Housing discrimination was once as blatantly rampant as televised singing competitions, until the practice was officially banned by the federal government in 1968. Unfortunately, as with most things that are banned by the federal government, many people view that as less of a roadblock and more of a rough spot in the pavement that simply requires a bit of "creative" (aka "sidewalk") driving.
"I know you think this house is beautiful, but do you know what else is beautiful?
The bride who was murdered here on her wedding night."
We know this because about once every 10 years the Department of Housing and Urban Development tests the housing market for discrimination. The first test, in 1977, showed that real estate agents were essentially behaving like bouncers for the world's most unabashedly racist nightclub: they'd tell black buyers that there were no listings available, then turn right around and show all those "unavailable" properties to white buyers. Sure, it's different nowadays -- minorities have about the same chance of getting shown available units as white people. But that's only because real estate agents have figured out a bunch of sneakier ways to avoid actually leasing anything to non-white applicants.
They'll show minority prospects fewer of their available units or show them homes in less desirable neighborhoods. Real estate agents and landlords also tend to hassle minorities more about their finances: in one instance from the latest HUD test, an agent refused to meet with a black tester who hadn't prequalified for a loan. However, that same agent happily met with a white tester and didn't even ask whether or not she had prequalified. And speaking of loans, agents are more than happy to help white applicants secure financing, but any minority prospects are expected to figure that shit out on their own.
"I think I figured out the down payment. How attached are you to having two kidneys?"
Finally, in what is arguably the most insane submarining tactic of modern real estate, agents will often tell minority candidates that a unit is more expensive than it actually is, to discourage them from leasing it (the unit's actual price is freely disclosed to white applicants, however). Additionally, white prospects are told that certain costs, such as deposits, are negotiable, whereas minority prospects are given static, immovable figures across the board. This means that if a person of color actually succeeds in finding a place to live, they'll often wind up paying more for it than a white tenant would.
None of this speakeasy bullshit is meant to suggest that the more overt discrimination in real estate has completely died out, however -- one undercover investigation by the Fair Housing Justice Center discovered that some superintendents in New York City are still sticking to the time-honored tradition of straight-up telling minority applicants that no units are available, while simultaneously showing any and all Princes of Whiteness their cornucopia of available properties. And unless you feel like returning in a few weeks to knock on every single door in the building to see if anyone answers, you have absolutely no way of knowing whether that landlord who brusquely told you there were no vacancies left in his building was lying or not.
"This apartment isn't vacant; they're ... minimalists. Ghost minimalists."
And that's the thing -- you'd like to think that in the cold, cruel world of business, only the bottom line matters. Why say no to a paying customer, regardless of race? But think about everything you've read up to now: in a world where people are afraid of (or at least, unnerved by) black folks, you might figure it's bad business to rent to them if it means scaring away your other customers. It's kind of like how supposedly liberal Hollywood is careful not to cast too many black actors in a movie, for fear it will scare away white audiences. Even if you're not racist, you might wind up running your business on the assumption that other people are.
And thus the whole cycle just perpetuates itself.
For more ways bigotry still exists in plain sight, check out 8 Racist Ads You Won't Believe Are From the Last Few Years. And then check out 19 Changes to the Internet If All Prejudices Were Reversed.
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