Richard Rothstein, Author of The Color of Law

Published on14 DEC 2020
Making Progress Towards Racial Equity

In this episode of Talks at GS, author Richard Rothstein discusses his investigation into housing policies that shaped American cities in the 20th century and why housing remains central to the national conversation on racial equity.

On his investigation into housing policies: “We weren't a suburban country before the 1940s, 1950s. The federal government created suburbs mostly for returning World War II veterans, but for working and middle-class families generally. It embarked on a program to move the entire white working-class and middle-class population out of urban areas into single family homes in all-white suburbs… The biggest of these was Levittown, east of New York City -- 17,000 homes. But these were created all over the country, creating a white noose around every metropolitan area. Levitt the developer of Levittown, and any of these other developers could never have assembled the capital on his own to build 17,000 homes in one place... The only way he could do it was by going to the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration, making a commitment, never to sell a home to an African-American, if they would guarantee his bank loans. And on that basis, they did so and he built that project. This was not the action of rogue bureaucrats. It was an explicit written federal policy of the federal government, which is why this can't be considered de facto segregation.”

On reforming housing segregation in the US: “I think the key is the creation of a new civil rights movement that's going to create a different political environment to insist on the remedies that are necessary. Policies to redress segregation are well-known. Policy experts write about them all the time. What's missing is the political movement to demand them. I'm very hopeful about that. The Black Lives Matter demonstrations of the summer and spring enrolled 25 million Americans, many of them whites. It’s unheard of any time before in American history to have that kind of support for racial justice. Of course, it didn't engage in issues of housing desegregation. And that has to be something that emerges from this new awareness.”


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