Payback?

Racism, reparations and accountability

In 1969, I dropped out of college, moved to Racine, Wisconsin, and worked for a community action program and then for a welfare rights organization. The focus of my work was tenants’ rights—helping tenants negotiate with landlords over things like rent and housing violations. Among my many indelible memories from that year was the situation of a family with six children. A large part of their welfare check paid for the worst housing conditions I had ever seen. The stucco house looked reasonably sound on the outside; inside, however, parts of the floor were rotten, pipes and wires were exposed, and the infestation of roaches was so great that that there was literally a moving carpet of them on the floor. The landlord said that “these people” were “animals,” and that fixing the house up would be a waste of time and money. The landlord was white; the family was African-American.

 

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