Racism is a disease born of ignorance that festers into a crippling sickness if left untreated. It spreads like a virus within households and passes down from one generation to the next. It continues to spread into the systems of society, the judicial system, law enforcement system, religious institutions, banking and finance institutions and into the housing industry. Systemic racism is not simply about bigotry, anyone can be a bigot regardless of who they are, but racism is about how prejudice combined with social power and legal authority come together to create an oppressive and brutal force. The summer of 2020 has called on all of us to make a stand on racism and this is our anti-racist declaration.
Slavery is the ultimate expression of racism and there’s no honest way to say it other than our country was founded by White Supremacists. Despite the high ideals embodied in the American Constitution, 40 out of the 56 signatories to the Declaration of Independence owned slaves. Twelve out of the first eighteen presidents of the United States owned slaves, collectively owning more than 1,558 human beings. Even the first Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, Charles Bent, owned slaves. In fact, an active slave market operated just down the street from his home on the Taos Plaza. Imagine going down to the farmers market today with your coffee in hand and right next to the old truck full of heirloom tomatoes is a corral full of terrified human beings for sale. Sinful, immoral, disgusting, and yes, a part of our history.
The housing industry is our wheelhouse and it is no secret that it’s been one of the main tools of racism. We together with our National Association of Realtors stand united against racism and discriminatory housing practices. We oppose the tactics of our President, who has not only repealed fair housing laws but uses racist rhetoric and Block-Busting methods to create fear. For example, he recently tweeted to scare “Suburban Housewife’s” (really) that their safety would be threatened when low income housing invades their neighborhoods. Fair housing laws were put on the books under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln in the original Civil Rights Act of 1866. The intent was to prevent discrimination by making it unlawful to not sell, nor rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class. Since 1866, arbitrarily restricting someone’s access to housing because of their race was against the law. That kind of leadership took a lot of courage especially for a president whose earlier career was litigating on behalf of slave owners. But people can and do change.
That was not enough however, after the signage of the 1866 bill and the end of the Civil War, white supremacy and racism didn’t just disappear. Discrimination in the housing market was rampant. Beginning in the 1870’s, the Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in all the former Confederate States of the South. These laws, among other things, separated White neighborhoods from Black neighborhoods and were even upheld by the Supreme Court in 1896, with the case of Plessey vs. Ferguson. Discriminatory housing practices were not just a Southern disgrace but practiced throughout America. Even as recently as the 1950’s, the National Association of Realtors considered showing people of color homes for sale in white neighborhoods an ethical violation. People can and do change.
So, here’s how it happened. White neighborhoods are legally segregated from non-white neighborhoods. The federal government began backing home loans in 1934 to promote the housing market and between 1934 and 1964, 98% of the FHA home loans were issued to Whites. This was due in part to the practice of “redlining” whereby banks would literally draw red lines on maps around neighborhoods of color and refuse to back home loans in those neighborhoods. As you can imagine, if nobody can get a mortgage for your home, the value is going to drop, and it did. Having an unsupported housing market combined with disinvestment in infrastructure, public services and schools resulted in slums and ghettos in most every American city.
The great leader and champion of civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr., did not live to see the signage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. His assassination seven days earlier lead to mass protests and civil unrest that forced the unwilling hand of Congress and President Johnson to take action and pass legislation that would guarantee that Civil Rights and Fair Housing was the law of the land.
But as we can see from history that there are no such guarantees. Our constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on if we, the people, do not have the courage and strength to stand up and bring those ideals to life. Leadership matters and good leadership is the kind that unites society to become better as a whole. Our history is a bloody, nasty mess, so let’s not pretend it is anything else. Rather than glorify it, let us all celebrate that we are its beneficiaries and we have been rewarded with experience, knowledge, and the truth about who we are: we are one race, the human race.
NBA legend and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley referred to slavery as our original sin and race our unresolved dilemma. In 1997 he was quoted as saying, “If you haven’t talked to someone of a different race about race in the last 30 days, you are part of the problem”. Nobody likes being called a racist and the topic for most is an uncomfortable one but that is no reason to let it slide. It’s time to call people to task and create constructive dialogue about stopping racism and stopping it now. People can and must change.