Anti-Latino Racism: The Case of Housing

Anyone who has ever purchased or sold property knows it can be a time-consuming and stressful event. There are credit checks, endless forms to fill out, and fees and points to pay. However, imagine being subject to what looks like extortion (See Cal. Pen. Sec. 518-519). by using a threat to report immigration status just for trying to conduct the normal business of life that families engage in, like the sale of a home. This is exactly what happened to my parents – lifelong residents and citizens – when they recently sold their condominium in California. A buyer tried to use what he believed to be their vulnerability because of immigration status (or perhaps some other assumption about their status as criminals because they are Latino) to take advantage of them.

Just before the inspection took place, the white buyer sent my relative (who was assisting them in the transaction) an email demanding my parent’s social security numbers in an affidavit. The following is the buyer’s email:

Your parents needed to state their Social Security numbers and affidavit for the final disclosure. You must get that information TODAY, or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue, and that will complicate everything. If…I do not receive this information today, I will cancel both inspections set for tomorrow 1PM. Time is of the essence now on the calendar. You know that I will back out of the purchase if proper papers are not in order on time.

This request by represents just one example of the many racist experiences Latinos face when engaging in perfectly normal events in this country such as buying or selling property. It is part of the consequence of what Joe Feagin calls the white racial frame, where many white Americans act on stereotypes, racist narratives, images, and emotions that lead to discriminatory action towards people of color, which are rationalized in a world view that justifies white racial superiority.

It is also an example of what law professor Bill Hong Hing terms a process of de-Americanization, which includes racially profiling groups out of the notion or conception of an American. It has resulted in defining Latinos as “not real Americans, not part of us.” Professor Hing argues that this process has the insidious ability to perpetuate itself in multiple generations. Indeed, my research on Latino lawyers and Feagin and Cobas’s research on middle class Latino professionals underscore Hing’s argument. What my parents experienced in their real estate transaction is sadly the kind of racism they have experienced their entire lives in America.

The current racialization of Latinos, including Latino immigrants, includes being defined out of the “American” community, and therefore, undeserving of aspects of the American Dream. This type of prejudice and de-Americanization is something Feagin argues we are all taught over the decades of our lives. Latinos are racialized to be laborers, not professionals; to be “illegal,” “criminal,” not deserving of the privilege of participating in the real estate market. Examples of this sort of reinforcement of the white racial frame, are a constant in American society, one encouraged and enhanced by the dehumanizing and “othering” of Latinos including citizens and long-time residents such as my parents. The white racial frame is also reinforced as a part of the larger political debate around immigration where all Latinos are seen as undocumented, undeserving, un-American. Until national political entities—particularly the GOP—realize that for policy purposes their anti-Latino rhetoric results in the racialization of all Latinos as “illegal” then they will never gain significant traction among the growing Latino constituency.

However, this type of discrimination and prejudice must be challenged at multiple levels—legally, socially, politically, culturally, so that acts such as what appear to be intimidation and prejudice on the part of the white buyer above no longer remain part of acceptable societal behavior in a nation that considers itself to be democratic and equitable. Some may believe that the comment: “or it could be inferred that your father may be classified as an illegal immigrant or implicated in some other issue” is a lack of civility. However, I believe it is another perfect example of the white racial frame at work.

Currently 17 percent of Americans identify as Latino and this figure will go up to 30 percent in the next two decades. If middle-class lifetime citizens and residents are treated this way without a significant moral outrage against this kind of racism what does it portend for the future of our ethno-racial society?

In the meantime, until this type of discrimination and prejudice is challenged widely we will not create the change we need in how whites see themselves, and how they see people of color. Making an ethno-racial democracy work will take many voices raised and even more minds changed to understand the demands of social equity in American society.

Devil’s Night: Black Beneficiaries of White Racism

In need of a house? Affordable housing? Detroit has an abundance of housing with prices unimaginable to most Americans. You can purchase a large spacious home for as low as $100 or less in the underprivileged areas that span for many square miles throughout the city. You might lack public services ordinarily taken for granted in most places, such as police services and street lights. There has been such a surplus of vacant properties that Detroit’s been burning them down. In 2010 there was an estimate of 70,000 burned houses which does not include vacant buildings and those numbers continue to rise with each passing year. Where else in the world would homes that might be considered the picturesque of “the American Dream” be regularly set on fire despite the fact that this nation has its fair share of people who are homeless and/or in dire need of housing?

Devil’s Night in Detroit is when the most fires are set and typically begins on October 30th and runs through the 31st. People from other communities and states travel into the city to join forces with the local residents to help with their local adopt home and other property efforts against arson, as well as bolster local medical, safety, and first response services. In this light, the evening has been redefined as, “Angel’s Night.”


(Image from Flickr)

During the early 20th century, Detroit, “The Motor City,” was a growing industrialized city and predominately white prior to the 1920’s. In fleeing the Jim Crow of the south, Blacks began to migrate into the Detroit area during the late 1920’s on through the 70’s only to find they were equally unwelcome. Often met with violent racial hostility by the existing residents and police brutality, social exclusion from employment coupled with housing segregation, Blacks were blocked from equally participating in white society. With the deep seated feelings of entitlement, the settled whites who were already competing with each other for existing opportunities and resources in the Detroit area channeled much of their venomous fears and frustrations onto the Black communities who, like they, were seeking better lives.

The systemic racial issues bottled up coupled with rise of the Civil Rights Movements gave rise to race riots of the 60’s throughout the nation bringing down the racial apartheid. Detroit had the largest riots in the nation resulting in the enactment of Marshall Law on three different occasions. As the apartheid was being dismantled a Black middle class began to emerge where shortly after, the city fell into rapid economic decline. In direct response to desegregation, white flight took hold resulting in resegregation with the nation’s wealth and privileges being concentrated into the predominately white suburbs and higher social classes throughout the nation. In 1950 Detroit’s population peaked with 1,849,568 and declined to 713,777 in 2010. Rather than integrate, much of white society chose to abandon their business and residential property.

Nothing exemplifies white privilege more than with the abandoned properties throughout Detroit. Most of us are required to properly dispose of our unwanted belongings. Black Detroit residents are the primary beneficiaries of these major social problems and toxic environmental issues. In 2010, the population of Detroit was 82.7% Black and 10.6% white with the State of Michigan having 14.2% Black and 78.9% white populations with black inmates representing 55% of the total prison population. Detroit is the poorest city in the nation with 1 in 3 residents living in poverty and many others living near poverty. There are still some very wealthy residents in Detroit, but they live in segregation on the outskirts of the city.

Detroit has the highest murder and missing person rates. These issues may play some role in the highest arson rates as well. As noted by the Detroit fire fighters above, to some degree vandalism has been the culprit, but there are a combination of reasons ranging from desperation where residents set fires to polluted houses that have been abandoned with rotting trash or that pose other social and environmental threats (vigilante fires) to sometimes revenge. Arson is a mechanism the residents have resorted to as a means to correct their immediate problems since the city either will not, or cannot.

But further, some locals believe that the general public is deliberately misled on the level of arson carried out by the residents as some of the power holders of the city are believed to be financially vested with local demolition contractors. It is cheaper to remove burned down houses than those fully intact. This destruction is a form of social expression from abandoned and socially neglected voices. It is revolt as Feagin and Hahn (1973) outlined in their earlier work on Detroit riots, to the many forms of racism that have championed the abuse and neglect of Black communities throughout history on into current times. With the effects of deindustrialization compounded with ongoing blocked legitimate means of survival and societal abandonment, it is no wonder the thousands upon thousands of houses representing the very icon of the American Dream have been set on fire many times over. What American Dream?

Race Still Matters in America — Part Two

Although many whites (and some blacks) deny it, skin color still has a pervasive influence on peoples’ lives in America. Even the place where you live is related to your color. While new research indicates this country is becoming less residentially segregated, the vast majority of us still live in homogeneous areas with a smattering of people from other racial groups. This was a vestige of official U.S. Government policy that proscribed integrating established white neighborhoods. Today the Department of Housing and Urban Development annually investigates around 10,000 fair housing discrimination complaints—a hopeless situation given their limited resources and the estimated 2 million annual racial housing discrimination cases in the United States according to the United Nations.

One of the most deplorable examples of racism can be found in our judicial system that incarcerates over 2 million people, more than any nation in the world. About half of those locked up are people of color. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates that there are more blacks in prison, jail, on probation or parole than there were enslaved before the Civil War. Nearly 1 in 9 young black Americans is incarcerated, more than any other group, and they receive harsher sentences than whites for similar offenses. Thanks to modern technology, we are getting candid glimpses of the verbal and physical abuse people of color must endure at the hands of some law enforcement personnel, and the Innocence Project has demonstrated racial inequities in capital sentencing.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Despite attempts to improve the health status of blacks and Latinos, they still lag far behind whites. Blacks live five years less, and have more than twice the number of infant deaths than whites, and, along with Latinos, they die more often from infectious and communicable diseases, heart attacks, diabetes and other problems that could be attenuated by preventive behavior and adequate health care. Once again, the data demonstrate that these disparities are not the result of genetic differences. The landmark study “Unequal Treatment” conducted for Congress by the Institute of Medicine concluded

Racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of healthcare than non-minorities, even when access-related factors, such as patients’ insurance status and income, are controlled.

Republicans, who are overwhelmingly white, are not oblivious to these disparities. They prefer to attribute differences in opportunities and the way people are treated to individual aberrations—solely the fault of recalcitrant blacks and Latinos who violate norms of probity and civility. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the darling of Republican conservatives and an aspiring Vice Presidential candidate, reinforced this in a speech last August at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library:

The free enterprise system does not create poverty. The free enterprise system creates prosperity, not denies it. . . ; [And] . . . we must understand that poverty does not create our social problems, our social problems create our poverty.

This popular myth has been woven into the fabric of our society through a public school system that perpetuates segregation, and dashes the hopes of millions of children of color and poor whites. Over 7,000 students drop out of school each day in the United States. Because of the demise of busing and the court’s acquiescence to the principle of unitary status, there has been a reemergence of neighborhood schools. Since most neighborhoods in this country are de facto segregated, schools are now more monochromatic than before the Brown decision in 1954.

Republican leaders’ strategy of unifying white middle and working classes against the supposed excesses of minorities is inherently perverse, blaming the victims of racism when they themselves are struggling to keep their head above water. It may help some people retain a shred of dignity believing that despite their misfortune, they are still superior to others below them on the social ladder—even if the rungs separating them are moving closer as the wealth of the nation becomes centered in the hands of the few.

Demographic changes in our society will make the Republican Party irrelevant if it does not change its rhetoric and become more inclusive. In a few decades minorities will be the majority. Focusing on issues of values and morals may temporarily capture the public’s attention, but they will find that blaming the victims of institutional deficiencies and greed is hardly a formula for success.

H. Roy Kaplan was the Executive Director of The National Conference of Christians and Jews for the Tampa Bay area. His most recent book is The Myth of Post-Racial America.

Documentaries: “Banished”

During Black History Month, I’m sharing some relevant documentaries. One of my favorite is, “Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America.” (Independent Lens, PBS, 2007). The film examines the history of racial cleansing in America, in which at least 12 different counties in eight states “banished” their black populations through the threat of violence. Here’s a short clip (1:27):

As a companion to this film, I’d recommend James Loewen’s Sundown Towns, about the widespread phenomenon of places where African Americans were not welcome at after dark, often noted by a sign that read, “Don’t let the sun go down on you in this town.” While most people associate this sort of exclusion with the Jim Crow South, Loewen demonstrates that in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and other places north of the Mason-Dixon Line, sundown towns were created by waves of white-led violence in the early decades of the twentieth century. As with the film, the book shows how the predominantly white cities, towns and suburbs of today are rooted in historical violence and ongoing discrimination.

The film is available through California Newsreel.

Black Migration South: Economic, Racial, and Emotional Reasons

The New York Times has an interesting overview of the many African Americans moving back to the South:

The economic downturn has propelled a striking demographic shift: black New Yorkers, including many who are young and college educated, are heading south. About 17 percent of the African-Americans who moved to the South from other states in the past decade came from New York, far more than from any other state… Of the 44,474 who left New York State in 2009, more than half, or 22,508, went to the South….

The article strongly accents economic reasons, but is there more here? One professor quoted in the article cites many African Americans’ spiritual and emotional (family) ties to the South as reasons for the reverse migration.

Recounting police abuse of her in New York, one black resident who has left suggests that the white racism now in New York is often as bad the old South:

“My grandmother’s generation left the South and came to the North to escape segregation and racism,” she said. “Now, I am going back because New York has become like the old South in its racial attitudes.”

She is likely right. Social science research shows that whites’ everyday racism does not really know geographical boundaries. Is it the case that the white majority in the South did not so much as catch up with the rest of the “liberal” country on racial matters, but rather that much of the rest of white America seems to be acting more like the racial ways that too many in the white South have long been famous for?

What do you make of the reasons given for the large African American migration back to the South?

(Note: Isabel Wilkerson, pulitzer prize winning NY Times journalist and now professor, has a major and fairly new book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration that I have just started looking at, and it may be of interest on the migrations north and south.)

Middlebury to the Bronx: Reflections on Integenerational Insurance against Integration

Along with a few other Middlebury College students, I spent my January winter term working in a public school in the Bronx. Our Education Studies Program coordinated this valuable learning experience outside of Middlebury’s “bubble.” However, I found this “bubble” not easily escapable. At each turn I found the racist pumps that keep it inflated and witnessed rapid “repairs” to any momentary puncture of its surface, those longing for the fresh air of a counter-frame silenced by the same dominant ideologies that plague the halls of my campus. The following is the first part (of three, two more to come) of a reflection on my experience.

Bronx, #1 train stop at 231st Street
(Creative Commons License photo credit: Susan NYC )

Each morning my alarm goes off at 6 am. I hurriedly prepare for the commute from my comfortable host family’s apartment in Greenwich Village to the poorest Congressional district in the country. With the passing of each stop in the subway the demographics of the passengers drastically changes. Soon I am the only white person left in the train. As I get off the subway in the South Bronx I emerge to a different world.

I am not alone in having a long commute. For our New York City Urban Education Internship we were graciously provided housing with current Middlebury parents, staying in the beds their children vacated while in Vermont. Although nearly all of us were placed in public schools in the Bronx, not one of us was placed in housing there.

While the Bronx is comprised of a diverse and impoverished population, Middlebury is an elite private institution with a tremendous wealth bias in its admission practice despite its boasting of a “need blind” policy. This bias is precisely why none of us were staying in the Bronx and why one host family even had a private elevator that opened up directly to their living room. Another had not only a housekeeper at their assistance all day, but also an entire additional apartment in the elaborate residence that presently sits empty, waiting to be occupied by their son when he graduates.

Housing segregation in America maps along with class inequality and is a long-term consequence of slavery, a form of systemic racism that is, as explained by Joe Feagin in Racist America: “maintained by social inheritance mechanisms that transmit wealth and privilege over the generations.” As whites have accrued economic benefits and built up housing equity, often red-lined and deed-restricted into being the only group able to do so throughout most of our history, they accrue intergenerational wealth easily converted into educational capital.

~ Jay Saper is a student of sociology at Middlebury College

Racist Practices, Racial Segregation: Impact on the Subprime Housing Disaster

The Economic Policy Institute just put out a major report, Segregation and the Subprime Lending Crisis, linking whites’ racial-segregation practices and the subprime mortgate crisis. The lead author is one of our major housing researchers and activists, squiresGreg Squires. (The other authors are Derek S . Hyra and Robert N . Renner.)
The well-documented report begins this way:

While there has been widespread recognition that racial minorities are among the hardest hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, racial residential segregation has not been considered a factor behind the crisis in minority communities. Blame is being directed at ill-informed consumers, lax underwriting by loan originators, the failure of regulatory agencies, predatory lending practices, greedy investors, misguided appraisers and credit rating agencies, job loss in economically distressed regions, and a range of other institutional and individual factors.

The report then accents how the debate on the subprime crisis mostly ignores the centuries-old reality of residential segregation:

. . . apart from the mere percent of African Americans or Hispanics living in a metropolitan area, the more racially segregated these groups are in a metropolitan area, the more subprime loans that area is likely to have. Racial segregation is a signifcant predictor of the share of subprime loans, even after controlling for the percent of minorities, credit score, median home value, poverty, and education. Black segregation has a stronger effect than Hispanic segregation. These findings reveal that segregation explains, in part, the high rates of subprime lending in America’s most segregated metropolitan areas. Major findings include: A 10% increase in black segregation, on average, is associated with a 1.4% increase in high-cost lending. In a highly segregated black area, the percent increase in high-cost loans is 7%; in a highly segregated Hispanic metropolitan area the increase is 4.2%. Metropolitan areas with higher education levels have a lower proportion of high-cost loans.

Numerous research studies have shown that over the centuries, including recent decades, housing segregation is heavily shaped by the discriminatory practices of white homeowners, real estate operatives, and banking officials. We also have much evidence that the fair housing laws in this country have mostly been unenforced, in the past and in the present. Millions of cases of housing discrimination targeting Americans of color are perpetrated each year, mostly by whites.

In this substantial report there is much important information on the linkages between housing segregation and the subprime crisis, with solid statistical analyses showing these linkages. In my view the report’s main weakness comes in its analytical framework, with no mention of racism or systemic racism in the report. Once again too, the role of white real estate actors in all this is only implied, not explicitly stated. Like most such reports white actors are not named as white, including when these actors are in the subject position in key sentences about housing segregation. I have thought of doing a research paper or book examining our now extensive research writings on racial discrimination titled something like, “why are whites are only implied.”

Anti-Latino Racism: SPLC Report on Discrimination

Immigrant Rights March
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kevin Coles (NYC Immigrants’ rights march)

Do white discrimination and the white racist frame still target Latinos, both immigrants and the US-born? You bet they do, according to a large-scale research project by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South. Researchers recently interviewed 500 low-income Latinos, especially immigrants, in Nashville, Charlotte, New Orleans, rural Georgia and several towns in Alabama.

The poignant report begins with personal stories:

In Tennessee, a young mother is arrested and jailed when she asks to be paid for her work in a cheese factory. In Alabama, a migrant bean picker sees his life savings confiscated by police during a traffic stop. In Georgia, a rapist goes unpunished because his 13-year old victim is undocumented.

The southwest has traditionally been the home for most Latinos, but the Latino population in southern states is now the fastest growing, with many seeking low-wage jobs in manufacturing and construction. Since the 1990s the states of Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee have been privileged to add 1.6 million Latinos, mostly workers and their families. As with other Americans of color, these hardworking Latinos often face intense and

widespread hostility, discrimination and exploitation. They are routinely cheated out of their earnings and denied basic health and safety protections. They are regularly subjected to racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement. They are victimized by criminals who know they are reluctant to report attacks. And they are frequently forced to prove themselves innocent of immigration violations, regardless of their legal status. This treatment – which many Latinos liken to the oppressive climate of racial subordination that blacks endured during the Jim Crow era – is encouraged by politicians and media figures who scapegoat immigrants and spread false propaganda.

So much for a post-racial America. We might note that the principal discriminators are not named as white in any sentence in the 64-page report. Indeed, the world “whites” never appears in the report, and the only place “white” appears is in a few references to “white supremacist” groups. Even in critical research reports like this there seems to be an etiquette of not offending white dsciminators explicitly, but leaving the elite and ordinary white actors as “implicit” in the commentaries, unless they are part of supremacist groups. We see this in this next comment from the executive summary:

And as a result of relentless vilification in the media, Latinos are targeted for harassment by racist extremist groups, some of which are directly descended from the old guardians of white supremacy.

The report does recognize the problem is larger than these supremacist groups. Using general or vague language, local government “agencies” (again not named as white) are called out for discriminatory legislation being passed against immigrants, especially the undocumented:

A number of Southern communities, for example, have enacted ordinances designed to limit services to undocumented immigrants and make their lives as difficult as possible, with the ultimate goal of driving them away. In addition, many law enforcement agencies in the South, armed with so-called 287(g) agreements with the federal government, are enforcing immigration law in a way that has led to accusations of systematic racial profiling and has made Latino crime victims and witnesses more reluctant to cooperate with police. Such policies have the effect of creating a subclass of people who exist in a shadow economy, beyond the protection of the law.

Those who face discrimination have already endured many dangers and barriers in order to build up the South, to do the hard and dirty labor of

building skyscrapers in Charlotte, harvesting onions in Georgia, slaughtering poultry in Alabama and rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina. Many of these new arrivals left their homes in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other Latin American countries to escape poverty, which some experts believe has been worsened by U.S. trade policies. Many crossed the border illegally, risking their lives and freedom for opportunity in the United States, while others were originally “imported” by employers under the guest worker system. Many others are legal residents or U.S. citizens, caught in the crossfire of America’s war on “illegals.”

Given this metaphorical “war” on them, it is not surprising that the interviewers found many Latinos living in great fear of the police and other government agents, as well as fear of cheating employers and criminals seeking to take advantage of them. In addition, as José Cobas and I have also found (see articles here, for example), it is not just the undocumented Latinos who face discrimination, mostly at the hands of whites. A great many Latinos face that discrimination:

Even legal residents and U.S. citizens of Latino descent say that racial profiling, bigotry and myriad other forms of discrimination and injustice are staples of their daily lives. “The assumption is that every Latino possibly is undocumented,” says one immigrant advocate in North Carolina. “So [discrimination] has spread over into the legal population.”

The racism is systemic, once again. And the relevant white discriminators need to be called out and named as principal actors in this sorry societal-oppression reality.

Supreme Court Justices Thinking from the White Frame: More School Segregation

The June 26, 2008 issue of the Integration Report (useful website here) has a disturbing, but predicable story on what is going on in Seattle public schools since our right-wing Supreme Court (in effect, an undemocratic legislature with no oversight) handed down its June 2007 Seattle/Louisville Supreme Court decision that makes it very difficult to use racial characteristics in student assignment plans aimed at reducing school segregation:

Today Seattle schools boast a diverse and multiracial student population. Black and Asian American students make up 22% of public school enrollment. The fastest growing group – Latino students – comprises 12% of the student population.12 However, nearly one-third of Seattle’s schools are considered racially imbalanced, with student populations that disproportionately reflect the district-wide racial/ethnic enrollment. Twenty schools are comprised of student populations that are over 90% nonwhite.

The reason is past and present racial discrimination:

These patterns reflect housing segregation fostered by restrictive covenants and discriminatory lending practices. The boundary lines of the Seattle school district yield a long, narrow geographic space dotted by several lakes and bordering a bay on the western side. Many of the predominately white schools are located in the northern and western portions of the district, while schools with majority nonwhite populations are clustered in eastern and downtown areas.

The price we pay for our still-apartheid, racialized society is great, and includes major racial isolation, as  social science data clearly indicate. I pointed to some of this research in a recent article (“Legacies of Brown: Success and Failure in Social Science Research on Racism,” in Commemorating Brown, edited by Glenn Adams et. al., American Psychological Association 2008):

Desegregated schools with large numbers of white children are more likely to have adequate media centers, computers, and other technology, as well as newer buildings, more classes for advanced students, and more teachers with substantial experience (Mickelson, 2003). When schools are desegregated, white officials typically spend more money on schools; when they resegregate, the opposite usually happens. In addition, children of color educated in desegregated settings generally have much better entrée into job and other important information networks (Orfield & Eaton, 1996). Black young people educated in desegregated public schools are more likely than similar students from segregated schools to attend desegregated colleges, work in desegregated employment settings, and acquire friends from other racial groups (Braddock & Eitle, n.d.).

The savvy Integration Report closes with this sad overview:

Seattle’s lack of policy response to resegregation trends in the district over the course of the past year is perhaps reflective of community ambivalence towards school integration. Busing ended in Seattle over 15 years ago, and school district leadership has failed to take a strong stand against resegregation patterns in the intervening time…. As we approach the one year anniversary of the Seattle/Louisville decision, the resegregation occurring in Seattle underscores the challenge of creating or maintaining integrated schools against the backdrop of residential segregation and judicially imposed limitations on attempts to combat school segregation.

Administrators and Supreme Court Justices now routinely, with little public questioning, operate out of the old white racial frame — and usually act to protect white group interests. Clearly, we need to do some major reform of our very undemocratic Supreme Court, the only one of its kind in the Western world. It now has several reactionary lawyers dictating both moral and political policies on racial remedy matters. In addition, a massive new civil rights movement in this country, one committed to real desegregation, is the only way out of this dilemma, in my opinion.

Bush Conservatives Help Preserve Racism in Housing

USA Today has a recent story on how the Bush administration is not vigorously pursuing housing discrimination cases even as discrimination complaints against real estate agents, landlords, and lending companies have grown in recent years. (photo: Licht)

In effect, real estate agents, landlords, lenders, and other (mostly white) housing actors can discriminate on racial, gender, and other illegal grounds in the United States until the cows come home, with very little chance of suffering any significant penalty for that discrimination. This has been true for many years in this country. That is, our civil rights laws in the housing area are not enforced or they are weakly enforced. The USA Today reporter summarizes the U.S. reality of no redress for housing discrimination:

Most renters and buyers who seek help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are unlikely to get relief for their complaints, which can include alleged discrimination by landlords and sellers based on race, religion, sex or disability. The agency is throwing out a growing number of complaints, federal data show. The housing agency, responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases under the Federal Fair Housing Act, filed 31 discrimination charges in 2007 and 36 in 2006. Charges for those two years combined dropped 65% from the last two years of the Clinton administration — 111 charges were filed in 1999; 82 in 2000. Complaints during the same period rose from fewer than 7,100 in both 1999 and 2000 to more than 10,000 in both 2006 and 2007.

The shocking lawlessness of HUD can be seen in the continuing lethargy in charging housing discriminators this year, with only 12 housing providers being charged so far this year, with two other cases referred to the Justice department. The article quotes National Fair Housing Alliance head, the veteran housing advocate Shanna Smith, as noting that none of the major Bush agencies responsible for enforcing fair housing laws is doing its job: “It’s a drop in the bucket for the number of complaints that happen annually.”

HUD defends itself with the claim that they prefer to negotiate settlements, rather than to go to court:

The agency is settling more cases overall than during the previous administration, but the percentage of settled cases has declined. In 1999, HUD settled 778 cases, 42% of the total investigated. In 2007, it settled 948 cases — 36.5% of the total investigated.

No presidential administration since the housing laws were passed has made this national housing scandal a priority to address. There are millions of housing discrimination acts in this country each year, but only 10,000 people file complaints—and only a few thousand cases (at most) of the housing discrimination cases are resolved each year by federal agencies or HUD-certified and funded local and state housing agencies.

A major Urban Institute study done for the previous HUD administration in 2000 involved 4,600 paired tests in 23 metropolitan areas. These paired tests involved a person of color and a white person posing as home seekers as they visit real estate or rental agents and inquire about advertised housing. According to this report, rental agents in metropolitan markets were less likely to give people of color information about available housing or an opportunity to inspect available housing than they were for whites. Nationally, rental agents subjected African Americans and Asian Americans to discrimination about 22 percent of the time; Latinos, 26 percent of the time; and Native Americans, 29 percent of the time. In metropolitan markets, real estate agents were less likely to give home buyers of color an opportunity to inquire about or inspect available homes in predominantly white neighborhoods. Agents were less likely to give home buyers of color assistance with financing. African Americans homebuyers were discriminated against 17 percent of the time, and Latino home buyers were discriminated against 20 percent of the time, with Asian American and Pacific Islander home buyers experiencing discrimination about 20 percent of the time and Native American home buyers facing discrimination 17 percent of the time.

Moreover, if we look beyond this initial-stage (one-visit) discrimination and examine later-stage housing discrimination, such as for multiple housing searches and dealing with mortgage lenders, and if we extrapolate these data to all people of color searching for housing across the country over a year, we can reasonably estimate that several million cases of housing discrimination are carried out each year, a large proportion being racial discrimination cases. Roberta Achtenberg, assistant HUD secretary in the 1990s, estimated that the number could be as high as 10 million cases of housing discrimination annually.

It is interesting how often whites, especially white conservatives, claim we are no longer a racist country. I gather that looking at actual data on housing and much other institutionalized discrimination as it affects Americans of color is too much of burden for these analysts. (photo: josho99)

Note: In addition to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Fair Housing Advocate Online has good research discussions on fair housing issues, as well as good links to helpful legal and other resources.