Tags: poor | rich | mix

Why Force Poor and Rich to Mix?

Monday, 09 Nov 2009 11:10 AM

By Ben Stein

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Discriminating against human beings because of their race, ethnicity, or religion hurts. I can promise you this, because I have been hurt by this odious practice for my whole life.

When I was a child, growing up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., a constant refrain of our lives was my parents’ looking for homes in lovely, treed neighborhoods, only to be told that those neighborhoods were not available to Jews.

In one of the crowning moments of that time, my parents had put down a deposit on a home near Chevy Chase. At the planned signing of the acceptance of the offer by the sellers, though, the sellers backed out. They said it would “not be fair” to their neighbors to sell to Jews. It is an insult that still stings.

The great magnificent residential areas of northwest Washington, D.C., Spring Valley, Wesley Heights, Kent, and others were not open to Jews. Instead, Jews lived in segregated areas with nicknames like “Hanukkah Heights.”

Obviously, the situation for blacks was worse. Blacks were cruelly forced into neighborhoods often without basic services like running water. One of them, near our home, was near a junior high school called Montgomery Hills. The nickname for that black neighborhood was so horrible I won’t even tell you. Even now, I feel nauseated when I think of it.

Time passed. Thanks to one of the most underrated presidents of all time, a truly great man named Lyndon Johnson, housing discrimination enforced by law was banned as of 1965. Discrimination still exists, to be sure. I was just recently barred from a country club in Indian Wells, Calif., for the comical reason of “being in show business,” which, of course, means “the crime of GWJ, “Golfing While Jewish,” but it is rare.

Anyway, all of this is to illustrate how much I hate discrimination by reason of race, ethnicity, or religion. I live in a highly ethnically mixed neighborhood in California now, and I love any neighbor who does not have loud parties and cleans up after his dog. Color and race do not matter one bit to me.

So, even with that background, I was stunned two days ago to read a lengthy story in The New York Times that told about a “settlement” reached by the county of Westchester, a wealthy suburb of New York, with a civil rights litigating group and the federal government.

Under this settlement, the county of Westchester is compelled to build low-income, low-cost rental housing throughout the county, especially in areas considered wealthy and exclusive. The county is then mandated to advertise for tenants in these dwellings in newspapers and other media in predominantly low-income black areas of New York City and its suburbs. This is an idea, according to the newspaper’s sources, that has the backing of President Barack Obama.

I don’t get it. How does this kind of plan benefit anyone? Yes, the law and the Constitution say Realtors and home sellers cannot discriminate on the basis of race. Fair enough. And as I see in my daily life here in Southern California, there are plenty of men and women of every race who, through talent, imagination, hard work, and prudence, are able to buy in any neighborhood they want to be in.

But to use the awesome power of government to move poor people to live near rich people? To use government power to maneuver poor black people to live near rich white people or rich people of any kind? What good does that do?

It reminds me of school busing, in which the principle was that black people could not learn unless they were seated next to white people. This was a wicked blow at the intelligence of black people.

Now, what is the legal or economic rationale for making a formerly exclusive neighborhood mixed both racially and economically? Whom does that benefit? Yes, there should be no discrimination. Even at my old age, I will march for that, pray for that, go to jail for that. But governmentally mandated changing of neighborhoods to satisfy an insulting rationale about black people? What’s the point? Again, yes, for sure, no discrimination ever. But compulsory new neighborhoods created by federal fiat? What is that but dictatorship?

There are legions of talented black men and women who, through their own abilities and work, will get into those elegant neighborhoods soon anyway. Some of those people — many of them — will be men and women who worked their way out of poor neighborhoods. That’s the way it should be. The government should not be in the business of insulting any racial group by telling them they are not going to amount to anything unless they are near white people. The government should not be in the business of creating neighborhoods.

This is all disturbing and not at all what we hoped for long ago when discrimination was outlawed. This is a new form of morally outrageous compulsion, and it scares me.

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