Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Clean, Safe and High-Value" People Wanted


Michel Foucault would be proud of the following observation: "It’s common to have racism without “racists.”"

Indeed it is. Because, of course, 'racism' is not solely or even particularly about individual acts of bias, bigotry, or discrimination; it is about the SYSTEM of agreements, arrangements, policies and practices which permits, and approves--indeed, often, still, even encourages--the naturalization of those biases, bigotries, and discriminations. The recent 'debate' over reforming the health-insurance morass highlighted that aspect in ways that usually slip beneath the social radar.

And one arena in which those 'arrangements' are still strong is housing. On AlterNet, the other day, there was an excerpted chapter of a recent book by Rich Benjamin, "Searching for Whitopia": That same law which in it's majesty prohibits both the rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges "does not forbid segregated or discriminating neighborhoods. It simply forbids intentional discrimination."
In twenty-first-century America, how do so many Whitopias hatch and flourish?

A few white readers may protest that their neighborhood’s appeal has nothing to do with its racial composition. The homogeneity of where they live is “irrelevant” or “coincidental,” they say. But divorcing a Whitopia’s appeal from its predominantly white composition is like extracting the marshmallow from the s’more. Impossible. Each is fundamental to the other.

Whites may not move to a place simply because it teems with other white people. Rather, to many Americans, a place’s whiteness implies other qualities that are desirable. Americans associate a homogenous white neighborhood with higher property values, friendliness, orderliness, hospitability, cleanliness, safety, and comfort. These seemingly race-neutral qualities are subconsciously inseparable from race and class in many whites’ minds. Race is often used as a proxy for those neighborhood traits.

Through most of the twentieth century, racial discrimination was deliberate and intentional. Today, racial segregation and division often result from habits, policies, and institutions that are not explicitly designed to discriminate. Contrary to popular belief, discrimination or segregation do not require animus. They thrive even in the absence of prejudice or ill will.

It’s common to have racism without “racists.”

The law does not forbid segregated or discriminating neighborhoods. It simply forbids intentional discrimination. Successful plaintiffs in a discrimination lawsuit must prove that someone intended racial bias.

And the legal standard to establish proof of that intent is very high
: The plaintiff must present a “smoking gun” and this particular gun is often impossible to furnish. The 1973 Supreme Court decision San Antonio v. Rodriguez held that a school funding system based on local property taxes that perpetuated egregious disparities in per-pupil spending between mostly white districts and mostly minority districts does not violate the Constitution, because the plaintiffs could not prove that the funding differences emerged from intentional racial discrimination. Another landmark Supreme Court decision, Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp (1977), reinforced this “intent doctrine”: The court ruled that a suburban village did not discriminate, because it did not intend to discriminate when it set-up zoning that disproportionately harmed racial minorities.

There is a terrible disconnect between our everyday experiences and the law: In day-to-day life, racial inequity continues without intent, yet courts require evidence of intent before the law can acknowledge or effectively confront discrimination. Regrettably, the absence of explicit intent has become a common crutch that justifies private decisions that wreak racial havoc upon minorities.

Not to know what has been transacted in the past is to be always a child, said Cicero.
Cicero considerably antedates Santayana.

This is the shiny, happy face of "red-lining."

1 comment:

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