Segregated Housing and Redlining in Richard Rothstein's "Color Of Law"

Segregated Housing and Redlining in Richard Rothstein's "Color Of Law"

About a month or two ago, I was walking down 7th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, It was a lovely day. The sun shone down, but there was a crisp breeze to ease the heat. Spring had just arrived, and tulips and daisies and all sorts of other flowers were starting to bloom.

But as I walked I had a strange moment. I'm not sure why it rarely occurred to me, but I noticed that everyone on the block was white. The only people of color were working at the Chipotle, Starbucks or Just Salad. "What gives?" I thought. In a city that is 43% white, Park Slope was nearly 90% white and overwhelming upper middle class. I saw injustice there, but I couldn't explain why it was injustice or how this segregation was created. But no one else around me seemed to notice. Everyone else was going on about their day. 

I thought about that moment as I read "Color Of Law" by Richard Rothstein. It's required reading for anyone who is interested in why do our neighborhoods look so segregated today, as it unearths recent history that has largely been forgotten. The common view, it seems, is that neighborhoods were not segregated because of anything the state did but by private citizens that wanted to not mix races. This is unequivocally false. 

The Moral Crisis of Rikers Island

The Moral Crisis of Rikers Island

Of the places I've visited in my life, Rikers Island is the closest to hell I could imagine. I used to visit about twice a month when I worked as a social worker for the Legal Aid Society so I could talk to my clients imprisoned there. 

The bus ride to Rikers is a long one, about 45 minutes from Long Island City, Queens. Eventually, you get to the entrance and cross a long bridge toward the island, which served as a sort of metaphor, a gateway from the safe city into a long descent toward Dante's hell. (It reminds me of the scene in Kurosawa's 'Rashomon" when the Woodcutter is followed through the woods toward evil).

Once you arrived, the corrections officers checked your credentials, and then you were off on another bus to one of Rikers many jails (There are 10 in total, each holding several hundred people in them). 

The End Of The Two-Party System

The End Of The Two-Party System

There appears to be a genuine labor movement happening. It began in West Virginia.  It has spread to Oklahoma and Arizona. I've had the sense that something was about to explode. Brexit and the election of Trump were early warning signs. Could we be seeing a radical reimaging of society starting to begin? 


Thomas Piketty, the famed economist whose book "Capital," shot up the best sellers list in 2014, wrote a paper recently called Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right. (Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wrote an excellent summary of the article in Rolling Stone). The basic assertation of the paper is that both left and right parties in American and in Europe have become parties of the elite and educated, and the concerns of the rest of the citizens are being largely ignored. 

If anyone has been paying attention, this assertation rings true. It's the reason Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders caused such a hullabaloo in the 2016 election and why Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney were seen as so uninspiring and did not feel like they spoke for the voices of many. It's why Steve Bannon, despite his horrific racist, anti-immigrant sentiments, resonated with many with his nativism and globalist distinction. The old labels of left and right or democrat and republican increasingly mean less and less today. 

All of this has been bubbling around in my thoughts and makes sense to me. It speaks to my increasing disillusionment with liberalism as a worthwhile political philosophy. Liberalism is bankrupt, maybe just a bankrupt as conservatism. You cannot reform a broken system whose ultimate goal is profit at the expense of anyone who isn't the cultural or economic elite. 

Does The Moral Arc of The Universe Actually Bend Toward Justice?


"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

"The biggest story of the last fifteen years, both nationally and globally, is the growing likelihood that a cyclical model of history will be a better predictor than a model of ongoing progress." -Tyler Cowen

Just a quick little blog post before I start work...

That MLK quote above is much quoted. The words are often used to lend optimism to a troubling time, such as the current situation in the United States. I used to believe it wholeheartedly myself. After all look at the gains made by the civil rights movement that King help start? Look at LGBTQ rights? History is only going one way, and that is toward justice, I thought perhaps naively. 

I'm starting to think that is wrong. I just finished Tyler Cowen's "The Complacent Class," which the above quote is from, and he makes a very convincing argument that history is cyclical and any progress made often gets erased by the whims of time. 

Take the rise of fascism of in places like Hungary, Greece, and Italy. Or even the United States. Or how the gains in school segregation have been completely erased. Or how inequality is at its largest gap since the Gilded Age. These aren't old problems. They are just recycled from an earlier era and given new names like "neoliberalism" or "neofascism." 

It is quite possible after the end of Vietnam, the Civil Rights era and the fall of the Soviet Union, we were in an odd time of relative peace throughout the world. Yes, there was plenty of injustice still, but wars and violence have decreased drastically for the bulk of humanity in that time. But perhaps that time is over. Climate change is coming. Fascism is on the rise. Inequality is everywhere. Those factors are bubbling right at the surface. It is only a matter of time before it explodes.