Monday, July 28, 2008

Ending Restrictive Racial Covenants: Extent vs. Exactitude

There is merit in obliterating restrictive racial covenants from Southern California housing market, where developers and neighborhoods widely used them in the last century to get around legal prohibitions against racist zoning.

But there is also merit when ethnic minorities inhabit homes in areas where those restrictive covenants once kept them out.  What a powerful testament to their children:  to learn of such prejudice and hatred and then to witness their parents overcome it and live wherever they desire.  And what a powerful privilege it would be to join their parents at the local register of deeds headquarters or the county clerks office as all references to racial covenants are eradicated from the records of their land.

If a California Assemblyman accomplishes his goal to remove archaic and irrelevant racist covenants from properties, he will no doubt spare future generations from the ugly legacy of suburban prejudice.  However, he will also take away profound opportunities many self-empowered parents have to teach their children that they can stand up and overcome the racism on their own.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that what is gained in extent is lost in exactitude.  I admire anyone who feels strongly about sweeping clean the racism of the past across abstractly large populations, but there is solid power in a family's ritual transcendence and purging of racism of the past, too.  And sometimes when one strives for a blanket opportunity, one forfeits other meaningful possibilities.

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