When you're in the business of racial justice in America today, you find yourself spending some time just proving that racism is still alive and well. It seems that whether you're talking about affirmative action or English-only initiatives or the President's initiative on race, much of our nation wants to believe that racism is a thing of the past. Well three news items in the past several weeks prove once again that racism is alive and well.
The first was the story of the elementary school class on their class trip to Orlando. It seems 40 Baltimore students, plus their adult chaperones, decided to eat at Denny's Restaurant after visiting Disney World. They were not greeted or seated. After seating themselves, they waited 20 minutes before receiving menus and left an hour later after still not being served. Meanwhile white customers who had entered during that time had been seated and served.
Yes, this is the same Denny's chain which several years ago refused to serve African-American secret service agents, those persons who protect the President of the United States. Yes, it is the same Denny's chain which had to settle several other law suits by African Americans who were refused service. Yes, it is the same Denny's chain which had a big press conference with the NAACP, announcing their intention to change.
It is even the same Denny's chain which has made an effort to get African-American owners for its franchises. But more than 30 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, more than 130 years after the end of slavery, and less than two years before the new millennium, Denny's still allows racism to be a part of its menu.
Then there is the case of Avis car rental company. On the same day that USA Today reported the Denny's incident, it also reported that the Avis franchise in Wilmington, NC will pay $2.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by African-American customers who were denied rental cars because of their race. The settlement also included sensitivity training for all employees and an independent civil rights monitor for the next five years. Earlier this year Avis Rent-A-Car Systems agreed to pay $3.3 million to settle its part of the same suit. We can only hope that Avis, unlike Denny's, will realize that its business cannot thrive as long as racism is a part of any of its offices. It's a case of the whole being only as strong as its weakest link.
Two days later the New York Times ran an article concerning housing loans made by the Federal Home Administration loan program. A study, financed by the MacArthur Foundation, found that the F.H.A. loans, combined with racial steering of homebuyers by real estate agents in Chicago have added to blight in neighborhoods of color. Because F.H.A. loans are especially profitable for lenders and the real estate agents more often send homebuyers of color to F.H.A. loans, communities of color are full of foreclosed houses of buyers who should never have been approved for loans, the study found. It seems that buyers of color who qualify for conventional home mortgages are more apt to be steered to F.H.A. loans and that too often those who should not be given loans at all are. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, of which the F.H.A. is a part, has been tightening its enforcement procedures, but it admits that it must work harder to get conventional lenders to make more dollars available for communities of color.
The steering by real estate agents, both into certain neighborhoods and into certain loan programs, is a big part of the problem. Yet, the housing industry and too many local government officials wink at this unlawful practice which continues to have devastating impact not only on communities of color, but on housing everywhere. The continued segregation of Americans by housing only insures that our schools, our churches and our community institutions also will not be integrated.
Racism. It's still as American as apple pie. The stories and the studies remind us that there is still work to do.