A law firm recently put property on the market, stating that the land was for sale to "whites only." A complaint was filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination as a result of the sign. The legal notice, which appeared May 17th, was a reprint of the language in the deed of the property, stating:
"The said land shall not be sold, leased or rented to any person other than of the Caucasian race."
The statement was placed in the New Bedford Standard-Times.
Both the newspaper and the law firm placing the ad issued an apology:
''We do not condone the language and do not believe that it would be enforceable. It is industry practice to include in the notice of sale the exact legal description as set forth in the mortgage,'' said Harmon Law in a statement. And Mary Harrington, the publisher of the newspaper, said, ''It was a gross error on our part to publish the notice and we sincerely apologize to our readers.''
The ads were generated by scanning deeds of properties that have been subject to foreclosure. The high number of foreclosure notices is what led to the oversight. Mandi Costa, a resident of New Bedford, is the one who filed the complaint.
''I was shocked when I read it,'' Costa said. ''I did a lot of research and found out that this used to be a common practice in property deeds. It just goes to show that racism and discrimination is still out there.''
Obviously, the world is a better place because of Ms. Costa's complaint. The ad also reminds us that although our nation has changed dramatically since the days of slavery and Jim Crow, there are quite a few remnants of discrimination in our society. In fact, I would argue that language such as this in a property deed is among the least dangerous forms of residual racism in our society.
More damaging reminders of racial inequality, which are created by past racism, are asymmetries in America's systemic power structures, where African Americans find themselves on the bottom rung of opportunity and access.
For example, many corporations do not have African-American managers, universities don't hire African-American professors and prisons are full of black people. None of these disparities occurred overnight and are primarily the result of inherited power and opportunity constructs that started during slavery and Jim Crow.
One of the reasons I was so disturbed about the Supreme Court nomination of former Harvard Dean Elena Kagan was because Kagan simply followed Harvard tradition closely and hired zero tenured or tenure track black faculty members during her time as dean. In Harvard's 250-year history, it has been a closely held tradition to keep African-American faculty out of the law school.
These hiring practices occur within universities and corporations across America and are nothing more than the result of brainless commitment to dysfunctional traditions. If we do not directly confront remnants of past discrimination, they will continue to haunt and cripple our society. We must all work deliberately for the next 100 years to fulfill the dreams of Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and clean up the mess from our country's unfortunate conduct.
It is because of such a commitment that I have agreed to speak at the march on Washington on August 28th, the 47th anniversary of the original march by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We have a lot of work to do in order to make our country what it was meant to be. We must all make a contribution.
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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the author of the new book, "Black American Money." To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.