Now that a few million more white Americans realize that racism is rampant and dangerous, it’s time to do something about it. First, quit the handwringing. Quit saying you don’t know the answer. Quit saying “not my America” or “This isn’t us.”
I’m not saying you shouldn’t mourn the events Saturday or the death of Heather Heyer or the dozens of others injured in the senseless violence of the white supremacist assholes. You should. But we’ve mourned before, and while it helps us emotionally, it doesn’t do a goddamn thing to minimize racism in this country.
Scrutinizing (yes, scrutinizing ) Twitter feeds on Saturday and Sunday, every once in a while I would see comments like “I’m not sure what it is, but we’ve got to do something” or “We must find a way to fight racism and end it once and for all.” These comments, however, were vastly outnumbered by expressions of sheer outrage, terror, sorrow and grief.
We’re good at grief and sorrow.
We ought to be.
On the same day that neo-Nazi fuckhead monster James Alex Fields plowed his car into peaceful demonstrators, killing Heyer and injuring 19 others – all following a rather laissez faire appearance by VA State Police during a morning of violent attacks by white supremacist “demonstrators” – a white policeman in Cleveland, Ohio, was doing what police across the country do all too often: He was beating the living shit out of a black man in the street.
In the wake of public horror over Charlottesville, this senseless case of blatant police overreaction and unnecessary brutality was widely overlooked. Far too many of us express a few seconds of outrage about these incidents, then go on with our lives, depositing the awareness of these horrors in our short-term memory bank and letting them fade away.
Because they don’t happen in our neighborhoods.
Which brings me to the point. There is one thing above all others that feeds and nurtures racism: Segregation.
Want to know what segregation looks like all over the country? In your town or city? Here’s an interactive map created by Dustin Cable of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. Based on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, the map shows the racial and ethnic makeup of the country , all the way down to individual blocks within a city.
It’s not a pretty picture. And it sure as hell indicates why ideologies of racial animosity flourish in the United States. We live separate lives. Sure, we may work alongside people from other ethnic or racial backgrounds, but Americans predominantly live in neighborhoods drawn along racial lines. Cable’s map demonstrates that this is an inarguable fact. No matter what people may say about their beliefs regarding racism, we almost all participate in a system of racial segregation.
So what’s to be done?
Having grown up in Charlotte, North Carolina during the era of a radical desegregation of schools that was achieved by busing kids to different neighborhoods, I know that for a lot of people that’s what they think of as “desegregation.” It is, and it isn’t. While I benefitted tremendously from the experience, developed a genuine empathy and far better understanding of the black students I studied alongside, tens of thousands of parents (predominantly white parents) hated the busing policies. A lot of them said it was a safety issue, or that kids spent too much time on buses each day. Either way, that era, despite hundreds of thousands students having positive experiences and improved social education, came to an end due to those white parents. Busing ended and the age of “magnet schools” and “charter schools” began, because supposedly they are better solutions to racial segregation of students.
What was problematic about busing was indeed that children and young adults were having to ride buses across towns to get to schools. But the answer was never just desegregating schools in the first place. The answer is to desegregate cities, rural areas and entire states. The answer is to stop living separately in the first place.
That can be done through a few simple but strictly enforced rules:
#1 Outlaw and punish with harsh prison sentences the vile practice of “redlining,” where realtors (or bank loan officers) draw maps of where minorities can and cannot live, only showing them houses in minority or low-income neighborhoods, denying them loans or raising prices artificially, and generally shooing them away from white neighborhoods. If anyone is convicted of redlining, there is no getting off with a fine either for them or their company. Both are criminally charged and punished with prison time or dissolution.
#2 100% asset forfeiture for companies found guilty of redlining.
#3 Substantial penalty property taxes for neighborhoods that remain all white (say over the next five years) and demonstrate practices meant to discourage minority home owners.
#4 Establishment of minority neighborhood improvement funds from penalties paid by all white neighborhoods and asset forfeitures of companies guilty of redlining. Funds would be used to improve low-income housing and private homes, and to totally replace high-rise low-income housing with residential housing like townhouses or small separate starter homes.
#5 Substantial tax incentives for minority home buyers purchasing homes in majority white neighborhoods, in the vein of the $15,000 federal subsidy granted home buyers back in 2009. No requirement to pay it back unless they sell the house or use it as a second home/rental home before five years pass.
#6 Substantial property tax penalties for white home buyers purchasing homes in majority white neighborhoods. Such penalties would be recurring yearly payments that would end only in the event that the neighborhood normalizes to 25% minorities (racial or ethnic) home owners.
And as regards schools:
#7 Substantial property tax penalties for private and charter schools that don’t have at least 25% racial or ethnic minorities enrolled in a school year.
#8 Establishment of a minority school improvement fund paid yearly by property tax penalties on all white private or charter schools in the same area.
This is the brainstorm of one person over a single morning. Certainly it isn’t intended to be the best and only solution to seriously addressing racism, but it certainly contains the seeds of one. What we cannot do is ignore that financial incentives and penalties that are some of the most powerful ways to motivate people to change antisocial behaviors and practices. Furthermore, we cannot allow wealthy companies to evade punishment by simply resorting to “chickenshit club” type punishments of fines that they can easily afford. Total asset forfeiture of companies found guilty of such practices is essential, and damned satisfying to the citizenry I imagine.
So join the brainstorm yourself. If you really, really want to put an end to racism in the United States, in your city, in your neighborhood, let’s all admit that there is a practical way to go about it. It isn’t a disconcerting mystery. It’s not something we need to agonize over for years. We can do it now.
Unless we really don’t want to. Unless Charlottesville and Cleveland are who we are resigned to being because it’s just too hard to change.
Unless we’re monsters.