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July 9, 2020

Kicking off Fannie Mae in:house – a speaker series on creative solutions to housing’s most pressing issues – historian Richard Rothstein explored the history of policies and laws that led to racial segregation in communities across the country.

“How is it that we made a commitment to abolish racial segregation and we still have an apartheid society when it comes to where people live?” asked Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.

Discussing his findings in The Color of Law, Rothstein painted a clear picture of the invisibility of redlining, the intentionality behind it, and why we have segregated neighborhoods and disparate outcomes in education, health, and economic opportunities.

Because it is widely believed that today’s de facto segregation “happened by accident” or is the result of individual choices rather than the government’s creation, Rothstein argues that it is easy for no one to feel responsible to change it.

The Color of Law turns that excuse on its head, and points directly to decisions by local, state, and federal governments, which led to – and have continued to enforce – racial segregation in our society.

“Our racial boundaries are civil rights violations as much as segregated buses or water foundations or lunch counters were,” Rothstein said. “And if it’s a civil rights violation, all of us, not just institutions… but all of us as individuals, as American citizens have an obligation to do something about it if we’re going to stand up and call ourselves citizens of a constitutional democracy.”

“Many African-Americans and whites live so far distant from each other, that they have no ability to understand, to empathize with each other’s life experiences, or to develop a common national identity, which has to be the foundation of a democratic society,” Rothstein continues.

Is there hope? Are there solutions?

“The policies to remedy this are easy to develop. They’re easy to think about. What is difficult is developing the political will to implement them. And that’s the challenge we face,” Rothstein shared.