USA: THE  COLOR OF LAW—The Forgotten Root of the Truth – By Yvonne Sam

By Yvonne Sam

Revelation of the horrific history undergirding America’s ongoing and seemingly perpetual racial problem(s).How the government separated America

Again and yet again, one does not need to be reminded of the race issue that is front and center of the news in America, or what has become a way of life. Protests, demonstrations, marches, petitions, kneels, lie-ins etc. are just some of the actions that have been taken on the path to awareness and possible change. Change especially as it refers to Blacks in America, and according to the 45th, a change towards making America great again. America as we see it today, with Blacks being so severely disadvantaged  on all levels did not occur haphazardly, but was carefully orchestrated at all levels of government. The racial caste system had to be preserved at all costs.     

The Color of Law written by Richard Rothstein, a former columnist for the New York Times, research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a Fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, lays bare the truth behind the untold history of how governments at all levels employed racially discriminatory policies to deny blacks the opportunity to live in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools and upward mobility.The book is a must read, and a page- turner once one begins to read. Written with a spatial imagination, it traces how public policies across a wide spectrum―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 explicit redlining (bank refusal to lend for housing in any area where many black people lived)―have shaped the racial fracturing of America.

The author painstakingly shows how, in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, and Cleveland, the federal Public Works Administration destroyed integrated neighborhoods and built segregated public housing on top of them. Similarly, he further  examines how Presidents Woodrow Wilson and J. Edgar Hoover encouraged white people to buy homes in the suburbs by promising this would distance them from African Americans, and then the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) kept these suburbs all-white by mandating redlining in its Underwriting Manual. Each of Rothstein’s chapters highlights a different way in which the U.S. government has mandated segregation, which shows that it cannot simply be blamed on people’s personal housing choices. 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 cannot afford to enter. It is clear to see that federal, state and local policies worked together in making the United States two Dis-United Societies separate and unequal.In his capacity as Secretary of Commerce (1921-1928), J. Edgar Hoover promoted racist zoning laws and founded the Better Homes in America organization, which tried to convince white people to move to the suburbs to “avoid ‘racial strife.’” As President (1929-1933) during the beginning of the Great Depression, he doubled down on this message and pushed for restrictive covenants that prevented black people from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods.

The authortells about Richmond, California, across the bay from San Francisco, wherefrom 1940 to 1945, nearly 14,000 African Americans flowed into what was then a small Pacific Coast shipbuilding city.Richmond grew rapidly during World War II, and to keep up with demand, the government built public housing—for white people. It built a comfortable suburb called Rollingwood, but black working families were crowded into “poorly constructed” apartments in industrial neighborhoods, or even left to live on the street. “This established segregated living patterns persists to this day”, writes the author. The problem of segregation is further illustrated with the representative story of an African American man, called Frank Stevenson, who worked at Ford Motor Company and lived in Richmond. After the War the company was relocated to Milpitas, an hour away from Richmond. It was impossible for Black people to live in Milpitas. Stevenson was out of luck, because Federal Housing Administration (FHA) funds were only allocated to all-white neighborhoods. While housing options multiplied for white people in places like Milpitas, nobody built housing for African Americans. They were thus confined to certain neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods consequently became entirely African American over time. The government subsequently withdrew services from those black neighborhoods, turning them into the “slum[s]” that they remain today.Related to this were government efforts to suppress black wages, such as by Theodore 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

At every step of the way, Rothstein illustrates how the government and the courts upheld racist policies to maintain the separation of whites and blacks. The book is replete with history that has been willfully and deliberately interred even as its tragic consequences make headlines in Ferguson(Michael Brown), Tulsa (Terence Crutcher), Dallas (Botham Jean), Staten Island(Eric Garner), and Charleston (Walter Scott).

Rothstein notes that every single American city is segregated on racial lines and argues that this segregation is the deliberate product of “systemic and forceful” government action, and so the government has a “constitutional as well as a moral obligation” to remedy it

The book contains segments that elaborate on FHA policies designed to prevent black people from obtaining desirable housing (including, most poignantly, in Levittown), and State sponsored violence.: Law enforcement ignoring and encouraging white Americans rioting against African Americans in white neighborhoods, and governments refusing to enforce laws against those who intimidated or used violence against black families daring to move to white areas,such the mobs against the Meyers in Levittown and the Clarks in Chicago.  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.  Most Americans wrongly believe in what Rothstein calls “the de facto segregation myth.” While virtually all Americans are familiar with the “nationwide system of urban ghettos, surrounded by white suburbs” that characterizes almost every city in the United States, most assume that this has happened because white residents independently chose to leave urban neighborhoods, while African Americans could not afford to leave them. Many people know about racist real estate agents and bank redlining (the discriminatory refusal of home financing to African Americans), but few realize that these were actually products of official policy, not exceptions to it.. Popular high school history textbooks wrongly blame segregation on things like “unwritten custom or tradition,” rather than the government policies that actually caused it.In fact, Rothstein clarifies that the history of American de jure segregation has been deliberately and effectively erased

Conclusively, The Color of Law makes it unquestionably pellucid 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 very day in America. The historian’s central argument is that, from the 1870s to the present day, federal, state, and local governments in the United States have systematically and intentionally segregated American cities. un-American system holding down the nation’s most disadvantaged citizens.As Rothstein reveals in his Epilogue, he sees his book as a first step toward an “incomparably difficult” task of righting historical wrongs. However, unless Americans “contemplate what have collectively been done” and choose to “accept responsibility” for de jure segregation, the problem will never be solved. The government has an obligation to treat all its citizens equally. America needs to reboot the truth. In becoming great she must first face the truth and not try to escape the reason behind the current racial landscape.

BOOK:

Rothstein, R. (2017).The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. New York.:W. W.Norton& Co.

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