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.Powered by Sidelines