Racism in Housing Then and Now

by Kiki

The headline in the New York Times opinion piece stated “The Jim Crow South?  No, Long Island today”.

In Merrick, Long Island eight out of 10 residents are white.

Newsday conducted a three year investigation of 93 Long Island real estate agents and 5,763 listings through “paired testing” and found that the Black testers were treated differently than the white testers 49 percent of the time.  Latinx testers 39% and Asian testers 19%.

This, more than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which banned discrimination in housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, handicap, or family status.

The folks of color were steered to majority-minority areas.  They were sometimes asked for additional financial conditions.

The white buyers were presented with more listings and steered away from the majority-minority areas.  

This does not come as a surprise to most folks of color even without the investigation.  

In the Jim Crow south, my father, Bob Thompson, now 87, was one of the first black electrical engineers in Huntsville, Alabama first at Chrysler, then at IBM.

Daddy described buying a home in the early 1960s and going to look at house in a white neighborhood and being told the subdivision was all sold out.

He says he knew it was a lie and just an excuse to keep us in black neighborhoods.  He adds that at the time “black folks would not do things out of the norm” and most folks simply went to black neighborhoods to purchase homes.

I recalled him telling me of a family friend, Delores Harris, who passed for white and bought a home in a white neighborhood.  

My dad said that memory like the one that I had of meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was false.  Both now left to my memoirs.

I spoke to Delores, now 81 and living in Round Rock, Texas, and she said they only went to Black real estate agents who “steered” them to Black neighborhoods.

She and my dad recalled one exception to to the rule, Barbara and Jack Anthony were the first and only black couple at that time to purchase a home in a white neighborhood.  

Delores opined that Huntsville at that time was the most progressive city in Alabama and according to PBS’ “Desegregating Huntsville” the first city in Alabama to desegregate.  

Delores says the presence of the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville might have aided in the desegregation coupled with Mr. Anthony’s prominent role in the Huntsville Public School system.  

She hinted that the Anthony’s may have gotten some assistance from white school administrators.

When I was growing up we used to always say we preferred the racism in the south because it was obvious, blatant, often there were literal ”whites only” signs and the figurative signs were as plain.

You knew where you stood, unlike the north which still pretends to be liberal, progressive, inclusive, but Long Island is not unique, it’s the norm.

The New York Times points out that if the relationship is shifted so that the agent is paid by the buyer that the practices of de facto segregation would be reduced.

White folks can no longer pretend to not know about racism in all facets of life in the the U.S.  

As to next steps, the ball is in their court.  

Here’s to reduced racism in 2020 and beyond.

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