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The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

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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 day.

Through 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 1920s, 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 north.

As Jane Jacobs established in her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it was the deeply flawed urban planning of the 1950s 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 neighborhoods.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited future discrimination but did nothing to reverse residential patterns that had become deeply embedded. Yet recent outbursts of violence in cities like Baltimore, 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.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2017

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About the author

Richard Rothstein

24 books250 followers
Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a Fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He lives in California, where he is a Fellow of the Haas Institute at the University of California–Berkeley.

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Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
497 reviews726 followers
August 15, 2017
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 attracting more black 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 attract more black 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’s more convenient 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 more, 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 obscures more than it clarifies. First, there was, until relatively recently, vastly more de 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 much more. Rothstein 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 are more likely 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 be more effectively 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 gives more power 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 us . . . bear 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, any more than 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.]
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,294 reviews21.7k followers
September 11, 2020
This is a deeply disturbing book. I think that if the US was any other country but the world’s sole superpower, there would be a call for international sanctions to be imposed upon it due to its treatment – historical and current – of its African American population. I’ve read a lot about this topic over the years, but it hadn’t occurred to me that housing in the US could best be described as a form of Apartheid. The law that most of this book documents is that which has applied to where African Americans have been allowed to live. This has been consciously constructed to ensure African Americans not only live in areas with the least opportunities, ghettoise into situations where overcrowding, crime and poverty are virtually inevitable, but also this has been a housing policy decided to create wealthy landlords. Landlords who feed off human misery. This book documents legalised crimes against humanity. Like I said, it is a deeply disturbing book.

Mostly this book is focused on housing, but occasionally it also looks at how work has been structured to exclude Black workers, particularly in more skilled and higher paying occupations. This means African Americans have been effectively excluded from the best means of securing a decent income and from inter-generational wealth accumulation.

I’ve read elsewhere about an ‘unintended consequence’ of the Brown v Board of Education decision that meant that Black teachers who had been teaching in segregated Black schools had often been forced out of desegregated schools, effectively destroying the basis upon which a Black middle class could form. Much of this book explains how de jure and de facto discrimination blend into one another, so that it is difficult to be able to tell where law blends into inescapable fact.

The segregation of suburbs is often presented as de facto – when, in fact, often deeds required that the homeowner be barred from selling their property to a non-white buyer. And even where this wasn’t de jure, tales of white mobs protected by white police while destroying the family homes of African Americans who had moved into all-white suburbs makes the point all too clearly that some actions are designed to ensure others don’t get ideas and follow suit.

I just assumed that horrible racists acts were mostly committed in Southern States, but this book makes it clear that there is no part of the US that is immune from this disease. Worse still, the ability to overcome the history of disadvantage is so much more difficult now, particularly since so many Black Americans were actively excluded from the post-war middle class expansion and so have little or no way of ever catching up.

The US trade unions similarly have much to answer for. The processes where, to gain employment, people needed to be approved by the local union and that this invariably meant excluding Black workers from better paying jobs, is disgraceful. As a lifelong trade unionist, I found this particularly hard to read. Link this with substandard housing in segregated ghettos and any hope of social advancement is essentially removed.

There is a part in this where real estate speculators would hire African Americans to walk around white suburbs, or to get them to move into these suburbs, and then organise a ‘crime wave’ and then offer to buy the houses from local whites at knocked down prices. Basically, telling people, your suburb is about to be overrun by African Americans, you might as well sell up and get out now while you still can. These agents would then sell the same properties to African American buyers at highly inflated prices, thus creating the problem they frightened the whites away with – since the grossly inflated prices the most poorly paid people in the country were forced to pay for their housing inevitably meant overcrowding.

I’ve read quite a few books recently on the condition of African Americans in the US. I have to say that this one has had a stronger impact on me than I might have otherwise expected, given the theme of housing. But the book makes clear that the system is so horribly and unfairly rigged against Black Americans, that the utter helplessness I felt at the end of this felt overwhelming. The author offers hope, but I struggled to feel uplifted by this hope. Some of the disadvantages are so grossly unfair, they almost sound as if they have been made up by a satirist. If you read nothing else of this book, read the Appendix, Frequently Asked Questions.

This really is a deeply troubling book – but one that ought to be compulsory reading for anyone in the US.

Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
December 24, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books549 followers
August 15, 2020
This is an important book, but after a while, it felt very repetitive. This is worthy of note in itself, because the author effectively got his point across by frustrating me. He illustrated examples of segregation through housing and systems of law again and again and again, throughout American history. If this was tedious for me to read, it must be unfathomably tedious and disheartening to experience, to say the least. Books like this show in depressing detail how insidious racism is in society and how challenging it is to combat something that goes so deep. Yet I am hopeful it can be done, if the momentum doesn't die down and people go VOTE! This book made it totally clear that we need a government that supports equality among all people to even begin the work of effecting real change.

Find my book reviews and more at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,546 followers
November 2, 2020
Richard Rothstein's deeply researched book about segregation in America is a timely and important read if one truly wants to sound the depths of anger and despair that are at the heart of the BLM movement and the general feeling of disenfranchisement in the African-American community. The evidence he cites is at every level of government - federal, state, local - and constant since Reconstruction on into the 80s and beyond. I found it imminently readable and informative and I highly recommend this book to be read in these particular times before 3 Nov 2020.

A few scary quotes: sorry but the eReader did not give page numbers :-(

In a 1962 Saturday Evening Post article, an agent (using the pseudonym "Norris Vitchek") claimed to have arranged house burglaries in white communities to scare neighbors into believing that their communities were becoming unsafe.
This sounds like the fake antifa rioters in 2020...

Several cities sued banks because of the enormous devastation that the foreclosure crisis imposed on African Americans. A case that the City of Memphis brought against Wells Fargo Bank was supported by affidavits of bank employees stating that they referred to subprime loans as "ghetto loans." Bank superiors instructed their marketing staff to target solicitation to heavily African American zip codes, because residents there were being exploited. A sales group sought out elderly African Americans, believing they were particularly susceptible to pressure to take out high-cost loans.
A similar suite by the City of Baltimore presented evidence that Wells Fargo established a unit staffed exclusively by African Americans who supervisors instructed to visit black churches to market subprime loans. The bank had no similar practice of marketing such loans through white churches.

Scary. And I bank with WF which makes me say WTF?

But when the builder's intent to sell both to blacks and whites became known, the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors rezoned the site from residential to industrial use. When he found a second plot, Mountain View officials told him that they would never grant the necessary approvals. He next identified a third tract of land in another town near the Ford plant; when officials discovered that the project would not be segregated, the town adopted a new zoning law increasing the minimum lot size from 6000 to 8000 square feet, making the project unfeasible for working-class buyers. After he attempted to develop a fourth site on which he had an option, the seller of the land canceled the option upon hearing that the project would be integrated. At that point, the builder gave up.
In the ensuing years, African American residents in Milpitas continued to be confined to Sunnyhills and a relatively undesirable project, built in the 1960s between two freeways and a heavily trafficked main shipping thoroughfare. The Ford plant closed in 1974. Milpitas is no longer all white - it now has many Hispanic and Asian families - but the effects of the earlier segregation remain visible: African Americans make up only 2 percent of the population.

And California is supposed to be liberal? This is so awful. And then folks wonder why Black Lives Matter is such a critical, vocal movement...
In Miami, as US-1 heads down between Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, they pulled the same shenanigans by putting a horrifying project in, essentially, the middle of the highway. I never understood this until now...

Federal interstate highways buttressed segregation in cities across the country. In 1956, the Florida State Road Department routed I-95 to do what Miami's unconstitutional zoning ordinance had intended but failed to accomplish two decades earlier: clear African Americans from an area adjacent to downtown. An alternative route utilizing an abandoned railway right of way was rejected, although it would have resulted in little population removal. When the highway was eventually completed in the mid-1960s, it had reduced a community of 40000 African Americans to 8000.
This explains a mystery that always bugged me growing up in Miami: why the crappy neighborhoods lined that piece of I-95 just north of downtown: the answer was explicit racism.

Henry Wallace proposed to President Roosevelt that highways routed through cities could also accomplish the "elimination of unsightly and unsanitary districts." Over the next two decades, the linkage between highway construction and removal of African Americans was a frequent theme of those who stood to profit from a federal r0ad-building program. They found that an effective way to argue a case for highway spending was to stress the capacity of road construction to make business districts and their environs white.

Same thing happened with I-35 in Austin related later in the book:
"The city closed other schools and parks for African Americans outside the Eastside area that had been designated for their residence. Additional inducements for African Americans to consolidate were created by the construction on the Eastside of a new segregated library, a new park, and an improved segregated high school. Then, in 1938, the segregation of the African American population in the area was further reinforced when the planning commission chose it as the location for Rosewood Courts, the all-black public housing project that had been won for Austin by Congressman Lyndon Johnson, while he also won a companion project for whites close to downtown.
Once African Americans had been pushed into the Eastside, municipal services in the neighborhood declined. Streets, for example, were more likely to be unpaved than in other parts of the city; sewers were poorly maintained and often clogged, and bus routes that served the Eastside were suspended during the summer because the same routes served the University of Texas and were not needed for students when the university was on break. Zoning rules to preserve neighborhoods' residential character were not enforced on the Eastside, leading to the establishment of industrial facilities in the area."

I lived in Austin for 3 years in the 90's and always wondered why the east side of I-35 was such a stark contrast to the west side - it was just getting gentrified because of the explosion of population, but now I understand why the airport was on that side along with factories and stripclubs.

In Raleigh in the early 20th century, neighborhoods of black and white concentration were scattered across the city. They included two relatively prosperous African American neighborhoods, Idlewild and College Park, on what was then the city's northeast side. These middle-class communities of owner-occupied single-family homes no longer exist because in the 1920s the school board decided to transfer all schools for black students to the far southeastern section of the city, where planners hoped to isolate Raleigh's African Americans...
A story that got repeated over and over again across the country.

It is too painful for me to retype the evidence of physical attacks on black communities: lynchings, fire-bombings, etc. that were a result of white anger at desegregation because it hits too close to home in the current dystopian trumpian environment.

Read the book.
Profile Image for Matthew Hall.
150 reviews21 followers
October 15, 2019
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.
164 reviews132 followers
February 5, 2018
This book is so incredibly frustrating. To be clear, I do not at all dispute the factual account that Rothstein provides, nor do I in anyway disagree that he has clearly documented a state-perpetrated injustice by the US government at federal, state, and local levels towards African-Americans. Although he conducted no original research, the synthesis Rothstein provides here is commendable.

Yet at the same time, I find his thesis unnecessarily narrow in both scope and vision. His focus on debunking what he calls "the myth of de facto segregation" by demonstrating the clear and consistent role the US government played in constructing and maintaining racial residential segregation across the country leads him to erase the role of private capital (e.g. Banks, real estate agencies). Furthermore, his liberal political orientation leads him to affirm the very same political institutions that had consistently maintained racial segregation as the potential agents of resolution to this injustice.

Most of all, Rothstein completely obfuscates *why* the US government produces and maintained a system of de jure racial residential segregation until the present day. This is my biggest critique of the book. Rothstein gives the reader no explanation for why racial segregation has been maintained so assiduously since the late 19th century.

To be fair, this is not entirely his fault; most contemporary research on racial residential segregation documents its oppressive effects on Black people, but fails to offer any historical or political account for why this system was established in the first place.

By way of answer, I would suggest that the system of racial residential segregation in effect in this country has its origins in efforts by the white ruling class to suppress Black political power and break Black-white working class solidarity following the breakdown of Reconstruction after the Civil war. As the Atlantic article linked below contends, white elites sought to crush an emerging coalition between white and Black workers to institute a multiracial democracy that sought to advance working class interests and secure the material preconditions for full Black equality. While the article only focuses on the South, Rothstein's book clearly demonstrates that de jure segregation was established along a similar timeline in the North. Labor struggles were a key component of why this system was enacted and maintained there as well; segregated Black and white workers by not only residence but also occupation allows white capitalists to offer white workers a bargain to sell out Black workers in order to gain some material and psychic benefits (i.e. The "Wages of Whiteness"). Black people are made vulnerable and exploitable both at the point of production and in the housing market. Racial residential segregation created the slums that Matthew Desmond documents in his book, wherein Black women and children face rates of eviction on par with Black men's rates of incarceration. Racial residential segregation secures multiple forms of white advantage and Black oppression in its intersections with the labor market, educational system, and prison-industrial complex.

You would learn precisely none of this from Rothstein's overly narrow account. He is making a very small claim; that because the US government played a direct role in segregating neighborhoods by race, it bears an affirmative responsibility to desegregate such neighborhoods. This speaks back to a certain rejection of government responsibility for desegregation by the US Supreme Court at the expense of excusing the entire political order that set up and maintains racial segregation as one key tool among many in maintaining white supremacy and capitalism in the US.

Read Rothstein's book for a brief and accurate account of some key facts, but go beyond him for the political analysis.

Here's that Atlantic article: https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/artic...

Reading suggestions:

WEB DuBois, Black Reconstruction
Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America
Yamhatta Keeanga-Taylor, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
Matthew Desmond, Evicted
Cheryl Harris, Whiteness as Property
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
December 15, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Mari.
705 reviews5,089 followers
January 19, 2021

A very cogent explanation of US policies that have shaped and allowed housing segregations. This is a very cut and dry and sometimes repetitive argument, well presented and full of information. I feel like I both learned a ton and missed a ton, but am better informed for having read this book.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,277 reviews559 followers
October 29, 2018
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) far more than 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 caused more misery 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 point) more than 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, far more integrated 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.
Profile Image for Eliza.
594 reviews1,375 followers
June 3, 2020
Incredibly eye-opening. I didn't know 50% of the stuff in here and I'm shocked schools don't teach more about this content.

Although it reads more like 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.
Profile Image for Colin.
228 reviews626 followers
December 21, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
657 reviews189 followers
February 28, 2018
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 much more crucial 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 far more recent transgressions, but all with the aim of achieving a more equitable society by redressing past wrongs. It's plodding, incomplete redress, but especially as a government worker in a more enlightened administration, it's what is right and necessary and I'm glad to be a part of it.
Profile Image for Svetlana Kurilova.
204 reviews14 followers
September 17, 2017
5* for the information and 3* for writing style

MUST-read book! Do not ignore what happened, rather learn from these mistakes and do the right thing in the future!

It took me almost two months to finish this book. There is so much resistance in accepting that one race can so strategically with a strong support of the law and government), so purposefully segregate American population for decades leading to pretty much unfixable damage where and creating an enourmous gap between "the whites" and "the blacks". I am ashamed to be associated with the race that has done this. But I hope we will learn and become more empathetic and supportive for each other no matter what background, race, culture or religion we are coming from.
Profile Image for Canton Winer.
37 reviews3 followers
July 19, 2017
An important read for anyone interested in segregation, racism, and social justice. Lays out a compelling argument for how government action at the federal, state, and local level--and not simply the decisions of individual racists--have resulted in and perpetuated segregation in America.
Profile Image for Boston.
405 reviews1,851 followers
January 18, 2021
This book is a really good resource for segregation policies from after the end of slavery until present day. I’m not rating it, but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more. Even as someone who has only surface level knowledge of mortgages and such, I was able to grasp most of the ideas, so if that’s a concern then you shouldn’t worry.
Profile Image for cameron.
145 reviews708 followers
November 4, 2021
read for a class - highly recommend!
87 reviews17 followers
May 19, 2018
Makes a very convincing case that the racial segregation of American neighborhoods was the result of explicit US government action, rather than an accidental byproduct of people clustering with others like them. The book is structured as a legal argument in reaction to a series of Supreme Court decisions (e.g. 1973, 2007) that found that neighborhood segregation was de facto (by fact) rather than de jure (by law, i.e. government mandated), and therefore not the responsibility of government to fix.

It’s actually quite incomprehensible after reading the book to think that segregation wasn’t government mandated. The author brings a barrage of examples to make a compelling argument. Stories about zoning, redlining, lending policies, mobs, and subtler actions like school site selection extend across the country, from the SF Bay Area to Montana to the Great Lakes region to New England… and everywhere else (not just the South!). As a lay reader, it was far more evidence than I needed, and at a certain point I began skimming through the unending waves of examples and tried to focus purely on the structure of the argument, but as a work of legal scholarship I can’t fault the author for including them all.

It is interesting to think about what exactly the line between de jure and de facto is… this seemed like it would be a bright line at the onset of the book, where you have either “bottoms-up” decisions of individuals about where to live vs “top-down” decisions of governments to create laws about where people can live. But in reality, government expresses the will of the people (at least the majority), and as such, what happens in almost all of the examples in the book is that individual (racist) preferences of white homeowners get turned into government policy, often at the municipal level. So in retrospect, of course its de jure.

The weight of this history also makes a compelling case for some positive action to redress it. Since homeownership is so central to wealth in this country, wealth is transferred across generations, and upward mobility is more limited here than in many other developed countries, it’s hard to say that ending the discriminative policies is the same as ending the discrimination itself.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,129 reviews1,202 followers
July 31, 2020
This is a very informative book about a piece of American history that many of us don’t fully understand, even if we think we do: specifically, how we arrived at a place of extensive residential segregation, and how the government was way more involved in creating it than most Americans believe. The text is compact (217 pages, followed by 20 pages of FAQs and then extensive notes and bibliography) and a little bit dense, but it is accessible even if not quite as entertaining as much of the nonfiction I read.

Americans tend to assume that the U.S. became segregated based largely on the private choices of some white racists and of black people preferring to live amongst their own. However, as professor Richard Rothstein shows in detail, the truth is that government was heavily involved in promoting and condoning the segregation of African-Americans into poor communities throughout much of the 20th century. Interestingly, in the decades after slavery ended, progress was made, many integrated neighborhoods existed, and some black people attained professional success, only to see much of this progress reversed between the turn of the century and the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s.

Governmental involvement in segregation was extensive. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) would only guarantee mortgages for white people, at a time when the U.S. was aggressively promoting a homeownership policy for fear of its own Russian Revolution. Uniquely at this time in history, working-class people could buy homes with no down payment and favorable mortgage terms, allowing their families to build equity for generations to come…. but only if the buyers in question were white. The FHA would also only make loans to developers who promised to build whites-only neighborhoods, often enforced through requirements in deeds that the property could only be sold to white people, which courts upheld for decades. Public housing, likewise, tended to be for whites only, with a few segregated projects for black people. Without the opportunity to get a mortgage, African-Americans were forced to double up, spend far more of their income on housing, and live in subpar areas. Municipalities took further advantage of this through zoning requirements forcing homes to be larger than black people could afford, or outright zoning particular areas as single-race-only.

Meanwhile, real estate codes classified selling homes in white neighborhoods to black people as an ethics violation—except when “blockbusting” was involved, essentially scaring white people into selling their homes fast because black people were moving in, buying the homes cheap and then selling them at high prices to African-Americans. Local governments blocked developments that would have served black people through whatever means they could, whether rezoning or increasing sewage costs to make development untenable. Local residents harassed, threatened, and in some cases bombed the homes of black people who dared move into white neighborhoods, generally while the police stood by. But black neighborhoods weren’t safe either; the interstate highway program demolished many of them even when alternate routes were available.

Finally, of course, housing does not exist in a vacuum. What you can afford depends on how much money you make, and black people faced hurdles in earning what they should have. Employers often relocated to areas in which there was no housing available to black people, and public transit from black neighborhoods to jobs has been a far lower priority than highways serving white suburbanites. Unions were allowed to discriminate against black workers and keep them in the most menial jobs. African-Americans who had reached supervisory roles in the civil service were demoted to ensure that they didn’t supervise any white people. And disproportionately higher property tax assessments also left black people with less money to spend.

This book is a thoroughly researched and scholarly account of a shameful chapter in American history that has lasting repercussions today. The value of white Americans’ property appreciated enormously in the decades that black people were barred from buying the same, putting anyone buying afterwards far behind the curve, and with wages stagnant for the last several decades, this disparity in assets will be difficult to reverse anytime soon. The author is up-front about the fact that the solutions he offers are not politically feasible in today’s environment, but he’d be lying if he claimed there was an easy or universally palatable fix.

Overall, this is very much worth reading even if you think you know a lot about American racial history. For those who are interested, it would make sense read alongside The New Jim Crow. Unfortunately, policies removing black Americans from their land continue even today, as this compelling article about the consequences of heirs’ property shows.
Profile Image for Emily.
687 reviews624 followers
January 4, 2019
As a keen urbanist, I've been aware of issues like redlining, inequality in mortgage lending, "urban renewal," and replacing minority neighborhoods with highways for a long time. But this book still startled me with how brazen and official it all was. Although many Americans assume that neighborhood segregation and black poverty emerged through gradual processes, sleazy local institutions, or de facto preferences, Rothstein makes clear that they are in fact the result of de jure planning at all levels of government through most of the 20th century.

The story begins against the backdrop of the Second World War and the mass migration of black workers from the deep south to other parts of the country. Housing projects were designed to accommodate workers who were turning up from distant states, and even in parts of the country that weren't previously strictly segregated, the new housing was divided along black/white lines. (The book does not account for non-white, non-black Americans, which is disappointing, but that appears to be because the laws and practices Rothstein describes didn't either.)

While official segregation began earlier in the 20th century, it was at the war's end that federal, state, and local governments really began planning the housing of the future. For white families, they envisioned idyllic suburbs with new schools, highways to zip around on, parks and other amenities--protected by racially defined zoning laws and deed covenants. They endorsed policies that made it easy for white families to move into these places through preferential mortgage lending and prices that were artificially depressed through the elimination of non-white buyers as competition. For black families, they sketched out overcrowded neighborhoods near noxious industries, with underfunded schools and few recreational or work opportunities. And they made it very hard to get out.

Particularly maddening is the circular logic that was deployed to justify some policies. The government wouldn't back mortgages in integrated neighborhoods because the property values weren't sufficiently stable. But the property values were unstable because the arrival of black families threatened the ability of would-be buyers to get mortgages.

Officials frequently citied "public acceptance" as a reason why they promoted segregation, without regard to constitutional obligations. When the Supreme Court ruled against overt racial planning, officials started to use "single-family zoning" (to give one example) as a tool--black families who were ineligible for mortgages generally could not afford single-family houses. When they could buy anyway, arriving often as the most well-off family on the block due to their higher bar for affordability, that was when vigilantism and terrorism came into play. Rothstein gives examples of local police merely supervising rather than addressing cross burnings and other attempts to drive black families out.

Governments deferred to white Americans' racist preferences even when these were not actually being voiced! The most frustrating parts of the book are accounts of well-meaning white people trying to create pleasant, integrated, middle-class or working-class neighborhoods and being stymied until they simply give up.

Who were the organizations participating in this? Federal housing programs, state planning agencies, cities and towns across the country, and private companies extending beyond the obvious banks. "Hundreds, if not thousands of smaller acts of government contributed. They included petty actions like denial of access to public utilities; determining, once African Americans wanted to build, that their property was, after all, needed for parkland; or discovering that a road leading to African American homes was 'private.'" (pg. 122) Institutions like churches and libraries that we might like to think of as beneficent participated in deed covenants.

Three major themes from this book jump out at me as especially relevant to our politics and activism today. First is "single-family zoning" as a code word (and constitutionally acceptable workaround) for maintaining white neighborhoods. Second is the use of schools to promote and cement segregation. Third is the use of transportation planning to promote the convenience of white non-residents over the housing of black city-dwellers.

You'll never hear the words "single-family zoning" the same way again after you read this book; if you are interested in American history, cities, or justice, this is a must-read. The author's core argument is that these actions, even if they were carried out by the government over a long period of time, were unconstitutional and have never been properly rectified. While he presents just a few potential remedies as thought exercises, the main contribution of this book is to show us what's right in front of us through a more accurate historical lens, and allow us to act accordingly.
Profile Image for Bonnie G..
1,301 reviews188 followers
January 11, 2022
Rothstein had me for the first 80% of this book. He effectively explains why segregation in the US was de jure and not de facto (notwithstanding the incorrect words of our esteemed Chief Justice who has stated that discrimination in housing is de facto.) I don't want to go all law school on everyone, but this is an essential distinction. Basically, de facto segregation means that, yes there is segregation, but it just happened as a side effect of other things, it was not a result of state action, and de jure segregation means that the government took action and created policies and laws with the goal of segregating people based on race. That is a huge distinction. Rothstein has provided a thorough and crushing account of the many ways in which the US government created segregation and continued down that path until it was so entrenched that it became economically impossible for black Americans to ever catch up to white Americans in terms of personal net worth. Yes, anecdotally there are exceptions to that rule, but practically because of the way in which real property has appreciated since the 1930s, and because that is where the majority of middle-class American personal wealth resides, even if we were to fix all the other racist systems at work in America the median personal wealth of black Americans will never catch up to white Americans. The way that this happened is shocking and Rothstein's positions are well supported.

So, what happened in the last 20% of the book? Rothstein started talking about solutions. Some are sensible and being used in some cities (though the numbers need to go up.) He talks some about fair share laws, which require developers to set aside a certain number of housing units in new developments for low (or at least lower) income residents. These programs, where they exist (and they should be expanded) are all based on income rather than race. Rothstein would like to see that change. Race based fair share laws though are unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny. Whether they would withstand scrutiny is a question that will likely never be answered because to be subjected to scrutiny Congress would have to pass legislation requiring developers to set aside x% of all new units for black people and to charge less for those units. That is NEVER going to happen. Rothstein makes even more farfetched suggestions like setting a minimum number of housing units in an existing community which must be owned by black people and if that number is not met everyone who lives in that community loses their mortgage deduction. You want to see revolution in the streets in America? Take away the mortgage deduction. For middle income Americans the mortgage deduction is the only thing that makes home ownership possible - with wage stagnation most people who have mortgages would not be able to pay them as well as taxes without the deduction. It is a suggestion that leaves the wealthy in homes they own and acquire equity in and pushes lower and middle income homeowners into rentals where they get no equity or onto the streets. It creates MORE poor people. It is stupid, and it is also unconstitutionally broad. The truth is that there are no ways to address the past government wrongs or the current inequality that was caused by those wrongs in any sweeping way that would ever pass through Congress, and if there was it would almost certainly fail in the courts on constitutional grounds. I know I am supposed to be all "40 acres and a mule" but its not feasible. I mean how would someone even go about proving they are entitled to compensation? Do they have to prove that their grandparents tried to buy a home and the FHA rules that allowed funds only to white people were the reason they did not. Or that their grandparents were closed out of buying in better parts of town, farther from railroad tracks and chemical plants, due to covenants required by the FHA? Or are we just going to say that compensation goes to all black people? What if I am African or West Indian and my family came to the US after the end of de jure segregation? Do I still qualify for compensation? What if I had a black forbearer but have always identified as white? Anyway, this stuff is crazy pants. Also, Rothstein's epilogue where he "responds" to questions like this is silly. It all comes down to "suck it up." Look, I get that its not very helpful to people who have been historically and irreparably held back from economic success for us to understand what happened and to acknowledge that it is yet another shameful chapter in the history of America. I do think there are some small things that can be done, and I think we all need to push our legislators to embrace things like fair share legislation and require landlords to rent to section 8 tenants in all of their buildings and not just those units in poor neighborhoods. These things make a difference. But we also need to face that we cannot fully erase the impact of our past wrongs. There are things that cannot be undone. I am not abdicating responsibility, I am suggesting that we all accept that affirmative action policies in housing, education and employment are essential, and that as allies we push to strengthen those polices after years of erosion. If that inconveniences those of us who are white that is something we have to suck up (unlike a policy that steals our homes, which we do not have to suck up.) The fact that at the time much of this was happening my own relatives were busy having their property seized by Lithuania, Latvia and Poland because they were Jews, and then later after having been sent to Siberia they were busy getting murdered by Lenin in the pogroms, that doesn't mean that I don't need to sacrifice to begin to right this ship. Still, we can't undo what was done and some professor ranting about what we need to do even if it violates the constitution and dispossesses many Americans isn't helpful. Those problems with the ending in no way rob the book of its value. There is so much in here Americans all need to know, and every American (or any person interested in America) should read this.
Profile Image for Andrew.
772 reviews
May 5, 2018
In the "Color of Law", Richard Rothstein shows that the use of discriminatory residential practices in the US, including 'racially' zoned housing areas, restrictive covenants, the creation of fear of loss of property values and at times violence have been in effect from the reconstruction period in the late 19th Century and continued into 21st Century. These practices have disproportionately affected African Americans, keeping their communities poor and leading to the creation of segregated neighbourhoods, where none previously existed.

The most disconcerting thing about this is that the policies have been supported by the state and federal government. Not just in the Southern States, but throughout the US. Also, whilst these 'racial' discriminatory practices are no longer openly applied, their effects have carried over into the lives of the children, grandchildren, and other generations of African American families, also keeping them in poverty.

This is another excellent and well-researched history of discriminatory practices in the US, showing that despite the idea of the "American Dream", where anyone can achieve whatever they want, inequality has been and continues to be a feature of US society.
Profile Image for Audacia Ray.
Author 17 books241 followers
September 3, 2017
"Half a century ago, the truth of de jure segregation was well known, but since then we have suppressed our historical memory and soothed ourselves into believing that it all happened by accident or by misguided private prejudice. Popularized by Supreme Court majorities from the 1970s to the present, the de facto segregation myth has no been adopted by conventional opinion, liberal and conservative alike."

This is such a deeply well-researched and unflinching look into the role that federal, state, and city governments have played in establishing and reinforcing housing discrimination in recent history. Really important book, I highly recommend it. The author even does something few histories do - explore options for remedies, and owning that "Undoing the effects of de jure segregation will be incomparably difficult. To make a start, we will first have to contemplate what we have collectively done, and on behalf of our government, accept responsibility."
Profile Image for Therese.
320 reviews11 followers
June 26, 2021
I read this book for our local library book club, and while I was very interested in learning more about the subject matter, the book started off dry and somewhat technical, and I was pretty sure I was going to give it a low rating. I’m glad I kept reading as it really picked up and I became entirely engrossed. The book attempts to explain the unfair and unconstitutional housing practices enacted in the US, specifically targeting African Americans, dating back to Reconstruction post Civil War. The book is very well researched and author makes a compelling case for housing integration in the US, and what we have lost as a nation through segregated practices. I found especially interesting the questions and challenges at the back of the book that have been posed to the author, and how he responds to them. You may or may not agree with the author’s conclusions, but the history is quite an eye opener.
113 reviews1 follower
November 20, 2017
I wish I thought more of this book, it has received so much attention. This is an extremely important topic, but one that has been talked about before in a more interesting way. This book is basically a thesis paper. The 1st chapter is his thesis and the next 10 chapters he uses to prove his thesis, going over essentially the same things over and over again. He rarely leaves the 50’s decade, it would have been nice if he expanded a bit more. This book would make a great college paper, but the people who should read this, people who are not aware of this already, he would have lost them after chapter 1. I also had some issues with a few things he said in chapter 12, part 10.
Profile Image for Melissa.
1,078 reviews71 followers
February 28, 2019
This one is a bonafide Must Read! Highly recommend to everyone! If you’ve read The New Jim Crow or Evicted and felt like you’ve learned a lot, this one will open your eyes even more to the history & complexity of the moment we find ourselves in, how it got this way, and how we might just be able to unravel it if we have the will. This book takes us through how this country was segregated long after it was legal to do so, and how it’s become self perpetuating. I really can not recommend it enough!
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