Reviewing The Color of Law

Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law is a great look at how the policies of the United States Government actively worked to segregate America. The Color of Law matters because it walks readers through laws, court opinions, and political decisions that forced America to segregate. The book also does a good job rebutting some of the arguments traditionally made in opposition to the reality that segregation was a choice made by racist and/or white supremacists to make unconstitutional segregation an American reality.

I want to walk you through some of the things discussed in The Color of Law:

  • The book shows a tiny number of instances where black people were assaulted and their property was vandalized because they moved to white neighborhoods.
  • Until the ’60s, the Federal Housing administration refused to fund mixed-race neighborhoods.
  • The housing the Federal Housing Administration supported for housing tracts for black people was substandard and in less desirable locations.
  • Being black was regularly reason to deny any mortgage funding.
  • When black people got mortgages, they were often at much worse terms.
  • The government and the Supreme Court enforced language in deeds preventing property from being sold to black people.
  • Even housing benefits for veterans under the Veterans Administration were segregated with black veterans getting less and under worse terms.
  • Some unions refused black members.
  • Some government contracts were given to unions that denied black people membership.
  • In unions that allowed black people to join, their job prospects were limited to undesirable jobs with little chance at promotion.
  • The interstate highway system was largely built on land that used to be black communities.
  • Many waste disposal plants, oil refineries, and other dangerous pieces of infrastructure are overwhelmingly built in communities where black people make up a majority of residents.

In different ways and to differing degrees the above policies existed through the 1980s. That’s why arguments attempting to tie racial economic discrimination and segregation to slavery alone are so wrong.

If you’re inclined to believe things have improved more since the 1980s, I want you to know the subprime mortgages that destroyed the economy in 2008 and 2009 were disproportionately given to people of color. During the supposed economic recovery, Wall Street loves to remind us how its institutions repaid the taxpayer money used to bail them out of financial disaster. That argument ignores the reality that none of that money made it to the people who lost their homes and had their finances ruined because of Wall Street fraud and greed.

Reading The Color of Law, I kept thinking if the extreme loss caused by Wall Street had disproportionately impacted white people, a lot of that repaid money would have gone to communities and people who were severely injured. Since much of the damage was done to people of color, government is once again touting Wall Street and looking for ways to make it easier for it to once again make profits by exploiting poor people.

Many white people today oppose racial discrimination and segregation. Many white people today want to live in diverse neighborhoods. Those truths don’t relieve white people from the need to realize that all white people have benefited from the centuries of discrimination and racism that are still with us today.

If you really oppose discrimination and racism, you need to support an equitable division of resources that gives more to those systematically given less and outright stollen from for the benefit of white people.

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