Yesterday we unloaded the truck with our furniture and possessions. This house finally feels real. Living in this impossibly beautiful neighborhood is no longer a strange and wonderful possibility, but real!
Just a generation ago, in my father’s time, we would have been forbidden to live here by covenants forbidding Jews, Blacks, and Asians from buying into this neighborhood. Because of people like my father who walked for civil rights in the 50s and 60s enforcing these covenants was declared illegal in 1968. But when I looked at the documents produced by the title search, my new house was still covered by one of those odious covenants.
What to do? Did I want to make a fuss and lose the chance of living here?
I dithered about buying this house without doing something about the covenant. Even though it couldn’t be enforced, laws change. Supreme Courts change. Plus it just felt icky to sign onto such an idea.
I did a lot of research on how to change it and found the answer. Someone else had come before me, an Asian woman who argued her case to the neighborhood association in 2017. The neighborhood association agreed to support her. She could change her covenant. More than that, anyone moving in or living here could change the covenant on their house, they said.
We steeled ourselves for the fight with the bureaucracy, and I began researching how to do it. But in the midst of that, the Title company sent us a new covenant to sign that explicitly removed the racist/anti-Jewish covenant. The city of Albuquerque had passed laws and the title company had chosen to make this easy. Without a bit of effort from me, my covenant was changed. I felt truly welcome here.
Thank you Albuquerque! Thank you Dora-Linda Wang for putting yourself out to make this easy on the rest of us, by changing your own covenant and joining an effort to have them removed throughout the state.
When did this happen? How long ago? This effort started in 2002. Dora-Linda Wang’s effort to remove the racist covenants in my new neighborhood was in 2017.
We all stand on the work of those who came before us. In return, life asks us to be the light for those who come next.
This battle for fairness in real estate is far from over. My wonderful Memphis realtor is one of just 4 percent of African-Americans who are certified appraisers in this country. The stories he told us of how difficult it was for him to become an appraiser were demoralizing. Because the process requires finding a certified appraiser to act as the trainee’s supervisor/mentor it means that the aspiring appraiser needs to have a set of personal relationships that he can tap. In a city and state that is still far too racially divided, it was impossibly difficult. In the end, he had to get a mentor in Chicago who came down to Tennessee to stand up for him and to support him into the profession.
This affects not just the aspiring African-American appraisers, it affects everyone because it allows bias to enter the system. And we see the results in lower appraisals for homes owned by African Americans. So making the system fairer is important to all of us.
My realtor’s story, my father’s story, and Dora-Linda Wang’s story is what the American dream means to me. It is the push to be part of a fairer society where anyone with drive and ambition can have a middle-class job and live in a nice middle-class neighborhood without fear that their house will be appraised too low based on their race, without worrying that a racist/anti-Jewish covenant still on their house might force them from the neighborhood if laws change, or that an entire profession might be closed to them based on the color of their skin.
I believe that we are doing better, which is why I can have my beautiful house in this wondrous neighborhood without a racist/anti-Jewish covenant and why I can hire my excellent realtor/appraiser. Clearly there is still work to do, but there are good people everywhere doing it.
So I feel hopeful and happy this morning as I write from my beautiful new house in my beautiful new neighborhood whilst my wonderful realtor works on getting the contract through to sell my Memphis house.
I hope you feel hopeful as well this morning. Be well, friends!