Recently U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, while being interviewed on the PBS NewsHour, used a phrase that easily rolls off the tongue and is almost seen as a ‘given’, when we speak of children struggling to keep up in our public schools.
The phrase? “Disadvantaged communities.”
I believe we must address, openly and honestly, the question, “Why do we have ‘disadvantaged communities’ in which, most often, African- and Latino- American families live in crowded and unhealthy surroundings, in one distinct part of nearly every town in this nation?”
The answer, of course, is obvious: real estate firms and their employees, together with influential persons in communities, have succeeded in blocking off populations they prefer not to have around them.
Violation of the law – the Fair Housing Act of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 – which mandates ‘open housing,’ is ignored, with little fear of enforcement or retribution.
No person would choose to live in substandard housing in unkempt and neglected areas of cities and towns; yet enclaves of those whom the majority prefers not to see — people of color — continue to exist.
I think one of the keys to better education for everyone is the aggressive enforcement of our open and fair housing laws, along with the equal opportunity for genuine access to all jobs.
I have seen a 50 year-old Virginia deed with phrasing similar to ‘this property may not be sold to non-Caucasians.’
One of my family members once received a call from a Tallahassee real estate agent, who said, “I know I’m not supposed to ask this, but are there any black people in your neighborhood”!
And a former neighbor is alleged to have apologized to others, who lived near her, for renting her home to an African-American mother, and saying, “I had no choice,” because of the law.
In my 42 years as a renter and home owner, I have never heard of any similar incident, perhaps because people know of my position on civil and human rights. Or perhaps because it just doesn’t happen that often.
If all of our children are to receive the best possible education, their families must be able to live in any neighborhood of their choosing — in subsidized housing in those neighborhoods, if necessary — and protected from any and all unjust and racist challenges conjured by the forces of hate.
Real estate operators can’t just slap an FHA ‘equal sign’ on their stationery and front window, and think they need do nothing else to be within the law.
But as long as they flaunt the law, and until the law is openly and vigorously enforced, we will continue to see ‘disadvantaged areas,’ shaking our sad heads, in nearly every jurisdiction in this nation.
I believe proactive fair housing enforcement may be the best solution to lead to better schools and quality education for all children.