MCBC was pleased to host Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. In The Color of Law, Rothstein argues with exacting precision and fascinating insight how segregation in America—the incessant kind that continues to dog our major cities and has contributed to so much recent social strife—is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal level.
In addition to hearing from Rothstein, Tom Callahan, Executive Director of Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance and MCBC Board of Director, and Beyazmin Jimenez, CHAPA Young Professionals Group, welcomed the attendees and charged the group to think about how Rothstein’s book can inform our work in Massachusetts. Jim Campen, author of MCBC’s Changing Patterns series, highlighted some of the key data from that report and how Rothstein’s research connects to mortgage lending patterns in Massachusetts.
The Color of Law documents how American cities, from San Francisco to Boston, became so racially divided, as federal, state, and local governments systematically imposed residential segregation, with:
- undisguised racial zoning,
- public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities,
- subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs,
- tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation,
- official support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods,
- state licensing of real estate brokers whose code prohibited racial mixing,
- state and federal court orders evicting African Americans who moved to white neighborhoods,
- routing of highways to separate African American and white neighborhoods
These policies were supplemented by racially purposeful government programs that depressed African American incomes, making escape nearly impossible from neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage. Properties in African American neighborhoods frequently had higher assessed-to-market-value ratios, resulting in higher property tax payments. The federal government certified unions that excluded African Americans from membership, denying them full participation in the economic boom that followed World War II.
Such programs still influence tragedies in places like Ferguson and elsewhere. Scholars have separately described many of these policies; The Color of Law uniquely brings them together to show how they interacted to create a powerful system of residential segregation in every metropolitan area.
Rothstein also signed books for attendees.
The Color of Law is available at your local bookstore, www.norton.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or IndieBound. Also available as an audiobook.
For articles, reports, and other books by Richard Rothstein on race and education policy, visit his page at the Economic Policy Institute website, go.epi.org/rothstein