Author Richard Rothstein Talks About ‘Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America’

Housing segregation policies are “as unconstitutional as the segregation of lunch counters or buses or water fountains.”

Jake Neher/WDET

In his latest book, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America“, Richard Rothstein lays bare the two-handed lift the federal government gave to housing inequality, beginning in the 1930s.

Not only was the federal housing administration preventing blacks from joining the nation’s housing boom by refusing to back mortgages in and around black neighborhoods, it was also subsidizing builders who were mass producing housing in the nation’s suburbs where white families were flocking, and preventing blacks from buying any of that suburban housing.

The legacy of those actions is all around us – especially here in Metro Detroit, where deep segregation still has a choke hold on the region.

What would it look like if America were to truly take on that segregation, and try, in earnest, to level the housing playing field?

Rothstein is a distinguished fellow at the Exonomic Policy Institute and a senior fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He joins Detroit Today to talk about his most recent book, and the prospect for undoing America’s segregated past.

“We have a myth in this country that residential segregation is de facto segregation… but in fact residential segregation was created by government,” says Rothstein, “and with policies so powerful they determined the racial landscape of the day.”

Rothstein says the stranglehold of segregation on housing in today’s market began in earnest with presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower. And he says those policies and their ramifications should be considered unconstitutional.

“[It’s] as unconstitutional as the segregation of lunch counters or buses or water fountains… but because we’ve adopted this myth to rationalize not dealing with it – that it all happened by accident – we don’t deal with it.”

To hear more from Rothstein on Detroit Today, click on the audio player above.



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