The Nation called it more correctly in Donald Sterling: Slumlord Billionaire, though Mrs. Sterling's role isn't really mentioned.
Sterling presents himself as the tony developer of high-end properties in the Hollywood Hills, and plays it much closer to the street. Sterling is also the Slumlord Billionaire, a man who made his fortune by building low-income housing, and then, according to a Justice Department lawsuit, developing his own racial quota system to decide who gets the privilege of renting his properties.Please read below the fold for more on this story.
There are racist words and attitudes—individual bigotry—and then there is the far more devastating impact of systematic institutional racism and discrimination which is one of the root causes of economic inequality. One of the key areas that enforces and sustains inequity is racism in housing—in both rentals and home ownership.
The Sterlings, Donald and estranged wife Rochelle known as "Shelly", have accumulated a massive fortune in real estate. Forbes has listed his net worth as $1.9 billion. Their business history as outlined in court documents has been a shoddy tale. So when I read stories of *gasp* Shelly's outrage and condemnation of her husband's racist remarks, I want to know why charges were made that she falsely identified herself as a government health inspector, going around to rental properties to inspect the ethnicity of tenants?
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Hey, Shelly—that's racism. And y'all seemed to have a system to act it out—till tenants you discriminated against dragged you into court. Sure you settled the cases for a whopping sum ($2.725 million), and in the case brought by the Housing Rights Center you paid $4.9 million in legal fees and are still protesting your innocence, but few savvy people are listening.
The investigative hero in all of this is ESPN sportscaster and writer Bomani Jones. Jones wrote about all of this back in 2006 in a piece entitled "Sterling's Racism Should Be News" in which he pointed out:
Discrimination in the housing market has been crippling to the attempts blacks and Latinos have made to empower themselves economically. The worst examples are in the sales market -- there's a wealth of urban economic evidence showing how the inability to buy homes has affected the black-white wealth gap -- but such behavior in the rental market is just as damaging. Consider that, frequently, moving to a fancy neighborhood like Beverly Hills provides the best chance a family has at placing its children in decent schools, something we all can agree is pretty important.
People tend to think of the more annoying manifestations of racism, like how hard it can be for non-white people to get cabs in New York. But in the grand scheme, stuff like that is trivial. What Sterling is accused of is as real as penitentiary steel.
In an interview this week on ESPN, Jones spoke out forcefully about the real impact of the business practices of people like the Sterling's and systemic housing discrimination on communities of color.
Though Jones' media role is talking about sports, he certainly has the academic background to discuss the impact of housing discrimination.
Here's the audio tape of his interview:
At about 4:41 on the tape Jones brings up the recent tragic murder by gun violence of his close friend Leonore Draper, after she was leaving an anti-violence rally in Chicago, and goes on to catalog how housing discrimination has been a key factor in creating areas of urban blight, economic inequity and violence.
Travis Waldron at Think Progress discussed the Jones interview and racism in housing:
Housing discrimination, as Jones said, is hardly unique to rentiers like Donald Sterling. It is a systemic part of the American economy and a systemic part of American culture. It is a business strategy employed by Wall Street banks and smaller firms alike. It is, in many ways, a plague perpetuated by the policies of the very United States government charged with keeping it from happening and punishing those who practice it.The Institute on Assets and Social Policy, published a report in February, of 2013 "The Roots of the Widening Racial Wealth Gap: Explaining the Black-White Economic Divide, which examines home ownership and residential segregation as a primary variable in that divide.
Sterling’s past legal troubles provide a clear look at what happens to many black families who try to rent homes and apartments in predominately white neighborhoods. But discrimination pervades the entire housing industry, and discrimination in the initial loan process leads to discrimination in every other aspect of housing.
The most obvious housing discrimination practice from banks and lenders is a process known redlining, named as it is because lenders draw “red lines” around certain neighborhoods — often predominately low-income and minority — where they don’t want to offer mortgage services. Lenders also regularly practice price discrimination, charging higher mortgage interest rates in such neighborhoods than they would for similarly-priced homes in other areas. The Federal Reserve in 2013 said that in addition to perpetuating discrimination, both of these policies made the housing collapse and financial crisis worse, especially for black families, who were twice as likely to enter into foreclosure during the recession than were whites.
Housing discrimination leads to defacto segregation in education ... and the problems are compounded from there. The National Fair Housing Alliance has called for modernizing the FAIR housing act for the 21st century.
It's not as if we don't know the problems. There are hundreds of groups who offer policy and legislative solutions. So while I have no problem with calling out and exposing individual racists' words, the real issue is about the systemic impact of "deeds."
Video blogger and radio host Jay Smooth is as usual right on point when he not only addresses Sterling's racism and sexism caught on tape, but then asks " “Why do racist words bring more accountability than racist practices? Because the thing about Donald Sterling, he's been known for years for his racist practices.”
Smooth has talked about media coverage failing to consider to factor in systemic and institutional racism in housing, employment and education.