In Your Neighborhood

The color of law: how our government promoted segregation

If you want to improve education performance, it requires recognizing and attacking policies that promoted segregation, author Richard Rothstein argues

Image courtesy of Richard Rothstein website

Richard Rothstein, the author of The Color of Law, will be speaking Thursday evening, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth El in Providence.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 12/10/18
Author Richard Rothstein will be speaking this week about his book, The Color of Law: A forgotten history about how our government segregated America, challenging many of the political assumptions about education reform and housing policies.
Will Ed Achorn attend Richard Rothstein’s talk? Will Rothstein’s talk be covered by The Providence Journal? How does Rothstein’s work connect with the book by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don’t See, a 2019 book selection by Reading Across America, related to the story about what happened in Flint, Mich.? How many legislators will attend the talk? How many mayors?
At a recent conference sponsored by Harvard University for newly elected members of Congress, some of the new Congressmen and particularly the new Congresswomen objected to the misleading agenda, where corporate lobbyists, not identified as such, promoted their political agendas.
For example, Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs, a former Trump administration official, warned that freshman members of Congress must vote for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact or else the economy will tank. Susan Wild, newly elected member of Congress from Pennsylvania, has pushed back, saying that she, for one, would not vote for a trade deal that stripped LGBTQ workers of protections.

PROVIDENCE – Perhaps someone should send an invitation to Edward Achorn, the editor of the editorial page at The Provicence Journal, to attend the talk on Thursday evening, Dec. 13, at Temple Beth El, beginning at 7 p.m., discussing his book, The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America.

Achorn might be surprised about what he could learn from Rothstein, particularly in the wake of The Providence Journal’s editorials slamming the alleged “lack of urgency” by state officials and Gov. Gina Raimondo about “children trapped in poorly performing schools, particularly in Rhode Island’s urban centers.”

The problems run much deeper, according the treatise of Rothstein’s book: the government did not merely ignore discriminatory practices in the residential sphere, but promoted them. Rothstein argues that private activity, such as unscrupulous real estate agents, unethical mortgage lenders, and exclusionary covenants working outside of the law, could not have imposed segregation without explicit government policies designed to ensure the separation of African Americans from whites.

Rothstein,the former education columnist for The New York Times, had been focused on writing about education policy. What prompted him to write The Color of Law? “I came to conclude that the policies were we following in the 1990s and 2000s to close the achievement gap [were failing],” he explained in a recent interview with ConvergenceRI.

Those policies, Rothstein uncovered in his research, were not dealing with the social, economic and racial disadvantages imposed by segregated schools in segregated neighborhoods.

“Segregated neighbors are so deeply immersed in housing policy and in history,” Rothstein said. The reality is, he continued, “Our government segregated America.”

A wake-up call

For the past year and half, Rothstein said he has been traveling non-stop, talking about his book to communities across America. Rothstein said he is not particularly interested in talking with politicians. “They are not going to respond until there is a grassroots movement, a new civil rights movement, to force the politicians to respond.”


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