On the National Day of Racial Healing, January 15, 2020, the Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination and the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable, along with several other local partners, hosted a talk by Richard Rothstein, author of the book “The Color of Law.” More than 500 people attended the event at Elim Christian Fellowship, which included a community reception and a book signing.

“The Color of Law” is an award-winning book that explores how housing policies, practices and procedures racially divided our country. According to Rothstein, much of the racial inequity in America today results from the intensification of residential segregation in the twentieth century. His interest in the topic began when he was an education reporter investigating racial gaps in educational achievement. He found the strongest explanations for these gaps were the consequences of life in substandard, overcrowded housing – high stress, lead poisoning and asthma, which keeps children up at night wheezing. “The civil rights movement of the 1960’s left untouched the biggest segregation of all – residential segregation,” he said.

For too long, Rothstein said, we accepted the national myth that racially divided communities “just happened” and were the result of private preferences for living in same race neighborhoods. His research, however, reveals a very different story of deliberate, legally endorsed public policy, implemented through a complex mix of federal loan restrictions, public housing, zoning ordinances, tax exemptions, transportation policy, real estate industry practices and political compromise.  During his visit to Buffalo, Rothstein called for a new civil rights movement, a resurgence of the 1960’s aimed at addressing residential segregation, saying that the persistence of residential segregation is “wrong, immoral and harmful, not just to blacks but whites as well.”