Use of Black English and Racial Discrimination in Urban Housing Markets by Douglas S. Massey and Gar - Use of Black English and Racial Discrimination in

Use of Black English and Racial Discrimination in Urban Housing Markets by Douglas S. Massey and Gar

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R acial discrimination was institutionalized in the American real estate industry during the 1920s and was well established in private practice by the 1940s. Until 1968, when the Fair Housing Act was passed, this discriminatory behavior was open and widespread among agents. After this date, outright refusals to rent to African-Americans became rare, given that overt discrimination might lead to prose- cution. As a result, black renters came to experience a more subtle process of racial exclusion. Rather than finding “white only” signs or statements that “colored need not apply,” they encountered covert barriers surreptitiously placed in their way. Although the separate acts of discrimination may have been small and subtle, together they had a powerful effect in retarding black spatial assimila- tion (Massey and Denton 1993: Yinger 1995). Because the discrimination was latent, however, it was not directly observable, even by its victims. Under these circumstances, the only way to know whether discrimination has occurred is to compare systematically the treatment of prospective black and white renters who have similar social and economic characteristics. Differences in treatment are usually established by means of an audit study. Teams of white and black auditors are paired and sent to landlords to pose as renters seeking a home or apartment. They are trained to present compara- ble housing needs and family characteristics, express similar tastes and desires for housing, and offer a common socioeconomic profile. After each encounter, auditors fill out a report of their experi- ences, and the results are later tabulated and com- pared to determine whether there are systematic dif- ferences in treatment between races (see Yinger 1986, 1989). In 1987, Galster (1990) wrote to more than 200 local fair housing organizations and obtained writ- ten reports of 50 different audit studies carried out in residential rental markets throughout the United States during the 1980s. Despite differences in measures and methods, he concluded that “racial discrimination continues to be a dominant feature of metropolitan housing markets in the 1980s” (p. 172). Using a fairly conservative measure of racial bias, he estimated that blacks experienced a 50% chance of discrimination, on average, in rental mar- kets of American urban areas. This figure was confirmed by a nationwide study conducted in 1988 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Yinger 1993). Twenty audit sites were randomly selected from among metropolitan areas having central-city popu- lations exceeding 100,000 and black percentages more than 12%. Real estate ads in major newspa- pers were randomly sampled, and landlords were approached by auditors who inquired about the availability of advertised units and about any other units that might be available. Auditors were given standard incomes and family characteristics appro- priate to the unit advertised (Urban Institute 1991).
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