The Color of Law: The Truth About Segregation of America’s Housing

An Exclusive Interview with Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law

On May 22, 2018 Keli Tianga of Shelterforce spoke with Richard Rothstein on his book The Color of Law. After The Color of Law Public Policy Forum, held by Monarch Housing Associates at Seton Hall Law School, Tianga had many pressing questions to ask Rothstein.

Tianga first asks Rothstein what prompted him to write his book. Rothstein explains how he started out studying education policy, but soon realized he could not start to solve the problems with education in our nation without first addressing the problems of segregation, specifically in housing.

Rothstein reveals, “We have been prohibited from implementing school desegregation plans that were racially explicit because the Supreme Court has concluded that the residential segregation that underlies school segregation is an accident, that it was not created by government policy, that it’s from “de facto” segregation created by private prejudice, or people’s desires to live with others of the same race, or income differences, or demographic trends, but not government. And if government didn’t create residential segregation, then the Supreme Court has said that we cannot enact explicit policies to desegregate.”

Tianga asks Rothstein about how to address integration in schools. Rothstein responds by discussing the process of gentrification in suburban areas and how the problem is in the suburbs, not the urban areas.

He explains, “…when the families who live in the gentrifying areas are displaced, they are excluded from most of the metropolitan area, and so they wind up being displaced to newly-segregated enclaves, usually inner-ring suburbs. And over the long-term, you don’t get greater integration. This has been happening for many, many years.”

Tianga then challenges Rothstein, claiming that he proposes African Americans move to higher-opportunity majority white areas, something that most black citizens do not want to do. Rothstein responds by claiming the only way to produce real integration is to limit the number of black families who are forced out of middle-class areas. The most effective way would be to prevent affluent families from moving into urban areas that are on the rise, but that cannot be accomplished.

He admits, “You can’t do it unless you have a zoning rule that prohibits the construction of anything but low-income housing in the neighborhood.”

Tianga nexts asks, “Do you think America is more ready for the discussion your book raises, or more resistant because we’re in a crisis?”

Rothstein explains how he is aware there will be enormous resistance, specifically from white supremacist sentiment and neo-Nazis powered by the current administration. However, he has hope in the Black Lives Matter Movement and similar mentalities that have been shaped in the past five years. He claims, “but I’m hopeful that the discussion of race and its consequences will continue, and that it will lead eventually to progress in desegregating the country. And I expect that you will see it in your lifetime.”

Tianga concludes the interview by referencing a prior interview where Rothstein said we need to change our history books.

Rothstein ends by claiming, “If the next generation doesn’t learn this history any better than our generations have, they’ll be in as poor a position to remedy it as we’ve been. The first thing that everybody can do, whether they’re a professional in the housing field or not, is insist that their local schools teach this history accurately.”

On May 16, 2018, Monarch Housing Associates hosted a Public Policy Forum “The Color of Law” where Richard Rothstein and a variety of New Jersey policy and advocacy experts spoke about housing segregation and policy change. For more information, follow the event on Twitter: #ColorofLawNJ

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