Racism isn’t a surprising factor in this country’s past just as it shouldn’t be one in its present. From the Black Lives Matter movement stemming from police brutality to NAACP fighting for human and civil rights of American minorities, the existence of such groups only proves that racism is far from gone in our country today. The question is, in order to combat contemporary racism is it enough to understand the repercussions that present racial ideas have on the status of today’s minority groups, or are there much older and deeper discriminatory roots that need consideration. To further explore this, I chose to examine a special type of discrimination practices brought to my attention in an African American studies lecture, taught by the one and only, LaShawnDa Pittman: housing discrimination via realtor codes of conduct.
The American dream has always been synonymous with possession of land. However, as US history has proved, obtaining land has been a consistently unfavorable undertaking in the hands of minorities, and especially African Americans. Since the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, African Americans have long faced acts of discrimination, be they de facto or de jure. Even though African Americans were now considered citizens, from the creation Jim Crow laws in the late 1800s, to policies such as the Segregation Ordinances beginning in 1917, government decisions were aimed at undermining what it meant for a black individual to be a citizen of this country. (Pittman, LaShawnDa. Lipsitz) Furthermore, they were aimed at limiting the integration of the African American public and distinct culture into the largely eurocentric society which ran the public sphere as a result of decades of government enforced white supremacist views. One way state governments sought to accomplish this was by keeping African Americans from moving to predominantly white areas, thus creating largely white and largely black neighborhoods. Looking at ethnic distribution throughout major cities today, it is clear that the state governments over a century ago have indeed succeeded. The question is, how?
In 1917, a group of policies known as the Segregation Ordinances were passed. These were laws which were aimed at keeping black people or families, or any non-white individuals for that matter, from settling into primarily white areas. (Pittman, LaShawnDa. Lipsitz) This meant that discrimination was not only permitted in the US, but it was also government-enforced. In addition, “from 1924 to 1950 realtors throughout the United States subscribed to a national code of restrictive covenants,” (Pittman, LaShawnDa. In-Class) known officially as the “Code of Ethics.” (National Association of Real) [Link] The code itself consisted of 35 articles, very similar to the Amendments lining the US Constitution. One of these articles, Article 34 to be exact, explicitly stated that “a realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood”. (National Association of Real) This was a federal policy, a policy which not only backed up racial housing discrimination throughout this country, but clearly stated that a colored person moving into a neighborhood diminished the property values of homes in that neighborhood. I mean how crazy and messed up is it that just because you don’t look like somebody else, if you live next to them you tarnish their wealth and status? And the fact that an official document explicitly outlines this fact is just as baffling to me to say the least.
During a time when a black individual could be lynched for simply dressing the wrong way, people who disregarded popular racial views were extremely crucial to the fight for equality. However, a racially blind individual is not a financially inept one. Regardless of how people felt about the racist views in the American society at the time, protesting the widespread de jure segregation and discrimination by staying in a house which soon will be in the same neighborhood as a black man’s home meant that you would be losing money… lots of money. According to Pittman, the vast majority of people’s wealth is secured in their houses. (Pittman, LaShawnDa. In-Class) So if a person wanted to make a stand and stay in an area which had a growing African American population, they would literally see their net worth plummet. This is money which many thought they had worked for and secured through mortgage payments eroding as a direct consequence to their protest against widespread racism. This is equivalent to the government saying “Contribute to racial segregation or we’ll take your money.” A very effective system of racial segregation, it gave financial incentive to everybody, regardless of their their views on racial segregation, to keep communities divided by race. This is why, not surprisingly, the majority were not willing to make the monetary sacrifice for the sake of protest or convenience.
Racial segregation was also in the realtors’ best interest since realtors figured out ways to financially benefit from African Americans attempting to move to white neighborhoods. After the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1964 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, which removed racial language from the federal housing policy, many realtors began taking advantage of African Americans beginning to move into largely caucasian neighborhoods. (Pittman, LaShawnDa. Lipsitz) They would practice a scheme known as “blockbusting.” (Pittman, LaShawnDa. Lipsitz) When a realtor would find out that an African American would be moving into a neighborhood, they would notify the residents of that neighborhood reminding them that their house’s value would plummet as soon as the black individual moves in. The distressed white resident would panic and sell their house for a value less than what the property would actually be worth, thinking they’re still getting a better value than what it would be worth after the black resident moves in. Then the realtors would sell the house to a black individual or family for a value greater than what the home was actually worth, making a profit in the process. (Pittman, LaShawnDa. In-Class) This operation, along with subprime loans which African Americans were likely to receive, was in itself a system which contributed to minority poverty by making it difficult for people of color to secure wealth. (Pittman, LaShawnDa. In-Class) In addition, it is important to remember that many realtors throughout the US abided by the code’s articles, meaning that racial segregation of housing was not tied to a single area of the US, rather it was just as widespread as the racial ideologies driving it.
So how does this tie into racial segregation today? Whether you live in Seattle, Chicago, or New York City, you can’t help but notice areas which have a large increase in non-white residents relative to surrounding neighborhoods. In Seattle this is especially visible in the Rainier Beach and Beacon Hill neighborhoods, just as it is in Southern neighborhoods of Chicago, and in New York City’s southern Bronx districts. In addition, these areas also coincide with having high poverty and crime rates. These racial demographic disparities didn’t happen overnight. Many neighborhoods are still as predominantly black as they were during the Segregation Ordinances.
As of january 1st, 2015, the “Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice” issued by the National Association of Realtors has an article that reads, “Realtors shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Realtors shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” (National Association of REALTORS) [Link] This means that on the books, realtors have stopped favoring racial segregation and are by law required to provide equal service to all of their customers, regardless of their race. Of course, this wouldn’t stop every realtor from being biased and letting their views on race affect their professional conduct, but this would definitely put a handicap on the realtors’ attempts to keep their previous ways.
The key lies in individual racism. If people posses racist views, then they may not be inclined to buy a house next to a black individual or in a neighborhood with a significant African American community. Thus the realtor is forced to bring down the price in order to sell the property, resulting in an decrease in value of the property. Collective individual racist views affect racial segregation today just as they did 100 years ago and individual racism unfortunately drives institutionalized racism. It’s time we realize that it is the individual racism of financially stable individuals which leads to racial disparities in poverty stricken areas throughout our country, not the perceived incompetence or inferiority of the people who reside there.
Works Cited (Bibliography)
National Association of Real Estate Boards. Code of Ethics. N.p.: National Association of Real Estate Boards, 1924. Print. Seventeenth Annual Convention (June 6, 1924).
National Association of REALTORS. Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. N.p.: NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS, 2015. Print.
Pittman, LaShawnDa. “In-Class Lecture” Class. Savery Hall Room 260 at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Lecture.
Pittman, LaShawnDa. “Lipsitz- Housing & Education.” AFRAM 101, Introduction to African American Studies. University of Washington, Seattle, WA. 24 Nov. 2015. Lecture. Microsoft PowerPoint file.