A race-neutral framework would not be a denial of our racist heritage. An approach that encompasses everyone, while highlighting the fact that some groups suffered orders of magnitude more than others, more fully confronts our heritage.
It is more true to our messy history. And knowing Coates's work, I am certain he would insist any inquiry into our past reveled in context, detail, and complication.
Another possible retort to my call for a race-neutral remedy to housing discrimination: Red-lining isn't the only post-slavery policy that disproportionately targeted and injured black Americans. True. That would be a powerful critique of my position if the remedies I favored ended with redlining and related policies.
But the same race-neutral framework I've urged—applied to other injurious policies past and present—can do more to remedy institutionalized injustice than reparations.
Bear with me here.
One interesting aspect of Coates's essay is the way that it complicates the progressive narrative of the federal government as a Champion of Civil Rights and right-leaning critics of the federal government as hopelessly naive ideologues whose originalist, states'-rights sympathies would everywhere do harm to blacks. I myself am frustrated by the antagonism, in some corners of the libertarian world, to the Civil Rights Act. I endorse Julian Sanchez's sharp take on the subject. I share the belief that it's naive to imagine ending Jim Crow without aggressive federal intervention. It is nevertheless hard to read Coates's essay without concluding that blacks would've been far better off had the federal bureaucracy stayed out of housing policy in particular, rather than aggressively entrenching racist policy. Had the Federal Housing Administration been struck down on 10th Amendment grounds in 1934 it's likely that blacks would be better off today. Sometimes reining in the feds would have prevented tyrannical excesses.
I'd like to see more libertarians acknowledge that some federal interventions advance liberty in indispensable ways, and to embrace a muscular federal role in protecting the civil rights of all Americans. State and local governments can be ruinous to liberty, especially for minorities. But I'd also like to see progressives acknowledge the degree to which overzealous federal policies with a disparate impact on blacks remain hugely destructive forces in U.S. life today. The War on Drugs is the most egregious example. Like redlining, its effects should be studied. Its racism should be fully understood. That reckoning would inevitably expose another example of the singular ways blacks have been harmed by public policy. And yet, as with redlining, drug reforms ought to be race neutral, for the War on Drugs victimizes people in all groups.
Ending prohibition isn't enough. Wiping clean the criminal records of blacks arrested for mere possession would help remedy the barriers to employment faced by a community punished for its drug use far more often than are white recreational users. The specific experience of blacks must be understood to see why justice requires that step. Yet important as it is to understand lopsided disparities faced by blacks and their far-reaching, often unintended effects, if we wipe clean records for mere possession, why not do it regardless of race? A race neutral approach to remedying wrongs addresses more injustice while causing less resentment.