5.05.2008

Brown Again

I'm two-thirds of the way through a massive book by David Halberstam on the 1950's called "The Fifties."  It's a decade that I wasn't alive for, but because it continues to shape our nation today, and, on a not unrelated note, has lessons for today, I figured it was worth the read.

I have particularly enjoyed the emphasis Halberstam puts on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case, in which, in a unanimous 9-0 vote, segregated schools were deemed inherently unequal, refuting the equally significant Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).  All of you should know about this if you stayed awake in your high school history classes.  Not surprisingly, a number of white people and white politicians, particularly in the South, vigorously fought against allowing blacks into their schools and districts.

These are the sort of accounts that remind us that we were once so backwards in our thinking; "I can't believe people were like this barely 50 years ago," is something you might say.  Except that many of us have not yet gotten over harboring those kinds of discriminating thoughts.  So unfortunately, however primitive this sort of racism might seem, it persists to the present day.

Many people believe (and studies we've done at work seem to bear this out **) that blacks moving into their neighborhoods and schools lowers property values.  And so while we may not take a fire hose to people anymore, our techniques in response are for the same end, whether it is passing large lot zoning ordinances or opposing multi-family developments or other exclusionary sentiments that keep "those people" out of "our" places. 


In short, in too many of our neighborhoods, schools, and churches, we remain separate and unequal.  Brown came 50+ years after Plessy.  Another 50+ years after Brown, is another landmark court case on the horizon to further break our nation's subtle and seething discriminatory attitudes?  Keep your eyes out.

** I am referring in particular to an analysis we did of residential property values in four big cities.  We found that neighborhoods that were mostly black in the early 90's enjoyed the highest price appreciations, but it wasn't blacks themselves who were enjoying this wealth increase.  Rather, non-blacks were moving in, and then prices rose; conversely, when blacks moved into neighborhoods, prices dropped. 
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