`As a new year begins and the 2020 presidential election looms closer, our political focus will start to narrow around the issues thought to be most urgent and likely to mobilize voters. One issue surely to be glossed over, if not completely ignored, is the persistence of racial segregation.
Even writing it feels off-topic, like referring to an anachronism. We have become so habituated to the ingrained treads of our racial geography that they are unremarkable. When segregation is remarked upon, it is almost always in reference to the histories of public policy and private action that were necessary to the invention of “black neighborhoods” or “white suburbs”.
In other words, residential segregation and discrimination in the American housing market are considered historical matters. That the nefarious operations of the Federal Housing Administration have come to light and redlining has become more widely understood have not been enough to generate the urgency necessary to dismantling today’s unjust housing practices. Consider the muted recognition of the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
In its time, federal fair housing, which entailed the right to be free of racial discrimination in the housing market, was hailed as the crowning achievement of the “rights revolution” of the 1960s. But the effects of “fair housing” have been imperceptible in large swaths of the country, where poor and working-class African Americans live in racially segregated enclaves. The reluctant celebrations of the Fair Housing Act’s milestone anniversary this past year were rooted in the basic fact that racism continues to pervade the American housing market.
This reality was made worse by the selection of the underwhelming neurosurgeon Ben Carson as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson has characterized the formal objectives of the Fair Housing Act, including the affirmative pursuit of racially and ethnically mixed communities, as “social engineering”. He has worked to undo the legally mandated responsibility of Hud to not only fight racial discrimination but to pursue integrated communities where it can.