03/01/2021 | by Nareit Staff

Past racially-explicit policies by federal, state, and local governments—especially those concerning housing—imposed a level of segregation on the United States that was so powerful it still determines the racial landscape of today, according to Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.

Rothstein is also a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute and a senior fellow (emeritus) at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Nathaalie Carey, Nareit senior vice president for industry affairs and social responsibility, Rothstein pointed to the government’s deliberate move after World War II to create white suburban communities across the country as a key factor in preventing the accumulation of wealth and advancement of the African American population.

Rothstein said it is “essential” to understand that the U.S. does not have a de facto system of racial segregation, but rather “an unconstitutionally created government sponsored system.” He noted that as American citizens, “we are obligated to take remedial action to redress segregation with affirmative action policies in housing and other race-conscious policies designed to undo the effects of these unconstitutional practices.”

Meanwhile, Rothstein also stated that:

  • Today, African American incomes on average are about 60% of white incomes while African American wealth is only 5% of white wealth. “That disparity is the ghost of those policies past.”
  • To address the lack of affordable housing for Blacks and other minorities, “I’d place more emphasis on improving the incomes of African Americans than on building more concentrated, segregated apartment blocks.”
  • A new Civil Rights movement is needed today in order “ to make it uncomfortable to maintain policies of segregation and not to redress them.”
  • If the more-integrated communities of the early 20th century were in place today, “we would have a much healthier society.”
  • Affirmative action programs in housing, not merely the prohibition of future discrimination, are needed to redress segregation.


Resource links provided by Richard Rothstein.

To receive more information about the launch of the New Movement to Redress Racial Segregation, click here.

Watch a brief 8 minute summary of talks about how segregation happened.

See the 17-minute animated film, “Segregated by Design.”

Explore a high school curriculum unit to teach this history (free with registration to receive all materials).

Read a recent article containing material from Richard Rothstein’s ongoing work on what can be done to redress racial segregation.

Read an article on “disparate impact,” or how purportedly race neutral policies today can reinforce racial segregation.