The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America A succinct history of de jure segregation in America, The Color of Law argues that anti Black governmental policies, not de facto segregation, led to the nation s racially divided cities and suburbs In terse prose, Richard Rothstein details the underhanded ways in which Republican and Democratic politicians alike imposed and enforced racial segregation across the U.S throughout the twentieth century, from explicit racial zoning to state sponsored violence and blockbusting Rothstein lucidly co A succinct history of de jure segregation in America, The Color of Law argues that anti Black governmental policies, not de facto segregation, led to the nation s racially divided cities and suburbs In terse prose, Richard Rothstein details the underhanded ways in which Republican and Democratic politicians alike imposed and enforced racial segregation across the U.S throughout the twentieth century, from explicit racial zoning to state sponsored violence and blockbusting Rothstein lucidly conveys how federal, state, and local laws worked in conjunction to restrict Black people s options for housing nationwide all his points are well supported by extensive research, and his focus on all of the country s regions is impressive Accompanying descriptions of legislation are anecdotes that illustrate the devastating effects de jure segregation has had on Black families and communities, saving the book from reading as dry Well worth reading This is a well researched book that outlines all the ways in which the government has used the long arms of the state to discriminate against blacks I wish this book had been published when I was writing my book named The Color of Money coincidentally because I could have used some of this research Some of this history was written in Crabgrass Frontier, but this is a book that needed to be written. Some years ago, I lived for a time in Oak Park, Illinois Oak Park has for decades been filled with rich white liberals, who live just across the street from a City of Chicago neighborhood, Austin, that is filled with poor black people Yet, for some reason the citizens of Oak Park simply can t fathom, people from Austin almost never move to Oak Park Who can say why Well, Richard Rothstein can His book, The Color of Law, shows all the ways in which the racist government of Oak Park, and inn Some years ago, I lived for a time in Oak Park, Illinois Oak Park has for decades been filled with rich white liberals, who live just across the street from a City of Chicago neighborhood, Austin, that is filled with poor black people Yet, for some reason the citizens of Oak Park simply can t fathom, people from Austin almost never move to Oak Park Who can say why Well, Richard Rothstein can His book, The Color of Law, shows all the ways in which the racist government of Oak Park, and innumerable other government functionaries across the nation, have aggressively worked for decades to keep black people in inferior, segregated housing Rothstein s service is to precisely set out why this happened, how it was done, and what exactly the effects today are.Rothstein doesn t actually mention Oak Park, but it is the perfect example of many of the racist behaviors he documents To this day, the Village ah, how quaint funds behind a screen of third parties, whose pictures are not shown on their website the boringly named Oak Park Regional Housing Center The OPRHC advertises all over Chicago that it will help those moving to Oak Park find rental apartments Since Oak Park has very few rentals due to deliberate zoning to prevent them , this is a seemingly valuable service Thus, when I needed to move to Oak Park, I took advantage of it, setting up an appointment, as required, with an advisor When I arrived, my advisor gave me a sheet that said, in deliberately obscurantist legalese, We will give you listings on the basis of your race This blatantly illegal practice not made legal by disclosure, either took me aback Why, I thought, would they do that It did not take long for me to figure out they wanted, and still today want, to prevent black people from clustering in their Village shades of the M Night Shyamalan movie and attractingblack people who might thereby start to view Oak Park as welcoming to African Americans So they scatter black people among white people, and they try to locate white people among black people already living in Oak Park, both to prevent clustering that might attractblack people I suspect that they probably also try to directly discourage African Americans in other ways, though I can t speak personally to that Turned off by their overt racism, I ultimately found an apartment in Oak Park by myself, in those early Internet days, by going to the offices of the Chicago Reader the night before, before the paper was distributed, and being the first to call one of the few apartments offered for rent that week Unsurprisingly, I had to leave a voice mail, and I was called back, having met the Village s effective main criterion of a good renter being white.I encourage you, though, after you read Rothstein s book, to go to the OPRHC s current website, or to the History article linked from their site, to see the contortions that racists go through to justify their racism, especially when their own self image is as completely non racist, and to see how precisely the OPRHC lines up with the practices Rothstein documents For example, in the OPRHC s FAQ, they ask Question Do you have listings online Can I get them over the phone or email Answer We don t, and here s why Because our services are customized to each individual client, we must meet with you in person to review your financial requirements with you and discuss your space and location needs and any other preferences you might have Ha ha Yeah, that might be it Sure If Oak Park really wanted to help people find rentals, they d operate a purely on line service And they d also change their zoning, which includes many fun rules, such as forbidding For Rent signs and on street overnight parking, the better to discourage black people from Austin from walking around town, or owning houses or apartments without expensive off street parking But they don t do any of those things, because the reality is they don t want those people from Austin coming into their town.Enough about Oak Park, although as I say, it is in many ways the perfect exemplar of the practices documented by this book The Color of Law, while not flawless, is very impressive on many levels It offers voluminous scholarship it offers detailed history But what most impressed me was that at each step of the way Rothstein directly and without flinching or evasion addresses all possible counter arguments When the reader thinks but what about, the next paragraph or next chapter is nearly certain to address just that question And in case he missed anything, Rothstein has an entire ending section on Frequently Asked Questions to directly answer questions and objections raised by others during his research Throughout the book, Rothstein makes great efforts to be intellectually honest, which makes his book very different than most modern political debates, where advocates pretend that their desired solutions are cost free, and their opponents are idiots or driven by malice Rothstein freely admits where he expects there to be costs, and gives specific reasons why and by whom those costs should be borne If he thinks there is malice and given the topic of his book, it could not be otherwise , he does not spend his time focusing on it, rather spending his time on facts This honesty is refreshing and adds considerable power to the book.A major theme running through The Color of Law is that the distinction between de jure and de facto segregation is both functionally fictitious and obfuscatory Non black people me, for example tend to think of housing discrimination as something in the past, engineered mostly by individuals in their private capacities, though with effects in the current day It sconvenient to think that way, after all Just as importantly, we tend to think that if, in some cases, the government did engage in segregation de jure , it doesn t any , so there s little to talk about Plus, anyway, we conclude that by now the effects of private and government actions are impossible to separate Rothstein rejects all this, or rather, claims it obscuresthan it clarifies First, there was, until relatively recently, vastlyde jure segregation than most people are aware Second, even if de jure segregation is now gone, what we think of as de facto segregation was primarily driven by earlier de jure segregation, and therefore the government, not private choice, is almost exclusively responsible for present day patterns of segregation, as well as the consequent multiple negative effects on African Americans in the present day of that segregation Third, because it was our government, we are all responsible for finding a solution.Although most of the book is taken up with the dry bones of statistics and with carefully phrased parsing of specific instances of de jure segregation and their effects, Rothstein frames his book with the story of Frank Stevenson, born in 1924 in Louisiana As a young man he moved to San Francisco, working in war industries and settling in Richmond, just north of Oakland Many African Americans came to California to work, because the war opened up some opportunities for good jobs for black men but it did not open up opportunities for good homes Rothstein documents the myriad ways in which men like Stevenson and their families were forced into less desirable housing, usually far from their jobs These included official refusal by the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration to insure mortgages for black applicants seeking homes in white areas, or for white applicants seeking homes in black areas They also included putatively private practices such as blockbusting real estate agents trying to stir up white panic about declining house values if black people moved in or near and redlining bank refusal to lend for housing in any area where many black people lived All of northern California engaged in these practices which is largely why Stanford and Palo Alto have almost no black people today, because black people were kept out and now they can t afford to enter And Stevenson s descendants are, if not poor, barely middle class unlike the vast majority of descendants of white wartime workers.Rothstein then spends much of the rest of the book delineating the breadth and impact across the country of each of the obstacles encountered by Frank Stevenson and other African Americans in California He discusses at great length government efforts to ghettoize his word black people, both where they lived and most especially as they moved north These efforts began primarily in the Progressive Era segregation was actually less aggressive earlier and were led by Progressives They were aggressively supported and expanded by Franklin Roosevelt and his team of Democrats, both on the national level and in most large municipalities but primarily driven at the federal level There were so many such efforts, with interlocking effect, and Rothstein itemizes them all, that the reader s eyes begin to glaze over They included discriminatory mortgage insurance or the lack thereof innumerable explicit racial restrictions in development and housing sales location of services and schools the racism of the Tennessee Valley Authority the segregation of federally driven high rise housing projects and muchRothstein also documents the intermittent attempts by courts to forbid various segregation practices, usually promptly evaded by government functionaries who made slippery statements about how they were really complying with the law a practice that seems to characterize most functionaries of the administrative state even today, on any issue where the courts overrule the superior judgment and insight of bureaucrats.The book extensively covers zoning something mostly neutral on its face, but widely used by Oak Park, and thousands of other localities, to keep black people out Occasionally such zoning was explicitly racial, but early on that was forbidden by the courts, so various clever alternatives were used, primarily focused on preventing the creation of housing attractive to lower income people with other actions taken against higher income black people who didn t get the message And just in case the reader starts to think he means just places like Alabama, Rothstein points out that zoning and other local ordinances were used to drive black people almost wholly out of Montana.Another chapter elaborates further on FHA policies designed to prevent black people from obtaining desirable housing including, most poignantly, in Levittown The next chapter tells how ostensibly private discrimination, such as in housing covenants, relied not just on direct government enforcement which was ended relatively early but on governments refusing to enforce laws against those who intimidated or used violence against black families daring to move to white areas Other chapters cover tax policy numerous additional local efforts to keep black people out, such as by hugely raising utility connection fees for black developments and paying black people to go away by offering them above market prices for their homes None of this is strictly news, but its breadth and permanence, as well as its brazen conduct, is news to most people, including me.Rothstein also repeatedly points out the knock on effects of housing segregation Renting, or owning a house in a less desirable neighborhood, prevents the building of equity over decades Subsequent generations therefore get less money handed down to them Living far from jobs makes it harder to get, and to keep, a good job Related to this were government efforts to suppress black wages, such as by Roosevelt s National Recovery Administration, which was designed to set much lower wages for industries with a heavy African American presence, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, with its segregated camps and assignment to blacks of menial, unskilled jobs, thus hampering skills development This continued after the Depression and World War Two, when blacks were largely excluded from the good jobs in many industries that boomed and allowed millions of white people to enter the middle class And, even aside from overt segregation, when you make less money, you have less choice in housing, and arelikely to end up in cheaper, crowded, already segregated housing.Of course, it does not take much historical knowledge to know that racism against black people was widespread government policy, both North and South, for a long time The exceptions were areas where public policy was heavily influenced by Christian social principles, which drove anti racism just like it drove abolitionism Gun control, for example, was originally introduced, in the South post Reconstruction, as a naked effort to strip black people of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, so that they could beeffectively oppressed But historical knowledge is in short supply nowadays, so Rothstein fills in the picture for readers, and then adds plenty of detail.The author notes in several places that the Progressive movement, from Woodrow Wilson an uncompromising believer in segregation and black inferiority on down, was incorrigibly racist, most aggressively against African Americans He does not note, but could have with profit, that this was closely related to the racism of the Progressive run eugenics movement, which sought to purify the race, and was led by, among others, Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood She founded it with a primary goal of limiting the black population through the eugenics methods of the day, including birth control, forced sterilization, and abortion As she said, in writing, talking of hiring black ministers to propagandize recalcitrant black people opposing her methods, We don t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population And even today, Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg let her mask, or hood, drop a few years back, noting with approval that Roe v Wade invented a constitutional right to abortion in part because of concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don t want to have too many of That is, to be clear, Ginsburg thinks it good to encourage the killing of black people so there won t be so many of them If that s what a sitting Supreme Court justice, the heir of Woodrow Wilson s Progressives, today feels comfortable saying in public, it s no wonder that de jure housing segregation lasted so long.The inevitable conclusion from Rothstein s powerful demonstration of overwhelming government discrimination against black people is that the African American experience is unique He draws that conclusion, without hesitation Unfortunately for today s Left, though, this is the wrong conclusion, because today s American Left relies nearly wholly on identity politics, and its underlying Marxist theories of oppression and emancipation, to unite its coalitions and to stir up rage to action If one group is unique, then this program collapses of its own contradictions Thus, Rothstein has been criticized in some quarters for overtly refusing to use the term people of color, instead explicitly insisting on black or African American When we wish to pretend that the nation did not single out African Americans in a system of segregation specifically aimed at them, we diffuse them as just another people of color He similarly refuses to use the vague term diversity, in effect recognizing it as a cult word designed to obfuscate through its meaninglessness rather, he insists on using the precise goal term racial integration This speaks well of his passion for exactitude, but undercuts the bogus narrative of generalized, non specific but all powerful white privilege, and thus makes him guilty of wrongthink If Rothstein worked at Google, he d be fired.Rothstein ends with a list of possible fixes, ranging from giving effectively free houses to black people, to eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, to various fairly complex schemes to incentivize the building of low income housing in desirable suburbs He openly admits that these fixes have considerable costs, ranging from direct monetary costs to the increase in local crime that will result from importing young black men noting, with rare honesty, that integration cannot wait until every African American youth becomes a model citizen But he also freely admits none of these are constitutional under current principles or are politically palatable both to white people, and, what he does not say, to non black people of color Thus, his primary goal is educate to show readers that the common narrative of it was a long time ago, and it wasn t really the government, and anyway don t black people choose to live by themselves is wrong, and to hope such education bears fruit in public policy, especially in the courts And Rothstein sticks to that goal Unlike Ta Nehisi Coates, he does not get bogged down in blaming white people for every bad thing that has ever happened to a black person This givespower to his analysis, not least by preventing those in his audience uncomfortable with his analysis and conclusions from wriggling away or changing the topic.There are many unanswerable questions, which Rothstein does not get sidetracked into addressing What would patterns of housing, and economic progress, look like in a world without the government actions Rothstein narrates How much did government segregation contribute to the destruction of the black family from the 1960s onward, with consequent further negative impacts on black economic progress How can cultural pathologies in some African American communities be repaired All these are worthwhile questions, but not the focus of the book, which is a wise choice by the author, I think.Yes, there are some false notes Most of these consist in mushy application of legal principles No, the Fifth Amendment does not prohibit the federal government from treating citizens unfairly That may be a layman s version of the Fifth Amendment or rather the Fifth Amendment viewed through the Fourteenth , but that is not what the Fifth Amendment says, and to import vague concepts like fairness decreases clarity Similarly, Rothstein makes much of the Thirteenth Amendment, arguing that the long history of government housing discrimination was not only unlawful but was the imposition of a badge of slavery that the Constitution mandates us to remove The Thirteenth Amendment says nothing about badges of slavery Rothstein also insists on referring to all discriminatory actions as unconstitutional as of the time they were taken, stating I reject the widespread view that an action is not unconstitutional until the Supreme Court says so In fact, all of usbear a collective responsibility to enforce our Constitution and to rectify past violations whose effects endure I am all for private interpretation, and I agree with Rothstein that what is unconstitutional should not be defined solely by the Supreme Court, but also by legislators and simple individuals Dred Scott should not be viewed as having made slavery constitutional in its time, anythan Roe v Wade should be viewed as having made abortion constitutional in our time In practice, though, Rothstein s moral outrage on constitutionality does not really add to his overall argument Review continues as first comment my review my review Fuck the FHA and the New Deal at large , fuck HUD, fuck the VA, fuck federal, state and local housing policies, fuck banks, fuck real estate brokers, fuck developers, fuck churches, fuck universities, fuck hospitals, fuck homeowners associations and FUCK the police Fuck white people.This book will make you angry. Incredibly eye opening I didn t know 50% of the stuff in here and I m shocked schools don t teachabout this content.Although it readslike a textbook, because it s all factual, I didn t mind it That said, if you re not in the mood for a strictly nonfiction book, I d hold off on this one but I would definitely still add it to your TBR list. This is an excellent book with just a few difficulties Some of it is within Rothstein s interpretations mainly of the amendments but most of the negative side of the book lies within the fact that it is an extremely difficult law term and concepts of their use type of read And I am not a lawyer, although I do study lawyers and judges decisions in minutia word copy when they occur in real time That s exactly why no Supreme Court judge should be evaluated for that position on one issue of This is an excellent book with just a few difficulties Some of it is within Rothstein s interpretations mainly of the amendments but most of the negative side of the book lies within the fact that it is an extremely difficult law term and concepts of their use type of read And I am not a lawyer, although I do study lawyers and judges decisions in minutia word copy when they occur in real time That s exactly why no Supreme Court judge should be evaluated for that position on one issue of possible leaning, partisanship, or any other factor beyond his understanding and use and applications of the standing laws of his her past decisions Some of the other reviews of this book are excellent The best of any such very difficult level and subject on GR s, IMHO One is especially I have not the skill to word exactly what the differences are between de facto and de jure discrimination But living my entire life in or very near to Chicago, I know it when I see it.Segregation is an end result of the latter de jure farthan it is of de facto And yet all evaluations, nearly universally, in politico, in organizational form or in reactive protests etc all continually use and define de facto as the problem When it isn t at all.Governmental policies and de jure circumstance and reality of the outcomes of governmental directions have causedmisery than they have ever helped Rothstein can help you understand why and how and what happened.Before I was born, my Sicilian grandmother only in this country USA less than 8 years was firebombed out of her 2 flat for renting to blacks Wentworth Ave It was at least 20 years before I was born but I heard about it all the time These immigrants would eat a couple of eggs a day and spend all of their wages on buying derelict property Live in it at 10 persons a small apartment at times and use the bottom floor as a store or bakery or something They literally worked themselves to death.Here you will see the other side of that equation too And what happened in the 1960 s with the great Northern migration And how the Progressive movement growing out of a Sanger type of looking at the world and limiting defective or extra children has further decimated Welfare annihilating the father figure and making at this pointthan 75% of all black families single Mother, no male role model within the home This is much closer to the truth of the ghetto formations than any other book I ve ever read In the 1950 s and even later, I can remember being far, farintegrated and with better living quality and relationships to upward tending examples and intermixing on all counts especially churches and community groups than exists now in Chicagoland In my own neighborhood Ashburn that was absolutely true Every year now within the city proper itself, it seems worse instead of better Crime, homicide within black on black numbers, that s for sure.Where I live in Will County it is completely integrated and our crime, homicide rates are nearly nil in comparison But most of us have had victim stories to tell in our origins Especially for robbery and assault which are much worse now in some of the districts we were born within 70 or 80 years ago And they are WORSE now It s a hard subject to breech And the black experience certainly is a unique and singular experience quite apart from any other groups Be they recent arrivals or those of 100 other past origins And the remedies by law have in cause and in case, made things worse I ve been a witness.This book will explain all the repercussions in law, economics, culture etc etc of de jure discrimination Federal, state and local levels of de jure across the boards It s true In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was de jure segregation the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this dayThrough extraordinary revelations and extensive research that Ta Nehisi Coates has lauded as brilliant The Atlantic , Rothstein comes to chronicle nothing less than an untold story that begins in the s, showing how this process of de jure segregation began with explicit racial zoning, as millions of African Americans moved in a great historical migration from the south to the northAs Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the s that created many of the impoverished neighborhoods we know Now, Rothstein expands our understanding of this history, showing how government policies led to the creation of officially segregated public housing and the demolition of previously integrated neighborhoods While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans Finally, Rothstein shows how police and prosecutors brutally upheld these standards by supporting violent resistance to black families in white neighborhoodsThe Fair Housing Act ofprohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Balti, Ferguson, and Minneapolis show us precisely how the legacy of these earlier eras contributes to persistent racial unrest The American landscape will never look the same to readers of this important book Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund , as Rothstein s invaluable examination shows that only by relearning this history can we finally pave the way for the nation to remedy its unconstitutional past This was a very powerful book that documents at both the big picture and individual level how housing segregation policies were imposed across the United States Other books I ve read in the past couple of years have taken on pieces of this and Ta Nahesi Coates Atlantic piece on reparations covers the issue at some length as well but this is the best single book on the topic I ve read thus far The core argument, laid out in systematic detail, is that segregation was carried out by government This was a very powerful book that documents at both the big picture and individual level how housing segregation policies were imposed across the United States Other books I ve read in the past couple of years have taken on pieces of this and Ta Nahesi Coates Atlantic piece on reparations covers the issue at some length as well but this is the best single book on the topic I ve read thus far The core argument, laid out in systematic detail, is that segregation was carried out by government officials and legitimized under the force of law as well as threat of violence, and rules of finance , and did not contra the conclusions of Justice John Roberts in a recent case on school desegregation just result from individual acts or personal preferences The most striking takeaway from the book was how, perhaps in contrast to popular understanding, segregation was a national, and definitely not exclusively Southern, phenomenon, backed by federal policies The book was unfortunately weakest in providing a path forward or proposed policy remedy for generations of foreclosed opportunity, a challenge that it acknowledges would be extremely politically difficult to effect Still, found it very valuable as a guide to understanding how segregation policies shaped our homes, schools, the country s politics, economy, and urban landscape, as well as millions of African American lives This succinct history puts the lie to the idea that people congregate with others of their race mostly out of preference and custom, and that the material side effects thereof wealth, educational opportunities, etc are blameless incidents for which we bear no collective responsibility In a scant 200ish pages, Rothstein bludgeons you with anecdote after anecdote of federal, state, and local officials or policies that disrupted working and middle class white and black Americans attempts to li This succinct history puts the lie to the idea that people congregate with others of their race mostly out of preference and custom, and that the material side effects thereof wealth, educational opportunities, etc are blameless incidents for which we bear no collective responsibility In a scant 200ish pages, Rothstein bludgeons you with anecdote after anecdote of federal, state, and local officials or policies that disrupted working and middle class white and black Americans attempts to live in integrated environments, and presents devastating evidence of the wealth gap that has opened between the races in large part because of this government designed segregation Whether through evictions, police refusals to protect the homes of African Americans in white neighborhoods from marauding gangs, VA refusals to grant mortgages to black GIs unless they bought in black neighborhoods, or cities deliberate attempts to maintain the complexions of all white and all black neighborhoods while destroying most integrated ones, all levels of government were complicit in the 150 year long effort to preserve the badges and incidents of slavery and to ensure that blacks remained a separate and distinctly lower class than whites Sadly, it seems that these are things that are too shameful to admit to ourselves They cloud our rosy myth of a just, egalitarian, and meritocratic society, and they re too complex to compress into a neat argument in a culture governed by soundbyte discourse How we could right this wrong is a complex and interesting question, but it s not clear that we possess the understanding and empathy to decide that housing segregation is something that even needs to be redressed But this is hardly unique slavery is not particularly complex, nor is substandard schooling post Brown v Board, yet none of it registers in the mind of the average American as something deserving of reparations But the dollar figures that Rothstein presents the degree to which the government has forced black people in particular into communities where their ability to generate wealth then turns nugatory are hard to argue with, and the causality is so recent that there are people alive today who were born into integrated communities with which the assorted governments of this country had not yet had the chance to meddle All of this makes Rothstein s proposed solutions at the end of this study that muchcrucial and interesting chimerical though they may be.When I got back from my vacation this weekend I showed some of the pages of this book to our deputy commissioner, who is currently suing at least one residential community that was explicitly founded for whites, aided by the government in this mission, and forcibly exclusionary of black tenants We are trying to hold them accountable for farrecent transgressions, but all with the aim of achieving aequitable society by redressing past wrongs It s plodding, incomplete redress, but especially as a government worker in aenlightened administration, it s what is right and necessary and I m glad to be a part of it


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