The Color of Law

I just finished Richard Rothstein’s new book, The Color of Law, A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America. Please read this important book. Since the rise of Malcolm and the black power movement, I’ve considered the demand for integration as not addressing the real needs of the Black community. But Rothstein makes clear that the end of segregation, in housing in particular, is not about Black and white kumbaya.

Rothstein argues that the segregation in housing that persists throughout the North as well as the South was not de facto segregation, enforced by local prejudices of banks and realtors. He makes a strong case that such segregation was de jure, the direct result of unconstitutional policies of the Federal, State, and local governments. He argues convincingly  that this de jure segregation is the primary cause of the enormous wealth gap between Black and white families. One statistic says it all: in 2013, the median wealth (not income) of white households was 13 times that of Black households, $141,000 to $11,000. That’s a house.

After World War II, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the VA offered low interest loans to whites wanting to move into the new whites-only suburbs, like Levittown in New York and Westlake in the San Francisco area while denying loans to African Americans.

The importance of this argument can’t be overstated. By focusing the call for reparations (Rothstein calls them “remedies”) away from the distant wrongs of slavery and toward the unconstitutional policies of governments since World War II, we are only in need of a progressive shift in the courts for such remedies to be mandated. How about zero interest loans to families who would have been discriminated under these policies to buy a house in an integrated community?

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