Things That Matter

Could The Cultivation Of Ethnic And Racial Minority Communities Yield Positive Outcomes For People Within Those Communities?

The human race is no stranger to segregation. In the United States, Jim Crow laws and “separate but equal” doctrine kept people racially separated for decades. In Germany, there were the Nuremberg Laws. In South Africa, Apartheid. Today, segregation in our country takes a different form—no longer supported by law, it is pervasive yet subtle, an intersectional issue rooted in gender, race, and socioeconomic status. While legally dividing people based on their differences is indisputably wrong, a complex question emerges: Could the cultivation of ethnic, religious, and racial minority communities actually yield positive outcomes for the people within those communities? Many signs point to yes.

On college campuses, this question underscores the phenomenon of “affinity housing”—spaces where minority students can live alongside peers who share important aspects of their identities.

credit: vassar.edu

The debate around affinity housing has spanned the past 50 years, beginning with active calls for change from students at numerous institutions in 1969 (Williams College, Vassar College, and Wesleyan University, to name a few). At Williams College, the discussion began when members of the Williams Afro-American Society occupied Hopkins Hall until the school president responded to a series of requests, including the development of a residence hall specifically for Black students. While that demand wasn’t met at the time—leading to a reemergence of the issue last year—students at Vassar and Wesleyan were more successful, resulting in Wesleyan’s “Malcolm X House” and Vassar’s “Kendrick House”—dorms specifically designated to Black students, which still exist today.

Now, in 2019, a wide number of colleges and universities offer affinity housing for a highly diverse spectrum of students, including women of color, Asians and Asian-Americans, Latinx populations, and LGBTQ groups. Proponents of affinity housing argue that these communal residences provide minority students with a sense of safety and security, especially at institutions with largely white student bodies. However, many people believe that affinity housing hearkens back to a darker epoch of American history, reviving segregationist tendencies that are fundamentally harmful to our progress as a society. Without a doubt, our country’s fraught past has definitely made the legal aspects of affinity housing a bit sticky.

According to the federal Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to discriminate against tenants based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and family status. 

credit: calstatela.edu

So, if a university offers affinity housing for Black students, it could get in trouble if white or Asian students were explicitly prohibited from living there. To avoid this, colleges provide students with the choice to reside in these spaces, using careful language to define their role on campus—for example, California State University’s website describes its Halisi Scholars Living Learning Community as having been “designed to enhance the residential experience for students who are a part of or interested in issues regarding the Black community.” While it focuses on fostering a sense of community for Black students, the Halisi Scholars LLC is available to any student invested in issues of Black culture. Thus, as long as the option to join an affinity housing residence is inclusive to all, there is nothing illegal about it.

Although it can make affinity housing tricky to navigate, the Fair Housing Act protects folks all over the country. In certain states and cities, the protections expand even further to include factors like age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender, and citizenship status. Given the diversity of the U.S. population, these measures are absolutely essential to maintaining liberty and preserving our rights; yet history reveals that in spite of this legislation, marginalized communities are still most affected by housing discrimination, which perhaps points to affinity housing as a productive response to a long and unsavory trend.

Netflix’s “Dear White People” touches on the topic of affinity housing, illustrating the polemic nature of this issue through its characters’ divergent opinions. 

credit: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images

While some characters, like Coco Conners—a Black economics student who serves as treasurer for Winchester University’s Coalition of Racial Equality—do not support the new Armstrong-Parker dorm (a residence hall for students of color), several other characters find community there. Yvette Lee Bowser, executive producer of the series, describes this point in the show as a “renaissance” for the predominantly white, fictional Ivy League school.

“Everyone wants to have a sense of community, no matter what their cultural background is,” says Bowser. “That’s really what Armstrong-Parker is about—a built-in sense of community.” As a woman of color, Bowser attended Stanford University, which also offers affinity housing. She reiterates that the housing assignments at Winchester are not meant to segregate, but to do the very opposite: the Amstrong-Parker dorm is designed to maintain connectivity within students’ own, preexistent communities. “You don’t choose to go to a predominantly white institution only to be with black people,” she says. “You want the diverse experience, but you also want to feel those creature comforts and culture comforts.”

A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

Things That Matter

A California City Is Being Sued Because Of Evictions Of Black And Latino Residents Considered Discriminatory

Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department alleging discrimination against black and Latino renters. The suit, filed earlier this month, takes aim at a 2016 Hesperia rental ordinance that requires landlords to evict tenants who had allegedly committed crimes on or near their property. 

Making matters more troublesome is that the housing law was passed at a time when Hesperia, a Mojave Desert city of just under 100,000 people located 35 miles north of San Bernardino, saw it’s Latino and African-American populations growing. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Latinos living in Hesperia rose 140 percent, and the number of African-Americans by 103 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

The housing law, called the “Crime Free Rental Housing Program” led to the eviction of countless families, including children, for alleged criminal activity that included one tenant or even some non-tenants. This was in addition to the eviction of family members who had reported domestic violence to the police. The housing act even involved allegations from authorities of criminal activity even if the individual wasn’t arrested, charged or convicted. 

According to federal authorities, city councilmembers’ statements in creating the controversial ordinance show that it was designed to reverse “demographic” changes in Hesperia.

The suit, alleges that the housing law was put in place for one primary reason, to drive minorities out of the city of Hesperia. The DOJ is seeking to stop future similarly discriminatory housing laws and for financial compensation for those tenants that were affected by the ordinance. The housing law was put in effect from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017.

The DOJ says that the ordinance violated the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. With the city’s sheriff’s department having determination in which tenants would be evicted, there was an instance when an older Latino couple was removed due to their adult son, who did not live with them, being arrested, the suit said. 

When the measure was initially being drafted, Hesperia Mayor Eric Schmidt made comments about the number of renters that were coming into the city from parts of L.A. County that were known for having large minority populations. According to prosecutors, Schmidt allegedly said that groups left L.A. County  “because it’s a cheap place to live and it’s a place to hide,” and that “the people that aggravate us aren’t from here,” they “come from somewhere else with their tainted history.”

Another questionable comment came from city councilmember Russ Blewett who allegedly said that Hesperia needed to “improve our demographic,” and that he wanted “those kind of people” that the ordinance would particularly target to get “the hell out of our town. 

“I want their butt kicked out of this community as fast as I can possibly humanly get it done,” Blewett said, according to the suit.

“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances intended to push out African-American and Latino renters because of their race and national origin, or from enforcing their ordinances in a discriminatory manner,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in the press release. “The United States Department of Justice will continue zealously to enforce the Fair Housing Act against anyone and any organization or institution that violates the law’s protections against race, national origin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination.”

As of now, the city of Hesperia has denied any and all wrongdoing in regard to the DOJ lawsuit. 

Rachel Molina, a spokeswoman for the City of Hesperia, told the Victorville Daily Press that the information presented in the DOJ lawsuit is “factually incorrect and grossly misleading.”

“First and foremost, I would like to say that Hesperia is a very diverse community,” Molina said. “We love and embrace diversity in Hesperia. At no time did the City’s crime-free ordinance discriminate against residents of any ethnicity. There are crime-free programs across the United States aimed at providing residents with safer communities — in the recent past HUD supported such programs.”

Before the DOJ filed its own lawsuit, the ACLU took legal action two years ago against the city on similar premises of housing discrimination. 

This isn’t the first time the city and it’s sheriff’s department have faced legal action over the ordinance. Back in 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a suit on the claim that the housing law restricted housing and services for those individuals who had criminal records. In retaliation, Hesperia made adjustments to the law to make the program voluntary for landlords. Just last year, the city agreed to settle with the ACLU lawsuit for $485,000 dollars. 

That lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sharon Green, who leads the Victor Valley Family Resource Center, a housing nonprofit organization. Green told the LA Times that the DOJ suit is important in regards to other cities that might be considering similar discriminatory housing laws. 

The DOJ suit will “send a strong message to cities around the country that they cannot discriminate. Our homeless numbers are far too large and there are far too many obstacles to housing already to be dealing with this kind of foolishness.”

READ: Schools In Mexico’s Yucatan Have Made Mayan Language Classes A Requirement And Here’s Why That Matters

A Florida Politician Verbally Assaulted A Group Of Latinos But They Recorded The Incident

Things That Matter

A Florida Politician Verbally Assaulted A Group Of Latinos But They Recorded The Incident

@TrendsKey / Twitter

Late last month, a teenage Puerto Rican tennis player was accosted by local politician Martin Hyde at a tennis club in Sarasota, Florida. The tennis player captured the incident on video, which was later posted to social media by Puerto Rican attorney Alvin Couto de Jesus, who had originally gotten the video from the athlete’s uncle, Javier Irizarry.

In the video, Hyde is seated, speaking tersely with the athlete and his peers, before following them as they begin to leave the premises.

According to Irizarry, his 15-year-old nephew was invited to play in the Casely International Tennis Championship, which was hosted last week by Bath & Racquet Club at the Celsius Tennis Academy in Sarasota, Florida. The athlete was practicing for the tournament when, allegedly, Hyde approached him and his friends in an aggressive manner, instructing them to “cut grass” and “get out.” The video’s audio begins with Hyde telling one of the players to “keep [your] mouth shut.” The tennis player and his peers rebuke Hyde’s confrontation, calling him out for making racist comments and demanding that they leave.

“You’re telling me to cut grass because I’m Hispanic,” says one of the players. “That’s racism, man. How can you say something like that?”

The players continue to draw attention to Hyde’s racist comments before turning to leave the scene. Hyde gets up from his seat and follows them, crying, “Out! Out!” all the while.

Before leaving the Tennis Academy, the teens report the incident to Academy staff. Meanwhile, Hyde interrupts and tries to invalidate their story, accusing them of being disruptive and intoxicated.

“I don’t know what drugs they’re on,” he says, insisting that he is a “member of the club” and that he wants the teenagers to leave. The athletes repeat his comment about “cutting grass,” and while some of Hyde’s speech is muffled, his response to the teen is clear as day: “Yes,” he says. “So what?” When a staff member engages in an attempt to solve the conflict, Hyde encourages her to “throw them out,” eventually telling the teens to “shut up” before abruptly walking away.

Latino Rebels reported the story and shared the video on Friday. It has since circulated widely on social media, and as a result, Sarasota’s Bath & Racquet Club has banned Hyde from its premises.

“We have kids from all over the world, Central America, Latin America, who play here and compete to get scholarships for college,” Cary Cohenour, the director of Celsius Tennis Academy, which leases courts to the club, told NBC News. “The whole incident was out of control and though Celsius wasn’t involved, we want people to know that we denounce racism here.”

An active candidate for the District 2 Sarasota City Commission, Hyde planned to quit the race after news of the incident spread. However, he’s since announced that he may continue running. And in spite of the video evidence, Hyde adamantly denies making racist comments to the Puerto Rican tennis players, though he does admit that he acted inappropriately.

“I was rude and I regret that. It was a long day and my kids were being disturbed while they were having their lesson, because the boys were being loud,” Hyde said. “But I simply didn’t say those things, and that’s why they’re not in the video.”

Hyde also denies allegations—made by Twitter user @sergiodilan101, who Latino Rebels have identified as Irizarry’s nephew—that Hyde offered him $50,000 in exchange for the video.

In this Twitter thread, @sergiodilan101 recounts the story in great detail, expressing that before this incident, he and his compañero had never felt so “upset, frustrated, uncomfortable, and sad.” He encourages all Latinos to stand together and support each other in situations like this, and he has received an abundant outpouring of support and affirmation, both from people online, political figures, and family.

“We had a long talk about reality and I explained to him that this guy represents a really small minority and that his behavior wasn’t normal,” Irizarry told NBC News. “I hope by sharing the video we can prevent something like this from happening again.”

Additionally,  Peter Vivaldi, a former Republican candidate for the Florida state Senate—who is also of Puerto Rican descent—responded to the video by saying that “if you’re a public figure . . . you run for everybody, you represent everybody.”

He added, “This is not what we want to represent any party and less do we want that in the state of Florida, where we’re talking about Puerto Ricans that are American citizens. We need to make sure if you’re Republican or Democrat, if you’re saying things that are not appropriate, we need to call you out.”