After John Enright’s introduction, Richard Rothstein discusses issues covered in his 2017 book “The color of law : a forgotten history of how our government segregated America”. He describes how he came to investigate residential segregation via studying its impact on education. He stresses the anomaly that while the 20th century civil rights movement successfully desegregated places of public accommodation, residential areas remain segregated.
Rothstein critiques Supreme Court’s argument (Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 2007) that “de facto segregation” was not created by government, hence is not a civil rights violation and the government is prohibited from acting to remedy it. He points out that in the 20th century police often protected (and sometimes led) mob violence to drive African-Americans out of homes in white neighborhoods, which were all civil rights and 14th amendment violations. Moreover, unconstitutional policies followed by government at all levels created, sustained, reinforced and perpetuated residential segregation.
Rothstein illustrates with two examples:
He describes how, after World War II, the policies of the Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veteran Affairs were explicitly designed to encourage the development of white-only suburbs (e.g. Lakewood, Panorama City, Westchester). He discusses current problems of income inequality and political polarization as consequences of these policies.
Rothstein describes another instance of the government creating residential segregation by policy: housing created for workers who migrated to the West Coast during World War II to work in defense industries. He argues that this created segregation where it hadn’t existed before (e.g. housing in Watts, for Douglas Aircraft’s African-American employees).
Rothstein concludes by arguing that what’s needed is a new civil rights movement “to make it as uncomfortable to maintain patterns of residential segregation as the civil rights movements in the 1960s made it uncomfortable to maintain the segregation of public facilities, transportation, employment, and other institutions.”