Thursday, April 5, 2012

How Envy Can Disguise Reverse Racism

Before you sign, read the fine!

Fine print, that is.

Westchester County officials are learning the value of this advice as they fight the Obama administration on technicalities with a housing loan.  Considering that Westchester, just north of New York City, is one of the most affluent counties in the entire United States, you'd be tempted to think the housing loan was so some upper-middle-class social climbers could afford to purchase even a hovel of a house in one of the area's tony enclaves.

But the housing loan is for poor folk.  The poor folk bureaucrats in Washington have been insisting need to be integrated into famous high-value towns like Scarsdale, Larchmont, and Chappaqua, where Bill and Hillary have a mailing address, along with legions of other limousine liberals.

Why does Westchester have to integrate people into the county who otherwise couldn't afford to live there?  They're not trying to make the place affordable for people like me, are they?  White males of the Protestant persuasion?

Of course not!  Chalk this one up entirely to the institutionalized racism our government insists on perpetrating - and perpetuating - across the United States.  Battles of the type being waged in Westchester have cropped up as well in affluent, suburban locales near San Francisco, Cleveland, and Houston.

It's just that this time, Westchester has won one in the courts against the Obama administration, and the president's men aren't too happy about that.  Granted, it's not a big win - a lower court simply affirmed that Westchester can't force landlords to accept housing vouchers for rental payments.

Hear the administration's side of things, however, and you'd think bigotry was running rampant throughout Westchester County.  They complain that minorities are still clustered in relatively urbanized corners of the county, closer to New York City's northern border, and that county officials aren't forcing towns hard enough to rezone land for low-cost apartments.  And the apartments that are finally getting built are being constructed on what they consider to be inferior parcels of land near train stations and freeways (just the types of locations new urbanists and traffic decongestion advocates love to develop, of course, but even progressive logic is not Washington's strong suit).

Now, if this was all about non-whites being discriminated against when they seek to purchase homes they can afford at market rates in Westchester County, then we'd be talking about a complete different - and immoral and illegal - thing.  I remember the kids of an esteemed family I knew at Manhattan's Calvary Baptist Church telling me about the time, back in the 1970's, when they were the first blacks to move onto their block in the Westchester city of Mount Vernon.  They said that for a while, going home was like stepping into hell, all because of their skin color.

But getting back to those urbanized corners of Westchester, and cities like Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, and Yonkers, where most of the county's minorities currently live, and where property values tend to be lower than in the county's more suburban districts.  Since Westchester's population is 15% black and 22%  Hispanic, we're not really talking about Westchester as a whole being unfriendly towards minorities, are we?  We're really talking about minorities not being represented in high percentages in the county's wealthier towns.

Aren't we?

So how is that automatically racist, since minorities as a whole don't comprise significant percentages in the entire country's demographic of rich folk and wealthy subdivisions?

Harwood Court in downtown Scarsdale oozes blue blood and genteel tastes. Photo by Ruthmarie Hicks.

Boiled down, this is simply a case of greed and envy, isn't it?  The Anti-Discrimination Center, which brought the initial lawsuit against Westchester County, isn't interested in making sure I can afford to live in Larchmont.  They couldn't care less that a low-income white guy like me can't afford a half-million-dollar fixer-upper with monthly tax payments just shy of my mortgage.  Some minorities simply can't stand the fact that it's mostly white people who can afford the county's stratospheric cost of living.

So, how is that Westchester County's fault?  Sure, it's the county's fault for applying for a housing loan, and then not reading the fine print.  But in terms of the racist aspect of the Anti-Discrimination Center's agitations, aren't they barking up the wrong tree?  If places like Westchester County are so unaffordable to a majority of minorities, shouldn't they be working on the very same methodologies white folks are using to buy homes there?  Things like education, stable family lives, and a wealth-driven work ethic.

After all, how many white folk have been able to survive Westchester's high costs without significant effort?  Very few people inherit the kind of money it takes to thrive generation after generation in places like Scarsdale.  As the county's taxes have continued marching skyward, an increasing number of empty-nesters have been forced to relocate to less-costly counties.  Even many families which move into Westchester do it only for the schools - when their kids go off to college, they're moving out to escape the oppressive taxes.  Basically, the taxes they pay are roughly equivalent to the exorbitant private school rates in Manhattan, but in Westchester, you get a bonus backyard and a private garage for your imported luxury cars.

And providing cheap housing so people who otherwise couldn't possibly afford Westchester can leap over the folks who can?  That helps solve racism, how?  By proving that skin color is a ticket to getting ahead without equal effort?

All this isn't to say that racism doesn't exist in Westchester.  But the racism that likely does indeed exist there is likely also tempered by a heady dose of elitist and classist reality.  If anybody of any color can prove they're wealthy enough to live there, deference might be given more genuinely to them than somebody without the credibility necessary to justify why they should be allowed to enjoy the same environment at a discount.

Part of surviving and thriving in any society is, with all else being equal, figuring out how to make the most of the opportunities and circumstances that come one's way.  That means both working towards the stations in life to which one may aspire, and resigning one's self contentedly to living within one's means.  There's a balance to that we cannot sustain if we think we're entitled to luxuries for which we haven't paid.

That's not racism.  That's real life.  But by painting it as racism, the ones doing the painting are coloring themselves as the obvious racists.  Whether other racism in the target area exists or not.

Scarsdalians don't have to worry about me, though - no matter what color they are.  I'm not sure I'd want to pay those kinds of prices even if I had the money.  There are simply too many equally-nice places to live on this planet that cost far less.
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