The Color of Law, written by Richard Rothstein, has been described as the “powerful and disturbing history” of how American governments deliberately imposed racial segregation on metropolitan areas nationwide. He helps us understand twentieth-century urban history. A history that provides insight as to why our cities are still facing residential issues today.
When the government created segregated housing systems, did they think it would persist much through the 20th century? What obstacles did blacks face in the Jim Crow era when they were buying a house?
The Color of Law, written by Richard Rothstein
The Road Not Taken, written by Stephen Menendian and Richard Rothstein
From Ferguson to Baltimore, written by Richard Rothstein
Black History and Liberty, written by Jonathan Blanks
Looking Back to Look Forward: Blacks, Liberty, and the State, written by Jonathan Blanks
Why Aren’t There More Black Libertarians?, Free Thoughts Podcast
00:07 Trevor: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Trevor Burrus.
00:09 Aaron: And I’m Aaron Powell.
00:10 Trevor: Joining us today is Richard Rothstein, and Richard’s an associate at the Economic Policy Institute, and a fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. His latest book is, “The Color Of Law, A Forgotten History Of How Our Government Segregated America.” Welcome to Free Thoughts, Richard.
00:26 Richard: Thank you.
00:28 Trevor: Now, your book is fascinating and it does tell the history that not many people know, but was there a reason you decided to write this book now or have you been wanting to write this book for a while?
00:39 Richard: Well, the book was published in 2017. It took me about 10 years to do it. I was a policy expert in education policy, I knew nothing about this when I started working on this in 2007, but as a scholar of education policy, a journalist about education, it occurred to me and I concluded that, one of the biggest problems that we faced in American education was the segregation of schools. We were very obsessed with the achievement gap in Black and White students and the achievement gap is largely attributable, I came to conclude, to the fact that African-American children or so many African-American children, not all of them, but so many African-American children, come to school with severe social and economic disadvantages. It’s impossible for them to achieve at the same level as children who come to school healthy, and well-rested, and well fed in secure homes, and so forth. And then in 2017, I read the Supreme Court decision, in which the court prohibited the school districts of Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington, from implementing a very, very token school desegregation plan. Both of them gave parents the choice of which school in the district their child would attend, but if the choice was going to further intensify segregation, that choice wouldn’t be honored in favor of a choice of a child who would not do so.
02:15 Richard: And so, if you had an all white school or mostly all white school, and there was one place left, and a Black and a White child both applied for that last place, the Black child was given some preference, as a way of de-segregating the school. And the Supreme Court, The Chief Justice, John Roberts, wrote the controlling opinion, prohibited that kind of plan, and they said that the reason they prohibit it, it was unconstitutional to desegregate in that way. They said the reason is that the schools in Louisville and Seattle were segregated, because the neighborhoods in which they were located were segregated, and the neighborhoods in which they were located were segregated de facto, because of private bigotry or the actions of actors in the private economy, like banks and real estate agents, or maybe people’s self-choice, or maybe income differences.
03:08 Richard: And they said, “Well you’ve got de facto segregation, something that was not created by government, it’s not permissible under the Constitution to take explicit action to remedy it.” Well, I read that decision, having been thinking as I said, at that point about the problem of segregated schools and the achievement gap, and I recalled an incident in Louisville, some years before. One of the districts that was the subject of the Supreme Court decision. And in Louisville, there was a White home owner in a single-family home, in a suburb, all single-family homes, all white, called Shively. He had an African-American friend who lived in the center city of Louisville, renting an apartment, had a wife and a daughter.
03:56 Richard: The friend was a decorated Navy veteran, middle-class guy with a good job, wanted to move to a single family home in the suburbs, and nobody would sell him one and so the White homeowner in Shively, in the suburb, bought the second home there, resold it to his African-American friend, and when the African-American friend moved in, an angry White mob of neighbors surrounded the home, protected by the police. They threw rocks through the windows, police made no effort to stop it. They dynamited and fire bombed the home, the police made no effort to stop that either. And when the riot was all over, the State of Kentucky arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed with a 15-year sentence, the White home owner for sedition. And I said to myself, “This doesn’t sound to me much like de facto segregation. If the police, the courts, the criminal justice system, is being used to maintain the racial boundaries of Louisville.” So, I began to look into it further, I discovered that there were thousands, I’m not exaggerating, thousands of cases of mob violence, often protected, sometimes even encouraged, sometimes even led by police, to prevent African-Americans from occupying homes that they either legitimately rented or purchased in white neighborhoods in the 20th century. Every one of them, to the extent that the police was protecting, or supporting, or even leading this violence, was a 14th Amendment violation. Nothing de facto about it.
05:28 Richard: Then I looked into it further, and discovered that there were many, many federal, state and local policies that were explicitly racial, designed to ensure that African-Americans and Whites could not live near one another in metropolitan areas in this country, that we have not a de facto system of racial segregation, but something that’s as much a civil rights violation, a creation of government, unconstitutional creation, as any of those forms and segregation that we dealt with in the 20th century, whether it’s schools or colleges, or water fountains or buses or many others, it’s an unconstitutional system of residential boundaries, and it needs a remedy. That’s how I came to write the book.
06:00 Trevor: The segregation, and you deal this in the FAQ at the end of the book and throughout, that there’s a lot of reason to believe, especially, given racial animosity of say 1935 or 1955, that Whites did not wanna live with Blacks, even without any sort of policy help, whether zoning or loan insurance or anything like that, that probably cities would have been segregated just based on, I guess, “good old-fashioned racism.”
06:00 Richard: Well, there’s certainly white bigotry and Whites having those views of… I will say that those views were created in large part after the end of reconstruction in the Jim Crow era, but even given that there was intense white resistance to living with African-Americans, without government policy, without federal policy structuring that resistance, we would not have the segregation that we know today, and I’ll give you an example, and I talk about this in the book. In the post-war, post-World War II period, the Federal Housing Administration began an explicit program to create all-white suburbs of single-family homes to move the white working class out of urban areas into single family homes in the suburbs. They’re all over the country, around every metropolitan area. The most famous is Levittown, east of New York City, on the West Coast you’ve got places like Westlake, south of San Francisco, or Lakewood near Los Angeles, everywhere in the country these suburbs were created. A developer like Levitt, which ultimately built Levittown, or the developers in California or anywhere in between could never have assembled the capital to build these suburbs without federal subsidy.
08:07 Richard: No bank would have been crazy enough to lend them money to build these kinds of suburbs. Levittown was 17,000 homes. Who would lend you the money to build a subdivision of 17,000 homes for which you have no buyers. The only way that Levitt could build that development was by going to the Federal Housing Administration, getting approval for his plans for the development, he had to make a commitment never to sell a home to an African-American. The Federal Housing Administration even required that he put a clause in the deed of every home prohibiting resale or rental to African-Americans. Now, Levitt was a bigot. If left to his own devices, he would have refused to sell to African-Americans, that’s true, but he wasn’t left to his own devices, he couldn’t have built the development without federal support of the federal government. The Federal Housing Administration had fouled its constitutional obligations by requiring, as a condition of that loan, that Levitt sell to African-Americans as well as to whites, he would have had to do so. He couldn’t have done it as a segregated white development, no matter how much he would have wanted privately to do so. So, without that federal control, we would not have Levittown as a segregated white community or any of the other suburbs that were developed in the mid-20th century in this fashion. That’s why I say this is an unconstitutional system, it’s not that there wasn’t white bigotry involved.
09:33 Richard: I’ll give you another example. The first public housings for civilians in this country was built during The New Deal in the Roosevelt administration. The Public Works Administration was the first federal agency ever to build civilian public housing. Everywhere the federal government built this housing in the 1930s, it built it on a segregated basis, and it frequently, frequently created segregation in communities where it hadn’t previously existed, and it’s not to say that every community was integrated before the federal government got involved, of course not, there were segregated neighborhoods that had been created by private action. But the government created segregation even where it didn’t exist.
10:13 Richard: For example, and this is another example I use in the book of the great African-American novelist, playwright, Langston Hughes talks, in his autobiography, how he grew up in an integrated downtown Cleveland neighborhood. We had many more integrated urban neighborhoods in the mid-early 20th century than we have today for the simple reason that factories had concentrated central area near the border port or railroad terminal to get their parts or ship their final products. They couldn’t be spread out, there were no highways to ship parts or get… To ship products and get parts at that time. So there were many, many integrated neighborhoods, urban integrated neighborhoods, working-class neighborhoods in the mid-early 20th century. Langston Hughes grew up in one of those integrated neighborhoods in Cleveland. He said his best friend in high school was Polish, he dated a Jewish girl in high school. It’s what you would expect if you had an integrated high school in an integrated neighborhood, but the Public Works Administration went into that neighborhood and built two separate projects, demolished housing, integrated housing, built two separate projects, one for African-Americans, one for whites, reinforcing to a very great extent, the informal segregation that existed prior to that time, and with other projects equally segregated, created a pattern of segregation that exists in Cleveland to this day, and this was done all over the country.
11:40 Richard: In my book, I like to talk about self-satisfied smug places like Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, the area between Harvard and MIT, the Central Square neighborhood was like that central neighborhood of Cleveland, an integrated neighborhood in the 1930s, it was about half black and half white. The federal government built two separate projects in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge, one for blacks and one for whites, creating segregation where it hadn’t previously existed.
12:07 Richard: On the West Coast, we’ve got a perfect example of how powerful the federal government’s role was because on the West Coast prior to World War II, were very few African-Americans. As you know, historians divide up the migration of African-Americans from the former slave states to the rest of the country into two big periods, the First Great Migration around Word War I that created the large African-American populations in places like Pittsburg and Chicago and Detroit, and the Second Great Migration, which brought African-Americans, for the first time, to the West Coast, that was during World War II. There was no one involved in segregation on the West Coast to speak of before World War II because there were no African-Americans to speak of there. There were some, some had come during the Gold Rush, but there wasn’t a big African-American population on the West Coast.
12:48 Richard: During World War II, hundreds of thousands of workers flocked to the centers of war protection all over the country to take jobs in war industries. On the West Coast, there was aircraft and ship building primarily, and if the government want the aircraft and the ships to be built, it had to create housing for these workers. They overwhelmed the places where they were migrating, and the federal government did, and everywhere on the West Coast, it created segregated housing for war workers, frequently workers working in the same shipyards and the same aircraft plants, but separate housing for blacks and whites, creating a pattern of segregation that exists to this day, and it had no informal or private antecedent. In south San Francisco, the federal government built four projects for war workers working in the ship building industry primarily.
13:48 Richard: Three were for Whites only, one was for African-Americans in the Filmore District, which the government had decided was going to be the African-American neighborhood of San Francisco. In Los Angeles, Watts, we know Watts or we came to know Watts as a Black neighborhood, it wasn’t Black before World War II. That was the place where the government placed housing for war workers, and it became a Black neighborhood for that reason. Seattle, Portland as well, were segregated in this way. But throughout the country, the government created segregation with these projects. So, certainly there was private bigotry, there’s no question about it, and if left to their own devices, private bigots would have created segregation. But they weren’t left to their own devices. In these projects, for example, if people wanted jobs in the war industries, and needed housing, and the government had said, “We’re gonna build non-discriminatory housing.” Workers would have had to choose whether they wanted that housing, or none at all. So, the government was not a passive responder to private bigotry, it was creating a segregated situation where, if it was going to create housing it had to choose, segregation or non-segregation. It couldn’t be neutral about it, and the government chose segregation creating patterns everywhere in the country, reinforcing them, where they had existed in less formal ways.
15:15 Aaron: I’m curious about the motivation for these policies. So, if I understand correctly, before these policies came in, we didn’t see the levels of segregation that we did afterwards. And so White and Blacks in the inner cities lived side-by-side, far more than they eventually did, what incentives is the government responding to when it decides to enact and comes in and says, “Instead of putting in a integrated housing project, I’m going to put together two, one for Whites, one for Blacks.” Is this something that’s coming from a handful of people in the government who are unelected, or are they are responding to the will of the voters, like voters were saying, “I want to put people in power in the federal government who are going to segregate in a way that I haven’t been able to effectively do through private action.” What’s causing these policies?
16:07 Richard: Well, this country never dealt with the legacies of slavery, as you know from the history, I’m sure. After the end of reconstruction, we enter the period that’s popularly known as Jim Crow, in which racist stereotypes were widely promulgated. People developed a caste mentality about African-Americans, and this was the assumption of the Democratic Party at the time. Not only the southern Democrats, this was an assumption of the full party. In the book, I give this example of, In 1913, Woodrow Wilson took office as President, and began for the first time to segregate what had previously been an integrated civil service. In Washington DC, we didn’t have big federal government at that time, but in Washington, there were federal offices, they were integrated, there were African-Americans who supervised Whites in the federal civil service during the Taft and Teddy Roosevelt and McKinley administrations. Woodrow Wilson, who was as you know a southerner, even though he came to the presidency most recently from New Jersey. But, a segregationist convinced one of northern segregationist.
17:28 Richard: He embarked on a program, his administration embarked on a program to segregate the Federal Civil Service. Curtains were placed in federal office buildings for the first time, separating Black and White clerical workers. Separate washing facilities were set up in basements for African-Americans. African-Americans were fired if they were in a position of supervising Whites, because that was no longer permitted. But this was done for the first time in 1913, during the first democratic administration, by a southerner after the civil war. One of the biggest federal departments at that time was the Navy department. An official responsible for doing that segregation, for implementing those programs in the Navy Department, was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And I’m not suggesting in any way that this was Roosevelt’s idea, that he would have done it on his own, but I also have to say he didn’t object. He carried out his responsibilities as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to segregate Navy department. And this was a characteristic of the Roosevelt administration. There was some opposition. There were some in the Roosevelt administration who objected, probably one of the most prominent objectors to the policies of segregation that the Roosevelt administration was following, was the president’s own wife, Eleanor.
18:45 Trevor: I see. You reference quotes in your book about racial harmony, race riots, and then, of course, there’s the question of, if you use race as a proxy for wealth, which of course is problematic, that having… Just having African-Americans move into a neighborhood will freak out White people and make them leave about sort of the price of their housing going down. And so, I could see even well-meaning federal officials being like, ultimately, it just works a lot better for everyone if we just segregate out here. And ‘cause they are bigots and so they might leave because they think the value of the neighborhood is gonna go down, because everyone else is also a bigot so, and they don’t wanna live next… Even if you weren’t a bigot, and you understand that most White people are bigots, if a Black person moves in next, you might understand that can make the value of your home go down in terms of selling it to another White person who’s a bigot.
19:37 Richard: Well, let me make two points about that. First of all, even if it was the case that the government was simply responding to popular demand in creating this segregation, the Constitution doesn’t have an escape clause for violating civil rights if it happens to be popular. Government is required under our constitution to respect civil rights, to enforce civil rights, even if it’s unpopular, as we saw in the 1960s. The second point I would make though is that this was not simply a question of are Whites… White flight or Whites subjecting to African-Americans living in their neighborhoods, the segregation that frequently resulted from African-Americans moving into White neighborhoods was constructed by government or by government agents.
20:28 Richard: So, for example, the way in which the Black ghetto expanded into neighboring communities was because African-Americans successfully began to purchase homes in White neighborhoods. It wasn’t always met by violence of the kind that I described at the beginning of this interview. Whites frequently sold homes to African-Americans because African-Americans were willing to pay more for housing than Whites were willing to pay for the same housing, simply because the supply of housing available to Black families was so constricted. Simple question of supply and demand. In that case, Blacks were willing to pay more for the same housing as Whites. That happened and property values rose frequently and there are many, many anecdotal stories about this, about the Black home in a neighborhood was the best maintained one or was the one that was best cared for, this was a quite common.
21:32 Richard: What frequently happened though, is that realtor’s speculators then tried to panic White home owners, the term we use is blockbusting, into selling their homes when African-Americans began to move in. This wasn’t the spontaneous action in most cases on the part of Whites. It was something that was constructed by speculators and real estate agents. In my book I described one interview that one of this speculators gave to a national magazine in which the speculator, the real estate agent, bragged about having hired young African-American men to drive through the neighborhood in convertibles with their radios blasting. They hired women to… Black women to go through the neighborhood pushing baby carriages. They had people calling up Whites in the neighborhood saying things like, “Can I speak to Johnny May?” A stereotypical Black name to give the impression that the neighborhood [22:35] ____ Black. There was one real estate agent who even bragged about having organized armed robberies to create the impression, the reality, that the crime was going up in the neighborhood. What would happen then is that Whites panicked, that was the purpose of it. They sold their homes to these speculators at below fair market value, because the speculators convinced them that the value of their home was going to deteriorate further. And then they turned around and sold it to the African-Americans at a price higher than market value.
23:11 Richard: Now, the point I make in the book is that everyone of these real estate agents who were doing this blockbusting were licensed by state licensing agencies. And not a single one had their license lifted or any kind of discipline against the real estate agents who were engaging in this practice so I also consider this a 14th Amendment violation. In California, an example I use in the book is the immunity of East Palo Alto, just East of Stanford University, it was an all-White neighborhood in the 1950s. A Black family bought a home there, paying more than Whites would. No problems existed until real estate agents descended on that community, including the President of the California Real Estate Board and placed ads in newspapers in San Francisco saying, “Blacks are moving into this neighborhood. Buy your homes now.” They engaged in that kind of blockbusting, that kind of fear tactic. Eventually, the neighborhood flipped and became an all-Black neighborhood. Would Whites have fled without that practice? Well, we don’t know, but it was so common place that it’s hard to say that this wasn’t, in large part, constructed by the real estate industry with government licensing and approval.
24:37 Trevor: Since the government doesn’t have to license real estate agents, they could also just not license real estate agents and then the competition could work out to help eliminate these sort of racist real estate agents with people who were not racist who therefore didn’t have to get their license denied by the state agency.
24:54 Richard: Well, I’m not gonna debate that point. The point is that the government was licensing real estate agents in the mid-20th century, whether they should have or not, and the government did not enforce as a condition of licensing respect the civil rights. The National Association of Real Estate Boards in the mid-20th century and early 20th century had a code of ethics that prohibited real estate agents from selling homes in White neighborhoods to African-Americans. Some real estate agents had their licenses lifted for that violation, for not… For discriminate. For not…
25:38 Trevor: For not discriminating.
25:41 Richard: Restraint from discrimination. So I’m not suggesting again that real estate agents wouldn’t have done this on their own, but all it would have taken was lifting a couple of real estate agent’s licenses for this kind of behavior and the practice would have ended.
25:58 Aaron: You mentioned earlier the constitution doesn’t have an escape clause and I guess that raises the question, were these kinds of policies challenged in the courts throughout all of this and if so, what happened there?
26:11 Richard: Not very much. The NAACP, which was the leading civil rights organization at the time in the mid-20th century, it eventually spun off its legal arm into the Legal Defense Fund, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was a nickel-and-dime organization of mostly nickels from members across the country. It was very, very poorly resourced. It got a grant in the early 1930s to challenge school segregation, which is how we got eventually 20 years later Brown versus Board of Education, that consumed all their resources. The programs that I’m describing of the federal government engaged in explicit racial discrimination didn’t start until the 1930s, and they began gradually. So the NAACP was almost completely absorbed in fights against school segregation and did not have very many resources to challenge housing segregation.
27:15 Richard: There was one Supreme Court case, a very important one, in which in 1948 as a result of Legal Defense Fund litigation, the Supreme Court prohibited state courts, as well as federal courts, from enforcing restrictive covenant deeds as deeds that required courts to order the expulsion of African-Americans who bought homes in all White neighborhoods. So beginning in 1948, the courts were no longer permitted by the Supreme Court to enforce it. But by that time, the policies were well entrenched and all of these other policies that I described were well on their way to creating a segregated landscape. The restricted covenants were no longer necessary as a way to do it.
28:06 Trevor: There was also Buchanan v. Warley in 1917 that struck down racial zoning.
28:10 Richard: Yes. So there were… These were borderline, in a sense Mason-Dixon borderline, or border states that in which cities adopted racial zoning ordinances. But the interesting thing about those ordinances, they began in 1910, is those ordinances would have had no purpose if we didn’t have integrated neighborhoods before that. What they required was that… For example, the most… The first of those ordinances, Baltimore in 1910 prohibited African-Americans from moving on to a block that was not majority African-American and prohibited Whites from moving on to a block that wasn’t majority White. As I say, those kinds of ordinances would have had no meaning if we didn’t have integrated neighborhoods before them.
29:00 Richard: The Supreme Court prohibited those kinds of ordinances, but following that in the 1920s, the federal government led by the Commerce Department of the Secretary of Commerce, it’s Herbert Hoover, developed model zoning ordinances that were not explicitly racially based, that were the kinds of class-based [29:23] ____ type of ordinances we have today. They were designed to replace the exclusion on a racial basis that the Supreme Court had adopted. And curiously, throughout that period, as you may recall or know, the Supreme Court was consistently interpreting the 14th Amendment as being an Amendment that was designed primarily to protect property rights. The Supreme Court in that period struck down minimum wage laws. It struck down child labor laws.
29:57 Trevor: Well, they did that. They did that child labour based on enumerated powers, minimum wage based on economic liberty. They also upheld the right to send your kids to school and educate them in ways based on similar type of theories. It wasn’t mostly property rights, sometimes it was enumerated powers.
30:13 Richard: Well, but that the only time, the only time that the Supreme Court, until 1937 when Roosevelt intimidated the Court from overturning his economic program on the basis of his interpretation of the 14th Amendment, the only time that the Supreme Court upheld in this period a law that infringed on property rights was in… When 1926 permitted economically exclusive zoning ordinances that Hoover in the Commerce Department were promulgating and that’s the reason that today we have suburbs all over the country, for example, that prohibit anything from single family homes on large large sizes.
30:58 Trevor: And there’s a lot of… There’s a lot of people in my world, in the Libertarian legal world, who Euclid v. Ambler is the name of that case, who find that case to be absolutely abhorrent and we could have done a lot to get around some of these laws if the Court hadn’t upheld these zoning restrictions.
31:13 Richard: Well, I agree. I agree with the people in your world on that point. In fact, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson… The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development at the beginning of its administration, the current administration, said he was going to move to challenge those kinds of zoning ordinances for just the reasons that you have said. But he’s done nothing to carry out that promise, whereas he’s spent a lot of energy trying to roll back policies that attempt to correct the segregation that government had created.
31:53 Trevor: Yeah, the most striking one that after Buchanan that you pointed out one of the ways to get around explicitly racist zoning ordinances is the one I think it was in Richmond, that after the State of Virginia passed anti-miscegenation laws, their law said that you couldn’t move on to a block unless you could marry a majority of people on that block or something on those lines.
32:16 Richard: Yes, so that was Virginia. Virginia had a so-called miscegenation law that prohibited Blacks and Whites from marrying each other. And so after the Supreme Court struck down the initial round of these racial exclusion ordinances, Virginia said, “Well, we’re not gonna prevent people from moving onto a block that’s majority in another race. We’re just gonna prevent people from moving onto a block where they can’t marry a majority people.”
32:45 Trevor: Yeah, so interesting… So again, going into some of the sort of prescriptions or what we do about this. We’re here at Cato, we’re a Libertarian organization and I’ve told many people to read your book because Libertarians need to know how much state… What we would say consider state force and violence helped to create some of the things that we see today. We may disagree about some of the remedies or things along the lines, but it’s important to understand that this isn’t “natural” in the way that you describe in the book. But, what sort of things do you think we can do, or maybe that we can agree on, to try and remedy some of this stuff?
33:12 Richard: Well, I think there are many things we could agree on. The problem is not the agreeing on the policies, we know what the policies are to remedy this. What’s missing is a popular demand. As I said a minute ago, Ben Carson said he was going to challenge exclusionary zoning ordinances. He’s done nothing of the sort. That’s a policy that I think we can all agree on, but there’s no popular support for it. In fact, the suburbs, many of which claim to be liberal, are the first ones to object.
34:03 Trevor: Oh yeah.
34:04 Richard: To challenges to their exclusionary zoning.
34:06 Trevor: Or the mortgage interest deduction.
34:08 Richard: Well, that’s an example of…
34:09 Trevor: I mean, that’s a small one, but we’ve been advocating taking that away for years.
34:13 Richard: Yeah. In my book, I suggest that one way that the government could create incentives to abolish exclusionary zoning ordinances, is to place the mortgage interest deductions of communities… Of home owners in communities that implicitly maintain segregation with these zoning ordinances, place them in escrow until the communities take steps to redress segregation. Yeah, that would be a powerful lever.
34:43 Trevor: Or we could just abolish the thing entirely.
34:45 Richard: Well, that’s a different… Yeah, sure.
34:47 Trevor: ‘Cause it privileges single family homes and gives a lot away to rich people. And you have a lot of people who love these single family… These zoning ordinances because they have… They’re boosted into the single family home, which as you point out in the book, was itself a program to push White people into single family homes and not Black people.
35:07 Richard: Right. I’m not disagreeing that abolishing the mortgage interest deduction would be a good idea. I’m not sure how much that would accomplish for racial desegregation.
35:19 Trevor: What other possible things do you think we should look at, in terms of…
35:24 Richard: Well, he have many, many things that we could do if we had popular support for them, and I think government is obligated to do. The most extreme thing that I can imagine and I describe this in the book, is we take these suburbs that were created in the mid-20th century, they were very inexpensive… Levittown, the example I used a few minutes ago, those homes cost about $100,000 in today’s money. The 1950s, there were many African-Americans, returning war veterans, who could have afforded to buy homes in these suburbs in mid-20th century, but were prohibited by explicit federal policy from doing so. The federal government should be buying up homes at market rates in these suburbs. Levittown, they now sell for $500,000, or there abouts, and reselling them to qualified African-Americans for $100,000. That would be a narrowly targeted remedy. A very specific constitutional violation. And a court that acknowledged this history would have to uphold it as a narrowly targeted remedy for an explicit violation.
36:31 Richard: But at the more simpler end, we have a number of policies that reinforce segregation today. They don’t need to be explicit anymore, because all you need to do is reinforce existing patterns without being explicitly racial. So for example, the biggest program that we have for subsidies for the housing for low-income families who are disproportionately minority, most of them are White, but they’re disproportionally minority, the biggest program is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which is a tax credit for developers to build housing for low-income families. The Treasury Department places a priority on awarding those tax credits to developers who will build low-income housing in already low-income neighborhoods. That’s got it backwards. That reinforces segregation. The same thing is true of the Section 8 Voucher Program, which you’re probably familiar with, is a subsidy for individual families to rent apartments at market rates. That also reinforces segregation because most of the places where landlords are willing to rent to Section 8 voucher holders are in existing low-income, segregated neighborhoods. That’s backwards as well. We should change the way in which that program is operated so that it places a priority in using Section 8 vouchers in high opportunity communities, to help to desegregate those areas. So, those are some examples of things that we could do.
37:58 Trevor: One issue in this which I think is interesting, ‘cause we talk about a history of government enforced oppression and wrongs. We currently have generations of people who benefit from that, but didn’t actually do it or cause it. They don’t even know if they haven’t read your book, that they benefit from it. And sometimes solutions are proposed that hurt people who didn’t cause any of this stuff, say taking away half of their property value or something like this, that makes these things incredibly unpolitically viable and possibly unfair to the person who didn’t actually do these things in the past. How do you feel about those kind of concerns?
38:36 Richard: I tell a story in the book which I often repeat. I was in a panel once with Sherrilyn Ifill, the leading civil rights lawyer in the country, she’s the President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. And somebody got up and asked the question along the lines that, “My family came to this country after all of these policies were implemented. Why should I have to pay higher taxes to fix them? I didn’t cause them.” And she looked at him and she said, “Well, you eat hot dogs on the 4th of July, don’t you?” And what she meant by that was that no matter when we came to this country, last year or 100 years ago, once we become citizens, we accept the privileges of citizenship, but we also have to accept the responsibilities of citizenship. And one of responsibilities of American citizenship, is to remedy civil rights violations that our government created, whether we were here when they were created or not. We don’t, as I say, we don’t feel that we can only exercise the freedoms that Americans have if our ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence. And likewise, we don’t escape our responsibility as citizens to remedy constitutional violations of civil rights simply because we didn’t participate in creating those violations.
39:33 Trevor: I probably generally agree with you, but it depends on what the nature of those remedies are. My first one for me is to just… Just to have the government take the kind of boot off the neck in all the programs that exist that harm poor people and people of color before you started with sort of massive subsidies and transfers and then see what happens in terms of whether or not the problem can be alleviated or at least fixed, and possibly it could in relatively short order.
39:33 Richard: Well, as you know, I don’t agree that this will happen in relatively short order.
39:33 Trevor: Well, maybe not short order, but…
39:33 Richard: This was created by explicit government policy. I think it requires explicit government policy to undo the damage. But, I know that we disagree on that. If we can agree on the history of how this happened, that will be a big step forward in having a constructive conversation about how to remedy it. But this point, we’re not having that constructive conversation.
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