income people. My grandparents sometimes owned such apartments, and my parents managed one complex for them, in Boise, ID. Now, in Boise, at that time, there was a very strong tendency to not want to rent to people on section 8. That my parents and grandparents would take section 8 vouchers meant that they rarely had vacancies because people on section 8 had a hard time finding landlords who would rent to them. This wasn’t because of racial discrimination, though, because there were essentially no racial minorities in Boise then – all of the people I knew of were white, as was nearly everyone in Boise. Rather, the idea was that people on section 8 tended to be bad tenants – that they’d trash the property, leave it a mess, break things, etc. Some of this was born out. (I helped clean and fix apartments when people moved out for pocket money growing up. A shocking number had, for example, wholes punched in the walls, needed serious painting, had damaged appliance and fixtures, etc.) To avoid discrimination against poor people in housing, it might be better to just give them money, rather than vouchers than can be identified and rejected. There are, I suppose, paternalistic arguments against this, but I’m not completely convinced they are compelling.

9

Harry 06.01.17 at 3:05 am

TNC seems to have been person who persuaded Richard to write the book, and seems to have been helpful in getting it to a publisher which could market it well.

I disagree with SamChevre BUT part of the powerfulness (and relentlessness) of the overall argument is that even if SamChevre’s right the argument goes through. You can discount this, or that, factor, but the remaining factors combine to have a very strong effect.

10

BBA 06.01.17 at 3:34 am

I suspect the only way to truly end residential segregation is central planning a la Singapore, where 80% of the population is in public housing and you can be barred from moving to a development if there are too many people of your race there.

This is, of course, politically impossible. But I doubt anything else can work.

11

Jian 06.01.17 at 4:32 am

“Courts systematically upheld and enforced segregationist restrictive covenants (which bound future purchasers of properties to sell on only to same-race buyers, thus ensuring that a housing development would remain white over time).”

@SamChevre This seems to me a rather unfair private contract. Future property owners should not be bound by a private contract between two historical property owners.

12

bad Jim 06.01.17 at 4:58 am

“The Case for Reparations” left out the issue of “sundown towns”, where blacks were excluded by the naked threat of violence, which was amply documented by David Neiwert and Sara Robinson.

13

Pavel A 06.01.17 at 4:58 am

Contrapoints has a great video essay showing the historical line between restrictive covenants/redlining/blockbusting/lead paint and the death of Freddie Grey, which led to the Baltimore riots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r6GBo_7UNc

@2
There is established precedent for the state to limit the nature and content of private contracts and enforce basic social norms (such as preventing employment discrimination on the basis of race, gender or disability, or preventing people from signing contracts that place them into perpetual bondage – not the good kind). The failure to limit the content of restrictive covenants basically indicates that the state had the power and precedent to limit the nature of private contracts and chose not to do so. Hence the state can be held accountable here.

14

Gareth Wilson 06.01.17 at 7:04 am

If TNC moved to Paris to escape black people being segregated, he must have been shocked when he arrived.

15

Collin Street 06.01.17 at 10:14 am

Another thing worth pondering.

A covenant, in the sense we’re talking about, is a condition entered into the contract of sale to the effect, “a: you agree not to on-sell this property to a N*gr*, b: you agree to put conditions a: and b: into the contract of sale when you do on-sell it”.

Now, it’s part of the contract: as I wrote above, the courts don’t actually enforce contracts. If in breaking the contract you do others harm, then you have to fix this harm; ideally, if possible, by giving the counterparty a bucket of cash [“legal”], but if that alone doesn’t fix the problem, and subject to certain conditions [“equity”; specific performance is an equitable remedy] you might get ordered to perform some specific actions, which might amount to the same thing as the contract says you’ve bound yourself to do but may not. It depends on the exact harm: if there’s no harm done, even, then there’s no rectification needed and no order will be made.

A fortiori/conversely: if the courts order some action undertaken then that means they have recognised some thing as a valid cause of harm… which means, the enforcement of racially-restrictive covenants is an official recognition/statement by the courts that “having property you used to own sold to black people” is a legally-recognisible harm that warrants rectification and restitution.

[1] This is also why penalty clauses don’t work the way idiots who write them think they do.

16

M Caswell 06.01.17 at 11:31 am

Between state action and consumer choice there is of course widespread housing discrimination carried out by landlords, owners, and realtors. This sort of “private” discrimination, while sometimes illegal, seems to me incredibly easy to perpetrate and almost impossible to enforce against.

17

Z 06.01.17 at 11:35 am

Harry, feel free to moderate this comment if you wish, but do you really think there is even a single leftist CT reader who thinks ‘that’s no big deal’, let alone “a lot” of them? Some might think the findings are obvious, though of course the precise extent is worth knowing, but no big deal? Really? Do you know anyone on the left who really believes that the social oppression of Black Americans is anything else that one of the most significant historical characteristics of the American society (if not the most significant)?

18

Collin Street 06.01.17 at 11:56 am

Future property owners should not be bound by a private contract between two historical property owners.

Eh. It has its uses: it’s a mechanism that’s commonly used to provide maintenance-access easements and what-have-you for sewer and power in certain subdivision situations. Or you can use it to restrict building materials or block sizes if you’re trying to create a particular atmosphere: that’s something that certainly can be deeply problematic [see racial restrictions], but can also be fairly benign.

[unregulated market methods do not work for urban planning: the limited supply of land in any particular location means that land vendors are in a position to take most of the available profit out of a deal, which means that approaches other than the most remunerative produce negative profit once the cost of land purchase is allowed for at the market [~> set by most remunerative approach] price.]

19

soullite 06.01.17 at 12:41 pm

Sometimes I get the feeling that modern liberals would accept absolute feudalism, so long as some of the rapacious lords were black, and some were women.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the left doesn’t care about humanity’s well being. It doesn’t care how many people suffer. It cares about arbitrary measurements of fairness only at the pinnacle of society. If 80% of the poor were men, and 50% of the rich were women, you’d call that equality. If 15% of the elite were black, and much of the country was starving, you’d ultimately bemoan the horrid state of affairs, but see nothing unnaturally wrong about it the way you would, say, if 6% of the elite were black, and everyone had jobs and food to eat.

That these have nothing to do with each other seems to escape your notice entirely. You seem to believe that somehow, everything will just work out the best for everyone if the elite were perfectly representative. Most of us know that nothing at all would change, and we’d all still be getting raw-dogged by this ‘representative’ elite, which is why people keep rejecting your ID nonsense. And no, you can’t talk about both at once. you’ve proven that. you only talk about race and gender, never class. Not beyond the abstract, and not with any kind of real energy.

20

harry b 06.01.17 at 12:58 pm

Z — that’s not what I meant, but, yes, I see why it might read that way. What I meant was just that there is a tendency to think that, although the discrimination is awful, none of this is surprising — we know it all already. And I want to urge people to read the book anyway because i) most of us (at least including me) didn’t in fact know it all already and anyway the details give one a different sort of understanding than one would have had. I didn’t meant to be insulting the readers! Should have chose my words better.

21

Harry 06.01.17 at 1:04 pm

soullite — not sure that Rothstein would be happy with being classed as a liberal, but even if he would, for sure he doesn’t believe anything like what you say. Nor do I.

22

Layman 06.01.17 at 1:46 pm

soullite: “Sometimes I get the feeling that modern liberals would accept absolute feudalism, so long as some of the rapacious lords were black, and some were women.”

Well, that’s pretty much a statement about you, isn’t it? I mean, you go on to impute a lot of bizzare claims about what ‘the left’ believe and value, none of which seem to be rooted in reality. Can you point to a ‘leftist’ who says what you claim ‘leftists’ believe?

23

mw 06.01.17 at 1:59 pm

It seems to me that the problem with seeing current segregation as a continuation of patterns cemented in place during the era of de jure policies is that patterns of segregation changed so dramatically after the end of the racist policies. Consider Detroit. It is currently the most segregated metro area in the U.S. And racist laws and regulations (along with mob violence) were used to keep black Detroiters out of white neighborhoods during the early and mid 20th century. But once the de jure policies were removed, the existing segregation patterns didn’t persist, they changed completely. In 1950 Detroit had about 1.5 million white residents (84% of the 1.8M total). Today, there are about 50,000 non-Hispanic white residents (8% of 670,000). That’s a reduction of over 95%. Essentially, over several decades, whites abandoned all of ‘their’ Detroit neighborhoods and left for the suburbs. De jure segration was replaced by a completely different pattern of de facto segregation — no longer driven by racist legal restrictions but primarily by wealth and income disparities.

24

engels 06.01.17 at 2:50 pm

Interesting and outrageous—thanks for the summary.

25

John Burke 06.01.17 at 2:51 pm

Until the 1930s, railroads in the South hired both white and Black workers as brakemen and locomotive firemen, but promoted only white brakemen to conductor and white firemen to locomotive engineer. (This practice was a relic of industrial slavery, as described in Robert Starobin, “Industrial Slavery in the Old South.”) With the Depression, low-seniority white brakemen and firemen were laid off while senior Black brakemen and firemen continued working. White railroaders resisted this outcome, by means that included local hate strikes and physical violence against Black workers; the craft unions devised “full crew laws,” which many state legislatures (including California’s) passed, requiring that every engine carry a promotable fireman and every train crew promotable brakemen. (The ostensible reason was safety: “What if the engineer drops dead?” Of course, any fireman with enough seniority to survive Depression-scale layoffs can run the engine, as I can attest from direct experience.) Application of these apparently race-neutral laws–crafted to preserve a pre-existing discriminatory structure–was to drive the Black workers out of the brakeman and fireman job categories; years later, after diesel power replaced steam, the railroads attacked the full crew laws as union-sponsored “featherbedding,” and the safety argument, which the unions revived, convinced no one. (I was a young white fireman on the Southern Pacific in 1964, when the voters repealed California’s Full Crew law by popular referendum; as far as I know, nobody mentioned the real origins of the law, which I learned many years later, in the lopsided campaign.) For more on this, see Eric Arnesen, “Brotherhoods of Color.” It’s yet another case in which state action, race-neutral on its face, has the effect–clearly intended in this instance–of reinforcing racist institutions and practices.

26

mw 06.01.17 at 3:05 pm

@22 Just a follow-on to my not-yet published comment. Here’s a nicely done presentation by Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit that covers a lot of the history and issues:

http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/17580/sheila_cockrel_mayor_duggan_discusses_history_of_race_in_detroit_so_eloquently

27

Rob Chametzky 06.01.17 at 3:18 pm

” . . . most of us (at least including me) didn’t in fact know it all already and anyway the details give one a different sort of understanding than one would have had.” (harry b @20)

The book sounds like an expansion of the argument/examples in Rothstein’s chapter (“Racial Segregation and Black Achievement”) in ‘Education, Justice, & Democracy’, Danielle Allen & Rob Reich, eds. (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Those ~20 pages are eye-opening enough in the way suggested above that a fuller treatment in a book would undoubtedly be just as powerful and compelling (and, I fear, “far from uplifting”) as OP says it is. Thanks for the Reader Alert; I shall get and read it.

(Oh, and: the chapter immediately following Rothstein’s in the Allen & Reich book appears to be a preview/trailer for (some of?) Brighouse & Swift’s ‘Family Values’ (Princeton University Press, 2014). S0, clearly, Allen & Reich knew whereof they invited.)

–RC

28

Bill Benzon 06.01.17 at 3:18 pm

Incredibly he documents how city and county governments throughout the US have extracted disproportionately more tax revenues from African-Americans by systematically over-valuing properties in African-American neighborhoods for real estate tax purposes.

This is very much an issue in the city where I’ve lived most of the last decade and a half, Jersey City. The city is currently undergoing a revaluation of property values for tax purposes, the first time it’s done so in 30 years and about 20 years late. The net result will be that some (mostly white) people will see their property taxes go up by a factor of two or three (that is, they’ve been under-taxed for two decades) while others (mostly black and brown) will see their taxes go down (hat is, they’ve been over-taxed for two decades).

29

Layman 06.01.17 at 3:48 pm

@ John Burke, that is a fascinating piece of history, thanks for posting!

30

Kiwanda 06.01.17 at 5:46 pm

Re sundown towns, see also James Loewen’s book, and his map, showing such towns existed all over the U.S., with racist exclusion in such places as, for example, an island in Maine, and in Tacoma, Washington; the latter expelled its Chinese population in 1885.

31

Stephen 06.01.17 at 6:58 pm

Could we look for control groups outside the US? In France and the UK there are certainly cases of residential segregation, in the closest control group Canada there may be, I don’t know. If these exist without the deplorable legal mechanisms held to apply in the US, what follows?

32

mpowell 06.01.17 at 8:38 pm

Does Rothstein’s book demonstrate that state patterns of discrimination in the past result in residential segregation today? Similarly to mw@23, I would actually be surprised if this were true. What is the most recent date that any of these state related practices were actually widespread in any given area? It is certainly true that plenty of class based segregation continues to exist, but that doesn’t seem like the same kind of thing at all.

33

Pavel A 06.01.17 at 8:56 pm

@soullite

You’re going to have to describe in detail how you went from:
Black people have been systematically denied (at the state and private level) the ability to buy property and escape ghettos over the space of a century and this is a serious problem that leads to horrifically segregated societies and a state where black people who are significantly poorer than white people (aka this thread).

To:
“It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the left doesn’t care about humanity’s well being. It doesn’t care how many people suffer. It cares about arbitrary measurements of fairness only at the pinnacle of society. If 80% of the poor were men, and 50% of the rich were women, you’d call that equality. If 15% of the elite were black, and much of the country was starving, you’d ultimately bemoan the horrid state of affairs, but see nothing unnaturally wrong about it the way you would, say, if 6% of the elite were black, and everyone had jobs and food to eat.”

I guess if you believe that whites preventing poor black people from forming a middle class (you know, the American Dream™) through the ownership of property is related to the issues of the “pinnacle of society”, then you’re going to have an interesting time connecting those dots.

34

Collin Street 06.01.17 at 9:14 pm

Well, that’s pretty much a statement about you, isn’t it? I mean, you go on to impute a lot of bizzare claims about what ‘the left’ believe and value, none of which seem to be rooted in reality. Can you point to a ‘leftist’ who says what you claim ‘leftists’ believe?

If none of it is rooted in reality, will pointing out reality help?

Again: all hard-right activists without exception display obvious signs of cognitive impairment or mental disturbance.

35

jgs 06.01.17 at 11:14 pm

@Matt

I think this is what is always missing in these types of analysis. A control group where everyone is white.

I grew up in south central (LA), and even among my peeps there is “racism”, except it’s classism. You don’t rent to poor people because they fall behind on rent, because they tend to get belligerent, etc.

I myself am a minority and appreciate the efforts, but until we realize this is a poor vs non-poor issue and attack it that way, it will always fall on def ears.

36

J-D 06.02.17 at 12:28 am

soullite
What leads you to these conclusions? If there’s no basis for them, they’re just insults.

37

engels 06.02.17 at 1:45 am

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the left…cares about arbitrary measurements of fairness only at the pinnacle of society.

You’re confusing ‘the left’ with liberal identity politics.

38

MaxUtil 06.02.17 at 4:43 am

@MW
” no longer driven by racist legal restrictions but primarily by wealth and income disparities.”

Maybe, but “by wealth and income disparities” that were in significant part created by prior racist legal restrictions. I think it’s true and important that all current segregation is not caused by the same factors as in prior times. But the broader point is that the policies of the past are still having a direct and major impact on the people of the present, even if those policies were done away with.

39

Collin Street 06.02.17 at 5:18 am

Heh.

“Wealth and income disparities” is the same deal as that rather cool railways story: first you create racial disparity in wealth and income, and then you can use facially-racially-neutral wealth/income discrimination to keep the ******* out.

[I haven’t read the topic of the OP, but I’m guessing that establishing this so that all but the not-right-in-the-head are compelled to admit the justice and accuracy of this point is exactly what it’s all about.]

40

mjfgates 06.02.17 at 6:31 am

jgs@35: There has always class-based discrimination in housing, but it wasn’t coded into the law the way race-based discrimination was. Not-selling-your-house-to-poor-people covenants on housing deeds were never a thing.

41

Z 06.02.17 at 7:56 am

Could we look for control groups outside the US? In France and the UK there are certainly cases of residential segregation

Many countries have long, bitter and enduring histories of segregation (in France, the problem is getting worse in many respects). However, the interweaving of race and American democratic institutions, and in particular the capability the American society has to build great democratic and social progress on the explicit foundation of the exclusion of Black people, has very few parallels. Consequently, essentially nowhere in the world will you find the truly anomalous (and utterly shameful) statistical disparities along the Black/Non-Black racial line that can be observed in the United States. One can think of wealth, employment rate, educational achievement, incarceration rate… but my favorite indicator is the infant mortality rate. It is already remarkably worrying for a country as wealthy as the United States for Whites (comparable to that of Slovakia and above that of Greece) but a disgrace that should keep every American citizen awake at night and marching on the streets during the days for Black Americans (comparable to that of Libya and above 12/1000 in 15 states).

In comparison, the infant mortality rate in Seine-Saint-Denis (the go-to district if one is looking for poor segregated Black communities in Metropolitan France) is 5,1/1000, so comparable to that of White Americans.

This is also why Gareth Wilson’s “If TNC moved to Paris to escape black people being segregated, he must have been shocked when he arrived”, if meant seriously, betrays a serious misunderstanding of the specificity of American problem with race (nowhere in the Paris region, and certainly absolutely nowhere in Paris, can one find the social destruction of Black communities typical of many American cities).

42

Z 06.02.17 at 7:58 am

Oh, and by the way, thanks Harry for clarifying what you meant and sorry for the misunderstanding.

43

Val 06.02.17 at 10:17 am

Soullite @ 19
“If 80% of the poor were men, and 50% of the rich were women, you’d call that equality”

Others have pointed to your errors of logic and your ethical failures. I just want to point out that you can’t do arithmetic.

44

Cranky Observer 06.02.17 at 11:32 am

= = = mpowell : Does Rothstein’s book demonstrate that state patterns of discrimination in the past result in residential segregation today? Similarly to mw@23, I would actually be surprised if this were true. What is the most recent date that any of these state related practices were actually widespread in any given area? = = =

This is discussed in the aforementioned _Crabgrass Frontier_. The answer is yes and no.

One point not mentioned is that in the early 1960s with strong civil rights legislation on the horizon the Department of Housing ordered a purge of documentation of systematic racial discrimination not only from its own files but from the files of banks which had used the documents as well. Of the 10s of thousands of “Mortgage Quality Maps” (i.e. systematized redlining) known to have been produced only a few hundred still exist, and were only brought back into public view by sheer chance of a researcher finding one in an unpurged archived.

Of the maps that still exist one could still see clear evidence of where the lines were drawn on the ground in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis in the 1980s. After reading _Crabgrass Frontier_ I retraced some of my usual walks and through-neighborhood drives around Chicago and was shocked at development/dis-development patterns I (and family, and neighbors) had taken to be a force of nature followed the lines on these maps, right down to certain streets serving as unwritten boundaries. So yes.

Will you see such evidence today? Possibly not because, taking Detroit and St. Louis as examples, many of the areas so discriminated against were so devastated that they simply no longer exist as anything other than fields of rubble or (in stronger cities such as Chicago) redeveloped “new town” areas. So in that sense, no. Although perhaps one could consider the entire housing and economic situation of North St. Louis and north St. Louis County as a large-scale example.

45

RichardM 06.02.17 at 11:36 am

@40: Having rules that ensure your house will never _become affordable to poor people_ is a central feature of the housing market, the thing which makes it different from every other market I can think of offhand.

With the possible exception of Peroni beer, which is supposedly only available to bars on condition it is the most expensive beer sold there.

46

mw 06.02.17 at 1:22 pm

“But the broader point is that the policies of the past are still having a direct and major impact on the people of the present, even if those policies were done away with.”

Of course. But it’s still worth understanding that the segregation patterns created by de jure policies didn’t actually persist and that what we have now is a different pattern of de facto segregation — one driven largely by economic disparities. But not entirely. Prince George’s County, Maryland is affluent and almost two thirds African American. The families there are not forced by economic necessity or redlining to cluster in a majority black area but they do anyway. And why shouldn’t they? Is the black majority in Prince George’s a problem that needs to be solved? When black incomes converge on the national median, would you expect black families to finally disperse evenly throughout the country? Or would you expect to see more places like Prince George’s County? It seems pretty obvious the latter is more likely. After all, the U.S. already has a number of economically successful minority groups and they are not evenly distributed either. It seems to me that thing to worry about is the wealth/income gap — work on solving that problem and let people sort themselves out as they see fit. Why should homogenized living patterns be the goal?

47

parse 06.02.17 at 3:34 pm

I suspect that TNC’s move to Paris had something to do with the unexpected and unwelcome publicity surrounding his attempt to buy a Brooklyn brownstone.

Coates reported to Democracy Now! in February 2016 that he had moved to Paris. He (successfully) purchased, and then re-sold a Brooklyn brownstone in 2017, so it’s unlikely that had anything to do with his move to Paris. My impression at the time, from Coates own writing, was that he moved to Paris to learn French.

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Ogden Wernstrom 06.02.17 at 3:41 pm

I am honored that soulflake appears to have followed my advice. However, I am disappointed that this apparently failed to spark any self-reflection.

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Ogden Wernstrom 06.02.17 at 4:42 pm

mw 06.02.17 at 1:22 pm, in part:

Prince George’s County, Maryland is affluent and almost two thirds African American. The families there are not forced by economic necessity or redlining to cluster in a majority black area but they do anyway.

There appears to be some assumption about the clustering being the natural way of things. Has someone looked into why affluent African-American families are not more geographically dispersed in the counties of the former-slave-states that surround Washington, DC?

I found an older study about rates of segregation over time, which mentions that when racial minorities gain some economic success, they tend to move into newly-developed areas rather than established residential neighborhoods.

Why should homogenized living patterns be the goal?

I thought it was a measure, imperfect as it may be. The goal should be equality of opportunity – and the OP points out factors that tilt the opportunity playing field.

50

mjfgates 06.02.17 at 6:38 pm

RichardM@45: It is unusual for someone to sell their mansion to a hobo for a dollar, but nobody ever tried to make it illegal unless the hobo was black.

51

MaxUtil 06.02.17 at 7:34 pm

@mw
I think you’re right that the elimination of any racial segregation is not a good goal. But I think the bigger point is segregation, at least historically, is a good indicator and symptom of institutional racism. That it was directly tied to policies that impoverished people or at least blocked them from wealth is the bigger issue. But saying that current segregation is not fully tied to those policies anymore doesn’t change the long term impact of those policies.

I don’t think many people see a fully desegregated country as an important goal. But one that is fully just, including taking into account past injustices that still impact today is.

52

clew 06.02.17 at 10:11 pm

Not-selling-your-house-to-poor-people covenants on housing deeds were never a thing.

I don’t know about covenants, but there are city rules against (say) boardinghouses, or shared dwellings with more-than-X-unrelated-people, that have the same effect.

53

Chris (merian) W. 06.03.17 at 1:57 am

I’m pretty sure that soullite’s maneuver — 1. erect straw man; 2. knock down straw man; 3. claim victory — is of absolutely no value whatsoever to this discussion. (In the past I’d have asked them to back up their points, but I don’t think I’ve ever received honest, thoughtful responses in this sort of situation. Live and learn.)

To the commenter who mentioned housing segregation in France/Paris, it does of course exist, but IME, having lived for over a decade in Paris followed by London and now semi-rural-outside-college-town-red-state-US, its workings are quite different from the American pattern. This was driven home to me when, after a few months in London, I walked across a lawn/park at the center of a Southwark housing estate. There were two large BBQ parties going on. One nearly entirely by white people (many apparently of Portugese background), the other one by a predominantly black crowd. Having walked across many housing block lawns around Paris, this struck me as utterly weird.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who I greatly respect on school segregation, thinks that only voluntary action by white people can put towns onto a path to effective desegregation. Given that rigorous top-down central planning is both prone to undesirable side effects and politically impossible in the US, the problem looks like the epitome of one to be worked via an incremental approach. Which needs a sustained political will over a long time. Which isn’t in large supply. Yet, some places HAVE made progress, so some models exist.

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John Quiggin 06.03.17 at 4:23 am

@46 As a former resident of PG county, I was interested to read this.

But not entirely. Prince George’s County, Maryland is affluent and almost two thirds African American. The families there are not forced by economic necessity or redlining to cluster in a majority black area but they do anyway.

A couple of observations:

First, although PG county is mostly black, it has (or had) plenty of internal segregation, maintained by significant political effort. For example, the residents of (mostly white) College Park managed to stop the obviously desirable creation of a metro stop at the University of Maryland, because they wanted to restrict access from (mostly black) DC.

Second, at least when I lived there, PG county was said to be the most affluent majority black county in the nation, but it was nowhere near as affluent as the neighboring, overwhelmingly white, Montgomery County. I’d never checked but Google suggests Montgomery’s demography is the product of deliberate segregation.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/a-bridge-that-linked-black-and-white-neighborhoods-during-segregation-soon-will-be-lost-to-history/2016/09/24/59df40dc-7ab0-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html?utm_term=.c0d08246bfe5

So, contrary to MW, I’d say that the demograpics of PG county are explained pretty well by segregation. For black people who wanted to live in the Maryland suburbs rather than DC itself (when I lived there, routinely described as the murder capital of the world), PG county (or at least parts of it) was the only choice on offer.

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Pavel A 06.03.17 at 4:57 am

@53
“I’m pretty sure that soullite’s maneuver — 1. erect straw man; 2. knock down straw man; 3. claim victory”

I don’t think he’s even knocked down whatever straw man he’s set up, in this case.

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Gareth Wilson 06.03.17 at 8:21 am

The most extreme form of government housing segregation is rounding people up and putting them in camps. That’s what happened to the Japanese-Americans. Since almost all the other housing segregation was on the basis of white versus non-white, they got hit with it too. So, would you expect Japanese-Americans to be an economically struggling minority?

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mw 06.03.17 at 2:05 pm

Second, at least when I lived there, PG county was said to be the most affluent majority black county in the nation, but it was nowhere near as affluent as the neighboring, overwhelmingly white, Montgomery County…. For black people who wanted to live in the Maryland suburbs rather than DC itself PG county (or at least parts of it) was the only choice on offer.

As of the 2010 census, Montgomery county was 17% black (almost 50% higher than the national average of 12%) and 58% white (lower than the national average of 64%). So compared to the nation as a whole, Montgomery county is actually underwhelmingly white, and PG county is apparently not the only suburban choice on offer for black DC-area residents.

For example, the residents of (mostly white) College Park managed to stop the obviously desirable creation of a metro stop at the University of Maryland, because they wanted to restrict access from (mostly black) DC….For black people who wanted to live in the Maryland suburbs rather than DC itself (when I lived there, routinely described as the murder capital of the world)…

Do you see what you did there? You understand African Americans moving to the suburbs to escape D.C. crime, but then assume racist intent on the part of College Park residents trying to maintain an effective geographic distance from D.C.? And would you be surprised that ‘mostly white’ College Park also has a black population percentage above the national average?

Lastly, here’s a followup to the bridge story:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/montgomery-county-moves-to-preserve-century-old-bridge-with-ties-to-segregation/2017/02/07/190140a8-ed63-11e6-b4ff-ac2cf509efe5_story.html

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Stephen 06.03.17 at 6:28 pm

Chris @ 53: maybe that does actually make my point. Given that there is housing and social segregation in Paris and London, as you say, without the baroque (right word? do I mean Byzantine? or bizarre?) complexities of US law, can we attribute segregation in the US to the complexities of their law?

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Pavel A 06.04.17 at 2:57 pm

@56
“So, would you expect Japanese-Americans to be an economically struggling minority?”

There are a few striking differences between how Japanese and African-Americans are treated in the US:

i) Japanese-Americans were eventually given reparations (albeit in 1988, but there was still an attempt at economic redress).

ii) Japanese-Americans were not barred from buying property or getting loans to buy property in white neighbourhoods for decades after WWII and could actually relocate outside of urban ghettos. In other words, Japanese-Americans didn’t have to contend with Jim Crow laws that lasted into the 60’s.

iii) Asian-Americans in general are viewed in the US as “model immigrants” and experience significantly less day-to-day and employment-based racism in the US. American racism operates on a color chart scale. Asian Americans also benefit from some “positive” forms of racism (workaholics, industrious, good at math, women considered attractive and desirable, etc) that African-Americans do not.

The conclusion is that yes, one-time internment with relatively few follow-on cultural/economic repercussions is a lot less damaging than literally centuries of segregation and oppression.

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Z 06.05.17 at 8:24 am

Stephen

Given that there is housing and social segregation in Paris and London without […] US law, can we attribute segregation in the US to the complexities of their law?

Of course not. The anthropological capability the American people have to socially exclude Black people is the primary cause. The object of Rothstein’s book is then but the legal aspect of this principle but it would be inane to imagine it is the only or even most important one.

As the fundamental principle is anthropological at its core (or so I believe anyway), it is interesting to examine what is treated as a given in the discussion. Take for instance mw’s

“would you expect black families to finally disperse evenly throughout the country? […] Why should homogenized living patterns be the goal?”

Notice what is treated as obvious? That the concept of “black families” makes sense and that the color of skin is a relevant category while examining whether a community is homogenous or not. Wouldn’t it be a priori more plausible to believe that after 200 years of mass presence of people of African descent in the United States, intermarriages should have produced a mixed population, not two distinct communities? Compare: a massive and socially very problematic immigration of uneducated foreigners took place in the mid-19th century in the Paris region, yet no one is thinking about the contemporary spatial distribution of Savoyarde families or wondering whether they will finally disperse evenly in the country. Now I’m certainly not saying that mw’s questions are meaningless or that they rely on descriptively wrong observations, all I’m saying is that they are meaningful in the American context and according to American values, not necessarily in other contexts.

Other countries have other values systems and though these systems of course may (and usually do) lead to forms of segregation based on some form of otherness, it is a serious misunderstanding to imagine that they are parallel to the American ones (except at a very superficial level). To be concrete, I doubt that comparing the concentration of recent Soninké immigrants in Montreuil with the concentration of Black Americans in West Baltimore will tell you much either about the specifics of Soninké integration or about American segregation.

61

Robespierre 06.05.17 at 11:28 am

@46:

“Is the black majority in Prince George’s a problem that needs to be solved? When black incomes converge on the national median, would you expect black families to finally disperse evenly throughout the country?”

Maybe not, but it always strikes me how little mention there is in America about races, you know, actually mixing(this goes hand in hand with the ever present, crazy race-classification of everything and everyone in the USA, and the fact that even obviously mixed-race people get coded as black or nonwhite)

The fact that there may be even in the far future two (actually more) societies in one country who largely don’t have kids together, to the point that everyone assumes there will be two races in the future, is , yes, a huge problem.

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Gale Chambers 06.05.17 at 8:50 pm

A long time reader, first time commenter, This resonates with me as I have recently been discriminated against by an entire county of law enforcement, if that makes sense, for my families ethnicity and race.

As a Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocate pursuing my Juris Doctor & Masters in Public Service, I have spent nearly a decade building rapport with a multitude of agencies within central Arkansas and Nationally who have graciously extended their assistance in gathering resources and information that will assist readers to ensure they are informed and educated on topics that are presented in the text. This is my story. http://www.gofundme.com/share-and-educate

In Arkansas, one mother is taking action to break the silence and taboos of child abuse. Since Arkansas is the 7th most dangerous state for children, she took initiative to share her families story so that other families wouldn’t have one like hers by sharing her story on social media. She has encouraged other to break their silence and to provide resources for parents and other domestic and sexual violence victims advocates like herself.

A 5 year old was abused by the son of a daycare worker but she is still working there with about 50 kids daily so this mother took matters into her own hands to spread awareness when law enforcement and the courts failed her. See her page here: https://www.facebook.com/Momnemies-Child-Abuse-Awareness-1306783359438320/

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Gareth Wilson 06.05.17 at 10:01 pm

” Japanese-Americans were not barred from buying property or getting loans to buy property in white neighbourhoods for decades after WWII and could actually relocate outside of urban ghettos. “

I believe that when the racial restrictions were written down, they were mostly worded in terms of the “Caucasian race”, excluding any other race. It could be that those formal restrictions were in places with no Japanese-Americans, so it’s a moot point. Or maybe no-one bothered to enforce the rules against Japanese-Americans because people were less racist against them. All possible, but I’ll need some more evidence.

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