Our Legislation Team decided that a book club would be a good way to begin discussions around race, equity, inclusion and justice. They created a list of books dealing with these topics and began to read down the list. To read more about this process, please read our previous blog post about the book club.
Today we are going to share the resources and study questions from the book The Color of Law, by historian Richard Rothstein. In The Color of Law, Rothstein lays out the history of de jure segregation. Laws and policies were enacted and enforced at the local, state and federal level that promoted discriminatory housing practices. The result of these laws and policies not only created the segregated communities we now have, they are a primary cause of the wealth gap we see today between whites and African Americans in the United States as whites were able to take advantage of wealth building in homes whose value has soared over the decades. Rothstein argues that racial segregation is the deliberate product of “systemic and forceful” government action, and so the government has a “constitutional as well as a moral obligation” to remedy it.
- What surprised you as you read The Color of Law? Was this history known to you?
- What do you know about your own community and your local zoning policies during the 20th century? How segregated or integrated is your community? What would it look like if your community were required to have its “fair share” of middle-class, minority and low- and moderate-income housing?
- Textbooks typically used in middle and high schools don’t describe government’s role in creating residential racial segregation. Rothstein writes, “If young people are not taught an accurate account of how we came to be segregated, their generation will have little chance of doing a better job of desegregating than the previous ones.” What can each of us do in our own communities to change how this history is taught in our schools?
- Chapter 8 example: How did you feel about the several cases where people tried to do the right thing and failed because of the way the system of laws and policies and pressure worked to keep racial segregation? How did reading about this history of racial segregation make you feel?
- The impact of government-sponsored segregation has had tragic consequences and impacted generation wealth for African Americans. Some think that the government should concentrate on improving conditions in low-income communities, not try to help their residents move to middle-class areas. They say that easing the movement of minority and low-income families to predominantly white neighborhoods will meet much resistance. Yet others say that low-income communities have too little political influence to ensure follow-through in attempts to improve conditions in segregated minority neighborhoods. What are your thoughts? Can we fulfill our ideals as a democratic society if it is only more equal but not integrated?
- Difficulty of Undoing Residential Segregation
– The multigenerational nature of economic mobility
– The substantial appreciation of homes created a large racial wealth gap
– The substantial appreciation of homes means homes are now unaffordable to many African-Americans
– The mortgage interest deduction increased subsidies to higher-income suburban owners
Should we and how can we remedy residential segregation? What are your ideas for making change?
- We typically expect to understand two sides of a story. Is there anything missing from The Color of Law that might modify its argument?
- After reading The Color of Law, a young African-American high school graduate sent an e-mail to the author:
“As I was growing up, I looked at the racial segregation and accepted it as how it has always been and will be; I equated white neighborhoods with affluence and black neighborhoods with poverty. I didn’t think about the major role the government had in hindering the equity accumulation of African-Americans. I think I ingrained this inferiority complex and that is why I did not excel in school as much as I could have.”
What is your reaction?
* In our one hour and forty-five minute session we were not able to get through all eight questions.
Helpful Links and Resources:
- Segregated by Design, this video summarizes the facts Rothstein lays out in the book and is narrated by Rothstein: https://www.segregatedbydesign.com/
- Video of the author, Richard Rothstein, discussing the Segregation Myth he writes about in The Color of Law: https://youtu.be/2roWLzrqOjQ
- A summary of the book and study guide: https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-color-of-law
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