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Whites Only

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It is often argued that racism is dead in America, or would be if everybody would just be quiet. Of course, the same argument were made all throughout the sixties as well, often by people now clearly seen as racists. Society progresses, and people either change or die to be replaced by younger versions of themselves, hopefully without the nasty bigotry.

But if racism is dead in America, then how do we explain this story from Arizona?

An official with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office said her department hadn’t encountered such a sight in 50 years.

The director of the federal Housing and Urban Development’s Phoenix field office said, “We’ve never seen anything like it. I’m amazed, just amazed.”

Both were reacting to a pair of signs placed in front of an upscale Waddell home.

The first reads: “For sale by owner.”

The second reads: “4 whites only.”

The owner of the home did not return repeated telephone calls. But his sign is getting him plenty of attention.

I’m reminded of a story John Howard Griffin tells near the end of Black Like Me. Because of his startling exposè of race problems, in 1960 a restaurant in his hometown changed the sign they used to hang in the window from a strongly negative statement (“No N*ggers”) to what they apparently saw as a more positive one: “Whites Only.” The owner of the establish added a footnote, though: “No Albinos.” Presumably he didn’t meant Caucasian albino people.

As hard as it seems to believe, there are still laws on the books and clauses in contracts in various areas prohibiting the sale of certain properties to “non-whites,” or to Jews; take your pick. These are all blatantly illegal and generally exist only because people ignore them. The assumption seems to be that as long as we pretend they aren’t there, then they don’t matter, but I think that is a false assumption. After all, we have ignored “anti-miscegenation” laws for years no, but they’re still on the books in some states, and are now being viewed as useful in the fight to stop “gay marriage.” Whatever your views of that particular debate, surely we can agree that using laws intended to prohibit marriage between people with different colors of skin is completely in appropriate.

The article linked above goes on to say:

…Rebecca Flanagan, director of the HUD Phoenix field office, told the West Valley View, “This is blatantly illegal under the Fair Housing Law. HUD will pursue once a complaint is filed. We … will be in touch with local Fair Housing agencies, Arizona Attorney General and the Phoenix Fair Housing Center.”

But first, as Flanagan said, a complaint from a neighbor or passerby must be filed. Until then, neither the Attorney General’s Office nor HUD can do anything.

As of midday Tuesday, however, no complaint had been filed.

Does that mean that nobody is bothered by the sign? No, I don’t believe that at all. The article describes a couple of people who are willing to go on the record to describe the sign as “stupid,” but one claims “it doesn’t bother me,” while the other doesn’t seem to realize that anti-discrimination laws trump what she perceives as property rights in this case.

I suspect many people probably assume that no complaint is actually required, or that someone else has already complained. Remembering Griffin again, he notes that even in his own hometown, where he assumed people were better than those with whom he had spent time in the South, still nobody stood up to the racists to stand with him in solidarity. What kept them away? Fear, primarily. Embarrassment, almost certainly. The same things that keep one’s mouth shut when a friend tells a racist joke, or a sexist joke. The same things that make racism in American slow to disappear.

One question: Why isn’t the name of the seller of the property listed in the article? I’ve emailed the author to ask that very question, and will report here if I get an answer.

Racism isn’t dead yet, but we’re a little closer every year.

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  • Eric Olsen

    Amazing story everyone should know about, and very well written Phillip, thanks. It’s so much easier for everyone if racism is dead, so we usually pretend that it is, But it isn’t and it won’t go away because it is ignored. I hope this story causes everyone – including me – who question individual instances of alleged racism, to be a little less sure.

  • I don’t know Arizona law, but in many states the AG’s office can bring its own complaint. The reporter should check to see if they’re being evasive. Since the practice is against public policy, one does not have to be a potential buyer as some people might think. That is not as clear as it could be in the story.

  • Eric Olsen

    Arizona is going to look real bad again if they dont ‘get on this very quickly – Martin Luther King Day, anyone?

  • boomcrashbaby

    I’ve never heard that there are people who argue racism is dead.

  • Eric Olsen

    Many people equate the fact that racism is no longer legal, and that there are legal remedies against its most obvious ramifications, with the assumption that it then essentially doesn’t exist.

  • Read this quickly before Justene erases it.

    The home owner is Hispanic. He says he put up the sign to draw attention to discrimination against himself. Though he does not make a coherent argument, I’m going to fill in the blanks. Mr. Miranda believes that only whites are treated fairly in the development where he lives, so new buyers there should be white. Ergo, the sign. Please note, I am not agreeing with him. I’m only describing what appears to have been his thought process.

  • Eric Olsen

    Why would this additional, helpful research be erased?

  • boomcrashbaby

    Well that’s the oddest argument I ever heard. Murder is not legal, there are legal remedies for it, do these people also say murder no longer exists?

  • Great, another embarassing racial incident for my state. I wish I knew where this guy’s home was, I’d like to see the area it’s in. It’s very possible it’s on the outskirts of town where few people live, so many would not have seen it to get offended by it. I’ll have to read these articles more in-depth later, maybe it mentions a general area.

  • Eric Olsen

    I don’t think it’s an “argument” per se, more of an underlying assumption

  • Dan

    So now I guess we should side with a loony hispanic in his petty property dispute, and acknowledge that even though it wasn’t a white guy this time, that doesn’t mean that evil white racism isn’t rampant.

  • Eric Olsen

    I don’t think we have heard from anyone who agrees with the seller

  • Eric Olsen

    Also, I think the problem is a little more nuanced than rampant vs nothing – the truth lies somewhere in between.

  • Dan, in the last three weeks, I have heard two different people use the word “n*gger” to refer to people whose skin is darker than their own. The first occurred around coworkers, on a lunch hour while driving. The speaker in this case recently backed out of a real estate deal because he found that a hispanic family lived “too close” to the house on which he had put an offer. He was trying to buy a house to get away from the hispanic people who have “taken over” the condominium complex in which he now lives. I strongly suspect that he wouldn’t object in the slightest to a return to the civil rights environment of the 1960s, though I will say that he denies such accusations when I make them. He used the word in an attempt to incite me to wrath, but I’ve grown weary of his baiting, so I responded with a short comment about pride and ignorance and changed the subject. I suspect his problem has more to do with ignorance from lack of exposure to “real” people of color than anything else, and thank God daily that he has no children.

    The second, more sadly, came from a nineteen-year-old girl who has had and does have personal exposure to people of color. Unfortunately, she seems to have fallen into a trap I’ve observed many times before, in which “good” black people don’t count, while “bad” black people are “typical” of all black people. That’s a whole different topic, but the point is, she knows better, and actually stopped herself mid-word and apologized to everyone present at the time. Of course, she was in my house at the time, and knew I would require that corrective action if she didn’t volunteer it, and I have no idea whether she would similarly correct herself had I not been around. Maybe.

    Both of these people would deny that they are racists, and in the case of the young girl, I’d be inclined to agree, *IF* I hadn’t just heard her drop an n-bomb without thinking. It came out, so it’s in her somewhere, right?

    So two times in about the last month or more may not be “rampant,” and I actually don’t think that racism is “rampant” in my particular circle of companions, at least the ones I choose (neither of the two cited people are exactly my choice). But twice by people who know already that I am intolerant of racist statements is more prevalent than many white people would like to admit, too. I’ve observed many examples of differing treatment received by friends with dark skin vs me at the same places at the same time. One friend and I tend to meet up at places, and I usually get there first. It provides me with an interesting opportunity to see how he is treated walking in the door vs how I am treated. In many cases, I’m happy to say, there is no discernible difference. In some cases, I get better treatment, but not by much. In at least one case, he was treated appallingly, and we left. In a couple of cases, he has gotten better treatment than me, but again, not by much. It’s serious progress when compared to Black Like Me, and we can use the same bathrooms and drink from the same drinking fountains and own homes side-by-side and so on, but as the idiot with the “Whites Only” sign says, things are still sometimes different for no good reason.

  • BTW, the author of the first piece did email me back as soon as the second piece, to which MD already linked, was posted. He stated that they had been unable to confirm the seller’s identity in time for the first article.