Huffpost Politics

The Most Racist Part Of Donald Sterling's Legacy Can't Be Solved With A Lifetime Ban

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LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life on Tuesday after he was caught on tape saying he didn't want his girlfriend bringing black people to games.

But as ESPN host Bomani Jones eloquently pointed out, this is hardly the worst act of racism that has been attributed to Sterling -- that title goes to his alleged acts of housing discrimination, for which he was sued twice, in 2003 and 2006, the second time by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The first suit, brought by 19 tenants with the help of the nonprofit Housing Rights Center, accused Sterling of forcing blacks and Latinos out of his rental properties, and ended in a confidential settlement in 2005. The second accused him of refusing to rent to African-Americans in Beverly Hills and to non-Koreans in LA's Koreatown. It ended in a record $2.725 million payout to the Justice Department. Sterling denied wrongdoing in both cases.

The charges made against Sterling were stomach-turning. In response to the 2003 suit, one of his property supervisors testified that Sterling said all blacks "smell" and are "not clean," that he wanted to "get them out" of his properties to preserve his image, and that he harassed tenants and refused to make repairs until they were forced to leave, according to depositions obtained by ESPN The Magazine.

But as alarming as the claims against Sterling are, housing discrimination as a practice is alive and well in America, and can't be solved with something as simple as a lifetime ban.

"For individuals and families, it limits their housing choices, it dictates where you can and cannot live, and that means limited access to other opportunities: educational opportunities, employment opportunities, health care services, other amenities," Fred Freiberg, director of the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center, told HuffPost. "It sustains and enforces patterns of racial segregation and poverty concentration, and it creates a whole host of inequalities that we could, frankly, do without."

A 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that overall, minority home-seekers are still told about and shown fewer units than white applicants. In a series of paired tests in 28 metropolitan areas across the country, HUD compared the treatment of a non-white person and of a white person of the same gender and qualifications when each applied for an apartment. The study found that, compared to whites, Blacks were told about 11.4 percent fewer rental units and shown 4.2 percent fewer; Hispanics were told about 12.5 percent fewer and shown 7.5 percent fewer; and Asians were told about 9.8 percent fewer and shown 6.6 percent fewer.

The authors of the study cautioned that their findings have probably understated the problem -- and Freiberg pointed out a number of the study's blind spots in a 2013 response. For one thing, the study only focused on publicly advertised housing. These days, Freiberg says, housing providers looking to discriminate might just rely on word of mouth, or advertise only on websites or in newspapers that target certain ethnic or religious groups. Another issue is that the study only looked at who was shown more units -- in some cases, the minority home-seeker might be shown a greater number of apartments, but only those located in minority neighborhoods.

The government did make an effort to ban housing discrimination with the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act (the law that Sterling was sued for violating). But as ProPublica's Nikole Hannah-Jones found in a 2012 investigation, the government has repeatedly failed to punish communities that violate the law.

And even though it's been nearly 50 years since the Fair Housing Act was adopted, segregation is still a reality in American cities. A 2010 analysis of census data by Brown University found:

With only one exception (the most affluent Asians), minorities at every income level live in poorer neighborhoods than do whites with comparable incomes. Disparities are greatest for the lowest income minorities, and they are much sharper for blacks and Hispanics than for Asians. Affluent blacks and Hispanics live in poorer neighborhoods than whites with working class incomes. There is considerable variation in these patterns across metropolitan regions. But in the 50 metros with the largest black populations, there is none where average black exposure to neighborhood poverty is less than 20 percent higher than that of whites, and only two metros where affluent blacks live in neighborhoods that are less poor than those of the average white.

Bottom line: Donald Sterling's racism has been roundly rejected by everyone from Snoop Dogg to the president -- but when it comes to everyday acts of insidious, life-ruining racism, there are many more like him out there.

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