Author: Chris Roberts
To be white and an “anti-racist” requires a constant dance of fanciful rhetoric, huddled clichés, and scapegoats.
Put another way: whites who believe in egalitarianism need excuses for why they live in white neighborhoods, send their kids to white schools, and consume almost exclusively white culture. They also need to be ready to look down their noses at other whites who are worse (i.e. more racist) than they. This explains most liberal writing on race.
This would be typical:
I send my kids to private instead of public school not because of the difference in demographics, but because of the difference in quality. That difference in quality is entirely a product of funding. Those evil Republicans permanently cripple public schools by funding them poorly. Which is why I always vote Democrat.
It’s easy to claim this is cynicism, but I find that almost every white person who thinks along these lines really means it. He believes racism is an abhorrent and unforgivable evil, and is driven to find ways to escape from its taint.
Thursday night, I attended a very large gathering of white liberals desperately seeking exoneration. It was in Washington DC, a city that is 55 percent black and 36 percent white. Specifically, it was at the Quaker school, “Sidwell Friends,” which is 59 percent white and 13 percent black. That school is in the wealthy northwest part of Washington DC, zip code 20016, which is 73 percent white and 3.9 percent black. The audience of about 200 people was about 80 percent white. The sponsor was the very progressive bookstore “Politics & Prose,” whose three staff members at this event were all white.
Can you guess what event attracted all those whites?
It was the release of a new book on the history of housing discrimination, The Color of Law, written by liberal wonk Richard Rothstein, who appeared with none other than Ta-Nehisi Coates. The organizers so feared that Mr. Coates would steal the show, that even though no books of his would be sold there, the announcement of the event warned: “Coates will not be signing.”
Mr. Rothstein’s new book argues that the origin of housing discrimination is government policy. He contends that the often-imagined racist white realtors and neighborhood associations are largely fiction. What really created the segregation we see in today’s cities, Mr. Rothstein firmly believes, was housing laws that required separation. He went so far as to claim that there were high levels of integration in the early 20th century, but that this was undone by the government’s racist housing policies from the 1930s through the 1950s.
By the time the government stopped enacting and enforcing segregation laws, Mr. Rothstein argues, it was too late. Once there is segregation, it continues through inertia, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. He therefore claims that it was segregation, not integration, that was government social engineering. Integration is therefore the process of undoing social engineering and returning to more natural circumstances. And he wants the government to take a great deal of action to further reverse all the socially engineered segregation we still see today.
Mr. Coates said very little throughout the evening. He periodically agreed with Mr. Rothstein, and expressed gratitude that someone had done all this research. Towards the end of the event, Mr. Coates said that perhaps the best thing about Mr. Rothstein’s book is that it showed how “invented” race is. Mr. Coates, remember, is a true believer. He thinks all races are completely equal, and that “race” is itself a myth created by bad powerful people to keep the masses divided. In his mind, this new book does a lot to show how people weren’t naturally inclined to segregate, since race isn’t real, they just “learned” to think in terms of segregation after the government “taught” them to with its evil laws.
For the white liberals in attendance, all of this provides a great deal of exoneration. They can now say they live in an overwhelmingly white neighborhood because of the inertia of racist housing laws from half a century ago. During the Q&A, one white woman decried her neighborhood’s zoning laws. She said she wanted to integrate her white neighborhood by converting the basement of her home into an apartment and rent it only to blacks. She said she’d love to encourage all her white neighbors and friends to do the same, but zoning laws are stopping her. Nothing can be done about those racist zoning laws. Exoneration granted.
The way I see it, giving white liberals one more way to justify their hypocrisy is the purpose of this book. Mr. Rothstein is correct that in the mid-20th century, when the government was first building affordable housing, the laws it enacted were “racist,” or segregationist. The reason was that whites had a racial consciousness. The military was segregated. So were schools. So was just about everything.
Where did the government get this idea to segregate things? Might it possibly have represented the preferences of whites? When the government segregated the public housing it built, were there protests against this? Did newspapers run editorials denouncing this government assault on the way things had always been?
Though Mr. Rothstein is thoroughly liberal, his argument follows the logic of libertarianism at its worst. It treats “the government” as an alien agency that in no way reflects the opinions or desires of the people it governs.
It is also worth noting that although “housing policy” as we know it today did only originate in the 1930s, there was another kind of government housing policy over 100 years before that. Liberals even know about it: Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. This was, in effect, a pro-white housing policy. Poor whites who could not afford land knew they’d have a chance if the government kicked out the nearest tribes, took the land, and sold it at artificially low prices. A popular tune in Jackson’s day went:
All I want in God’s creation
Is a pretty little wife and a big plantation
Away up yonder in the Cherokee Nation
Was this housing initiative unpopular with the people? Surely even people with the most basic and remedial understanding of American history know that President Jackson was our first populist, adored by the lower classes and frontiersmen. His protégé, James Knox Polk, also did quite a bit to open up space for poor white frontiersmen hoping to get their own plot of land.
Even Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, signed the Homestead Act, through which the government gave small plots of land to families heading west for free. Initially, homesteading was restricted to whites and, in any case, the land was taken away from the Indians.
In other words, Mr. Rothstein’s thesis is absurd. He takes an entirely technocratic view of a few particular housing laws from over half a century ago, and blames them for housing patterns that clearly reflect the desires of most whites. The only people who could believe his thesis are whites desperate to persuade themselves that the whiteness in their lives is a fault of the stars.
As Malcolm X once asked, “Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other?”