Last week, Trump’s cruelty reached a fever pitch when he rescinded the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule meant to fight housing discrimination still faced by countless Black and brown people. As if scrapping the rule wasn’t bad enough, his subsequent tweets about how people living the “Suburban Lifestyle Dream” will no longer be “bothered” by having low-income neighbors evokes dangerous, racist stereotypes that must not go undiscussed.
While many Americans grow up with highly sanitized stories of the civil rights movement — if they discuss it at all — I knew from a pretty early age some of the good, the bad and the ugly of a movement that my very existence stood on. I learned of the violence against protestors probably before I learned what they were protesting about. I knew the name of the monster who assassinated Dr. King probably before I knew lines from most of his major speeches.
I attribute my unique worldview to my parents who never really minced words, as well as to my unique Black history year-round education starting at Dr. King Preschool, then Harriet Tubman School and onward. I never believed the story about a peaceful group of Black folk who finally appealed to the morality of a nation who didn’t accept them to win basic human rights. I knew it was more complicated than that. I knew there was more.
So when I began to learn more details of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 through my work as a housing advocate and organizer, it was no surprise to me that it was not the end of the story — nor as complete of a win as it is made out to be. While the act itself states that “All executive departments and agencies shall administer their programs and activities relating to housing and urban development (including any Federal agency having regulatory or supervisory authority over financial institutions) in a manner affirmatively to further the purposes of ‘the Fair Housing Act,’” there were virtually no guidelines or teeth to enforce such a mandate.
This lack of guidance in the legislation stood from its passage in 1968 to 2015. It took the nation’s first Black president to add power behind this section of the act — and even President Obama and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under his administration had to be pushed significantly to pass what is now known as the AFFH rule.
Recently, HUD director Ben Carson announced that the administration was dumping this rule -- to the surprise of no one. Removing the AFFH rule is something the Trump administration has considered since taking office, even running a media campaign filled with paper-thin veiled racism about how the rule aims to “destroy the suburbs.” Now, they finally have pulled the trigger, dealing a major blow to the ongoing fight to end housing discrimination and equity. Many municipalities long known for racist housing policies were finally at the front-end of making plans to address and change their policies or risk losing federal funding. Killing the AFFH rule allows them to backtrack completely.
Ever the skeptic, I was never of the mind that the AFFH rule would finally resolve America’s long racist history of housing policy. Frankly, that can only be done through reparations and returning land to Indigenous communities. But make no mistake that this attack on AFFH is particularly targeted. It is within the administration’s interests to stoke further racial hatred and inequality. Letting neighborhoods discriminate at will and maintain racist housing policies over time is a concrete way that they plan to do so. Just as the Trump administration takes every chance it gets to embolden racists all around the country with their rhetoric, this rule termination signals to racist municipalities that HUD is with them — not with victims of discrimination.
This is a tough blow, but one thing my skeptical reading of Black movements has taught me is that the fight is not over. They will lose. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed in response to Dr. King’s assassination. King made housing a key talking point of his economic justice action before he was murdered. Black organizers and activists since then have pushed to strengthen that law and got a win in 2015.
This setback is a bump in the road, but far from the end of the road. We know this chapter of the story will be difficult, but I know Black organizers and activists will keep fighting. We have to. The story isn’t over until the racists lose.
Maurice BP-Weeks is the Co-Executive Director of Action Center on Race and the Economy.