Remembering Law’s Favorite Color

A few (or 8) weeks back, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, spoke in Cuyahoga Community College’s Ford Room at the Jerry Sue Thornton Center.  In this free talk, planned in partnership between a few organizations, (The Cleveland Humanities Collaborative, Voices from the Village, Tri-C’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and Case Western Reserve University’s Schubert Center for Child Studies) Rothstein shared knowledge he has and is currently exploring about major issues in communities nationwide.  His book reminds some of us that we are currently living in an aftermath legally orchestrated by certain previous governmental activities intended to deepen the divide of accessibility to space.  Cleveland is not exempt from a hurtful history of discrimination in its neighborhoods, and continues to struggle in efforts to remedy past behavior. While there are plenty well-intentioned projects happening all around led by individuals, neighbors, developers, artist, agencies, and others, I wonder who can succeed in the tasks at hand.  The task of dealing with the past, the task of changing, the task of care, the task of thinking forwardly, the task of strategy, the task of emotion, the task of creativity, the task of dedication, the task of timing, and much more, all at once. I am sure many of those who want to work and are working to break this all down were in the room with their listening ears on, but what does that ultimately mean and are those ears properly equipped to understand? Understanding, fully mentally grasping, comprehending at the greatest capacity, knowing, appropriately perceiving how future steps toward equity can be achieved.

How complex.  How intimidating.  How key. The test of understanding is successful action that embodies and follows what was translated.  The perceived earth shattering research that Rothstein is revealing, shows his ability to understand and also serve as an additional advocate and messenger to share to a wider audience.  If you’re of suppressed margins of society, this is not earth shattering. In fact, examples of consistently being treated un-righteously on purpose and intentionally happens daily, today, and is ever present in many people’s lives.  And even when it isn’t intentional, some may wonder if it is. I can appreciate that the discussion continues to expand though.

In The Color of Law, Rothstein demystifies the barriers we have placed around affordable housing conversations and presents logic that pushes beyond the surface to inspire accountability upon the readers, the notes and bibliography sections are nearly 70 pages alone.  A charge to act different and be an advocate for doing the work is a crucial takeaway. Some of the statistics shared about wealth advantages and disparities are heart wrenching. While the understanding that there are many many factors that contribute to our current un-wellbeing, this research highlights housing as one piece that has measurable disproportionate data proving many advantages to white people and strategic hurdles for black people and others wrongly judged on mere skin color.  This, layered with complacency of the United States, a nation that has celebrated a history of land theft as discover, free labor as economic development, abuse as control, rape as sport, tugs my heart muscles daily. In each of these cases (and many more), we “defer to the law”, that was / is lawless. The juxtaposition of having the option to be lawful and the choice to have no obligation on “our” part to do anything, right or just, clouds my mind with an endless list of things to do.

I struggle(d) with a similar offshoot of this (while) working in design, so much of design services relies on understanding the need and translating the knowledge into a spatial resolution.  There is much pressure in that. The effects of space have the power to affect people’s behaviors, and even influence feelings of self- worth. When you further reveal the theories and philosophies central to accessible and restricted space, you begin to see how segregation, redlining can be directly connected to issues affecting communities of color today.  Nevertheless, a re-occurring glimpse of hope repeatedly reveals remnants of motivation to push forward. Can the wrongs committed by policy be corrected by policy? Are the policy people trying to remedy the hand in which they have been dealt, or, are they continually perpetuating inherently racist procedure? Am I doing the same? I am hopeful I am not, but not certain, depends on the day.

Weekly, I attend many events, talks, conferences, happy hours, family dinners, dates, service projects, banquets, fairs and festivals where the signs of historic legal racism show up in the smallest and ugliest details.  The reaction of causes manifested throughout time continue to make identifying problems one of the most difficult actions of our time. The layers in which we must embody to produce solution is far more complex than ever, and inhumanely unjust.  A few questions developed in and through my time together with Mr. Rothstein and a bunch of others after. I purchased the book by Amazon Prime privilege during the talk and am hoping as I make my way through the piercing prose I will discover pathways to work differently and find my little way to contribute to the improvement of this world.  I encourage you to do the same.

MC