Paul R. Lehman, Fair Housing laws alone cannot end bigotry

January 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, Bigotry in America, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Prejudice, Race in America | 1 Comment
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Prior to 1866 African Americans as well as other Americans could not live where they wanted to or could afford to live for a variety of reasons. However, after the Civil War, Congress passed a series of laws to implement the 13th Amendment which had the objective of banning slavery and eliminating its vestiges. One law in particular, the Civil Rights act of 1866, “banned discrimination in the sale, transfer, lease or use of property, real estate and housing. All citizens were granted the same rights enjoyed by white citizens in the use, purchase, lease; transfer, etc., of real estate and property” (National Association of Realtors). The key phrase in this law is the reference to all citizens having the same rights as white citizens. In essence, the law recognized the preferences and powers given so-called white people. While the law looked good on the books, there was a problem—no provision was given to enforce the law. So, the law for all intent and purpose was ignored.

Fast-forward one hundred and two years later, where we learn that “On April 11, 1968 U. S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is commonly known as the Fair Housing Act.” One of the reasons for this act was to supply the enforcement provisions that were lacking in the 1866 act. We know that “The 1968 act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and since 1974, gender; since 1988, the act protects people with disabilities and families with children.” Other provisions of the act protect civil rights workers as well.

So, one might ask, why the history references to Fair Housing? Well, evidently, some people still believe these laws were not meant for them. Since they identify themselves as white citizens, they should be able to ignore the laws and discriminate at will. Fortunately, better informed citizens became involved in a particular incident to help resolve the problem in part.  The story involves “A Cincinnati landlord who claimed a black girl’s hair product clouded an apartment complex’s swimming pool.” She “discriminated against the child by posting a poolside ‘White Only’ sign.” We learned that the Ohio Civil Rights Commission voted 4-0 in favor of the child, recognizing that she had experienced discrimination.

According the article in the Associated Press (1/13/12), “The parents filed a discrimination charge with the commission and moved out of the duplex in the racially diverse city to ‘avoid subjecting their family to further humiliating treatment.” The landowner’s reason for posting the sign was “I was trying to protect my assets.” When we take a moment to examine her comments we discover that she was being very clear about her actions and motive.

In her mind, African Americans do not belong in the same swimming pool as European Americans. The reference to some chemical in the child’s hair causing the water to be cloudy is too week an argument to support logic. The child would have had to have an enormous head and an equal amount of chemicals to make the water in an entire swimming pool cloudy. We see that argument as silly. Her motive, on the other hand, tells us that she believes that her ability to earn a living because African Americans in the complex swimming pool might negatively affect her business. Which raises the question of why did she rent to them in the first place if she thought they would be bad for business. Maybe she thought they would not use the pool. In any event, she felt she had the right to post a “White Only” sign on the pool gate to resolve her problem. She was wrong.

While the landowner was misguided in her attempt to allow admission of African Americans in the swimming pool, she truly believed that she was in her rights. Most likely many other European Americans would support her today given the tenor of the times. When a society tells someone that he or she is special and privileged because of his or her skin color– white, and then pass laws underscoring those ideas, chances are the person will believe what he and she have heard and are told. What happened when the Fair Housing laws were passed regarding citizen rights and privileges, they were identified as those privileges and rights already enjoyed by the so-called white citizens. In effect, the laws never said that the original laws were incorrect, only everyone would now be able to enjoy “the same rights as the white citizens.”

Many European Americans have never been confronted with the idea that they were misled into believing that their skin color was only a ploy used by the elite to control them, and have them serve as a buffer to deflect legitimate criticism regarding political, economic, and social power the elite controlled. Even today, all a politician has to do to gain support from a certain segment of society is to complain that some so-called unworthy people (read as African Americans, minority and poor) are receiving benefits for free that real Americans (European Americans—whites) must work to receive. This statement will be interpreted as a call to join the speaker in protecting the loss privileges and rights by those who still hold on to that idea of specialness based of color.

Enacting laws that seek to change past injustices does not mean the attitudes and beliefs of the people negatively affected will change for the better. For the most part, they probably feel victimized; when in reality they have enjoyed exclusive rights and privileges for many years.



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  1. Very profound especially when you consider the fairness and justice embodied in the law and the unfairness and injustice of the enforcement, even today, especially today. More than ninety percent of all discrimination claims result in favorable results for the alleged discriminator! The best thing you can say about that is at least it’s not 100 percent.

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