This is a thought-provoking, though somewhat rambling, overview of the impact of systemic racism in U.S. housing policy on African Americans. To be clear (because systemic racism has become an almost meaningless phrase thrown at everything), Rothstein documents the laws and policies — federal, state, and local — that explicitly made it illegal to sell real-estate to non-whites, give mortgages to non-whites, or offer certain kinds of tax-breaks to non-whites. These laws and policies were in action just as the suburban lifestyle took center stage with new housing developments supported by transportation networks optimized for suburb to city commutes. Subsequent chapters followed the resulting situations as housing prices outstripped wage gains and tax policies swerved to benefit home owners over city renters, etc.
While Rothstein’s extended research is accurate (and horrifying) it is anecdotal and not comprehensive. In other words, we hear about all of the racist laws, the long court battles trying to change them thus upholding the 14th amendment, and the many workarounds people used to avoid repercussions for ignoring court decisions — but we don’t really get to understand how prevalent this behavior was. I’m guessing it was quite prevalent, but I can’t actually tell from reading this book.
I’m also not thrilled by his conclusions — he constantly conflates race and class and often leaps straight from terrible situations to unsupported causal connections. For example, in one part he goes from housing unfairness to gangs in four sentences without considering any other possible explanations. Similarly, in a discussion of income mobility, the data showed African Americans had less income mobility than whites — but not as much less as one might expect under the circumstances. This he explained with a wave of hands suggesting that African Americans had worked twice as hard and / or that affirmative action was “working.” Lastly, despite the title, this book focussed only on the aspect of law that relates to housing and not to the many other aspects of law that could be shown to support racist policies.
Still — incredible eye-opening descriptions of what was done by the government to treat African Americans unfairly and the lengthy and complicated process required to make changes. If you can find someone to give a good summary, that might be preferable to actually reading the book which is a bit of a slog.
A memoir in graphic novel form. I had read a great review which never even mentioned that it was a graphic novel — so it was a big surprise to me when I got it from the library! I’m not generally a graphic novel fan — I like language — but I found it to be an excellent medium for this book. Most of the content is in the form of conversations between the author and her son, her husband, her parents, her in-laws, and her friends — punctuated by the occasional “letter” or statement. The artwork provides the context which allow for the content to be more pithy — highlighting the essence in a way that is difficult to do with too many words.
The author is East Indian and is married to a Jewish man. Much (most) of the book is about her experience as a person of color, extending from childhood, through 9/11, and to the current Trump era. The opening chapter features a conversation with her six-year old son about Michael Jackson — whom he loves — and whether Michael is black, brown, or white and which of the three he liked best. A brilliant opening. The closing is a kind of letter to her son about the man she hopes he can become given the current political climate.
For me, her descriptions of bigotry and racism as she struggled to explain them to her curious son were both fascinating and educational. The word “racism” is thrown around a lot these days, and her definition (supplemented by some google searching) helped me understand the difference between them in a way I hadn’t previously. I appreciated the many different examples of stereotyping and the confusion that ensues even when people want to treat others the “right” way. In her life, her own extended family in India found her “too dark” to ever be attractive to a good candidate husband; she stumbles over what to say to the first lesbian she meets; and is given a particular job because the wealthy white woman hiring knows they will have a lot in common because she (the white woman) likes yoga and is spiritual. The author has to explain to her son that sometimes Indian people can be mean to others on the basis of race also, which saddens him because he wanted to be one of the “good guys”.
This is a riveting, well-written exploration of one woman’s experience as a person of color and — due to the graphic format — a pretty fast read!
Writing: 5 Plot: 4.5 Characters: 5
Thank you to Candlewick Press and NetGalley for an early review copy of My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver, which will publish July 10, 2018. All thoughts are my own.
Excellent middle grade level story about racial tensions in Red Hook, Alabama, on the eve of the gubernatorial election of 1970 (hint: George Wallace wins). Lu Olivera is a fabulous character — she is the quiet and unassuming daughter of Argentinian immigrants who finds her own voice and moral compass as racial tensions manifest in her town and her school.
Lu is one of the few kids who “sits in the middle” in the classroom, with the black kids on one side and the white kids on the other. She finds a talent and passion for running and a new best friend — who happens to be black — to go along with it. As events transpire, and things occur which she knows are wrong, she wants to speak up, but running through her head is always her parent’s refrain: “We’re foreigners. We’re not supposed to get involved.” It’s both a history lesson and a lesson on the perils of conformity, being delivered to just the right age audience.
The characters are real and absorbing, and the plot keeps you on your toes and is appropriate for the middle school audience. The characters are portrayed skillfully as kids who would rather focus on family and friends (and in Lu’s case – boys) than politics but who are reluctantly drawn into these issues nonetheless.