Saturday, August 12, 2017

Michigan Trump Supporter, Foreigners and Housing Discrimination

The libertarian or traditionalist conservative would say that this is a white man's country that a man ought to have the right to do as he pleases with his own property. Although that is indeed an important value there are other values and goals which society has decided are equally important or even more important than the right to control your own property in every aspect. One of those values is anti-discrimination. 

There are limits on how the state or even private entities can treat you based on immutable characteristics such as your race, age, sex, nationality and occasionally even religion or sexuality or sexual identity. The law has been trending that way for at least the past seventy years or so. Why? Because there are unfortunately a lot of people who, given half a chance, would indeed discriminate against their fellow Americans or others based on some or all of the traits I just mentioned. One such man is Iraq war vet and former shady used car dealer, James Prater, a Mason, Michigan resident who has decided to put his house up for sale. There's just one caveat. Mr. Prater doesn't want to sell to anyone who is not a true blue American. Apparently he has a special dislike for people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. But rather than leave it up to the individual to figure out if they were sufficiently non-Middle Eastern/South Asian Prater decided to make it easy for everyone by stating "No foreigners". Nice and simple.

MASON – “Foreigners” shouldn’t bother trying to buy James Prater’s house in the Mason subdivision of Coventry Woods. That’s the toxic message Prater delivers amid a pretty flower bed in his front yard. “For Sale by Owner” is next to “Terms No foreigners Iraq vet.”

Are those five words illegal discrimination or Prater’s right to express himself on his own property?

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights said, in response to questions from the Lansing State Journal, that it violates state and federal laws. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits “any notice, statement or advertisement” in real estate transactions that discriminate based on national origin. Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has similar protections, said Vicki Levengood, the department spokeswoman.

No one has filed a complaint to challenge his sign and, sadly, the town’s mayor, Russ Whipple, said it hasn’t made much of a ripple in his community. No outrage. Whipple said he hadn’t even heard of it.
I knocked on Prater’s door Wednesday after Nancy Knupfer, an associate broker and Realtor at Keller Williams Lansing-East, forwarded a photo of the sign that was circulating online. She is worried about allowing a message of discrimination to go unchecked.
Prater said his idea of a foreigner might not be what you expect, although he didn’t directly answer a question about his definition. He said that those who point out the U.S. is a nation of immigrants should focus more on citizenship. He’s a big supporter of President Trump, who has curtailed immigration, especially from Muslim-majority countries. It’s clear from Prater’s comments and his Facebook page, that he dislikes those from the Middle East.

He said he’s feuding with his Pakistani neighbors over painting a sidewalk a light gray in front of their house. Prater said the sidewalks are the property of the neighborhood association.“In my experience dealing with anyone with a thick, Middle Eastern accent, you can’t talk to them. I know I’m generalizing,” he said. He said that he’s not a racist. His best friend, an Army buddy, is Hispanic. I asked him if he would have put up the sign if Hilary Clinton won the election. He didn't answer with "yes" or "no," but said President Trump has helped blue collar people find their voice. “I do feel that living in a small town, in a blue-collar area with hard-working people, that Trump has given us our freedom back. He’s actually fighting for our freedom,” he said.

It may or may not be of import that Mason also happens to be the town that produced the acquittal of the white Detroit Police Officers who killed the black teens at the Algiers Motel all those years ago. It may or may not be of import that Michigan is whiter than the US average. I don't know. I think that Prater or people like him can and do exist anywhere. 

Although Prater's actions are against the law I think that given the anecdotes and data of which I am aware Prater is only unusual in stating candidly what most other people in his position would keep to themselves. Unless someone is stupid enough or hostile enough to be as explicit as Prater is being, there's often not much a victim of housing or other discrimination can do. In a weird sort of way some people might even prefer that others are upfront with their biases so that they don't waste time. I don't know about that though. It's one thing for a person to be biased and say that they don't wish to enter into a contract with you. It's something else again for a person who has authority or power over you, like say a cop or manager to say that they don't like you because of (insert immutable characteristic) and tell you to your face that they are going to {mess} with you every chance they get.

Although we have a near record foreign born population in the U.S, not everyone approves of this. While not everyone will resort to illegal behavior in response to this, neither is it automatically a bad thing if someone wants less immigration. Liberal New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who previously was a cheerleader for virtually unlimited immigration wrote what amounted to a surprising mea culpa column in which he argued that even as Democrats needed to denounce Trump's white nationalist base (which presumably includes Prater) and bigotry that they also needed to recognize that on some issues a stopped clock might be right twice a day. Friedman never would have written such a column before Trump's election. And I doubt the Times would have published if he did.

Trump connects with these gut issues and takes them in a destructive direction. It’s vital for Democrats to connect with them and take them in a constructive direction. What issues? Here’s my list: We can’t take in every immigrant who wants to come here; we need, metaphorically speaking, a high wall that assures Americans we can control our border with a big gate that lets as many people in legally as we can effectively absorb as citizens.

When Thomas Friedman of all people is speaking positively of some sort of immigration limit you know there's been a seismic shift in the received political wisdom. There's more to come on this later I think. Still, immigration policy aside it is simply neither legal nor moral for Prater to refuse to sell his home to foreigners. And nor should it be. People of literally every race and ethnicity are Americans. Allowing housing discrimination against foreigners almost inevitably affects Americans. So Prater's action can't be tolerated. It's a reminder of the Bad Old Days. And it also reminds me that both President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have been accused of discrimination and shady actions against black people. Maybe Prater thinks he's just following in his President's footsteps?
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