HATE THY NEIGHBOR: MOVE-IN VIOLENCE AND THE PERSISTENCE OF RACIAL SEGREGATION IN AMERICAN HOUSING
by Jeannine Bell. New York: New York University Press, 2013. 259pp. Cloth $30.00. ISBN: 978-0-8147-9144-8.
Reviewed by Jared D. Perkins, Department of Political Science, University of North Texas. Email: jaredperkins[at]my.unt.edu.
In 2012, more than 5,700 bias-motivated hate crimes were committed in America, with 48.3 percent of these offenses motivated by racial bias alone (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2012). A subset of these crimes were committed in or around the homes of the targets, and included vandalism, arson and property damage, often intended to signal to the targets of the attacks that they are not welcome in the neighborhood. In HATE THY NEIGHBOR: MOVE-IN VIOLENCE AND THE PERSISTENCE OF RACIAL SEGREGATION IN AMERICAN HOUSING, Jeannine Bell investigates racially-motivated hate crimes that occur around the time individuals move into a neighborhood, which she terms “anti-integrationist violence.” Bell explores this underaddressed area of racially biased attacks, highlighting the ways that they are distinct from other race-motivated hate crimes and the increased need for law enforcement to confront the unique factors related to cases involving anti-integrationist violence. This book is a much-needed addition to the literature on race and hate crimes in the United States, and raises awareness of the need to address the causes and consequences of anti-integrationist violence.
Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the historical evolution of housing integration between racial minorities, primarily African-Americans, and whites in the United States. Bell notes that before the Civil War, racial integration in housing was far more common and large shifts did not start occurring until the end of the nineteenth century. After the end of reconstruction, residential communities started to use legal tools, such as segregation ordinances, to restrict neighborhoods to white families. With the increase in African-American migration into urban centers in the early twentieth century, tension over housing integration increased and segregation was sometimes enforced using violent means, with mobs creating inhospitable environments for racial minorities moving into white neighborhoods. Bell also documents the way that the federal government institutionalized segregation in housing through the issuing of Federal Housing Administration loans, which were based on guidelines that discouraged racial integration. Even when African-Americans were able to find housing in a predominantly white neighborhood and were spared mob violence, they often found that the property they sought to purchase had a restricted covenant attached to it which forbade the sale of the home to racial minorities. Bell notes that even after the Supreme Court struck down racial covenants as unconstitutional, similar covenants instructed realtors not to sell to “undesirable peoples” and thus perpetuated de facto housing [*87] segregation.
Looking specifically at the history of anti-integrationist violence, Bell finds that over time the perpetrators changed from being largely organized groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan or neighborhood associations, to individuals who felt threatened by a member of a racial minority moving into their neighborhood. Accompanying this shift was the implementation of the Fair Housing Act as a solution to anti-integrationist violence and its underlying causes. However, Bell notes, both in the historical context in Chapter 2 and in discussing the Act's current efficacy in Chapter 6, that it is not an adequate tool to address racially-biased hate crimes that are designed to intimidate the targets to leave a neighborhood. Finally, Bell concludes her historical survey by discussing the passage and implementation of hate crimes legislation that was designed to elevate the status of acts of anti-integrationist violence from petty crimes to offenses that deserve specialized attention from law enforcement.
Chapter 3 examines the motivation of perpetrators of anti-integrationist violence in the context of an age considered by some to be “post-race.” Bell dispels the popular assumption that these acts of violence, from cross-burnings to verbal assaults, are committed by extremist members of hate groups. Instead, she notes that the majority of perpetrators are ordinary people that have no association with organized hate groups. Bell then goes on to analyze survey data and experimental research regarding racial attitudes in general, as well as research on housing integration more specifically. She finds that while most white Americans have generally positive views about racial minorities, they are less supportive of living in integrated neighborhoods where whites are the slight majority or a minority. Bell suggests that perpetrators of anti-integrationist violence may feel that racial minorities, especially African-Americans, are a threat to white neighborhoods as they could bring crime and other undesirable behavior that may lower property values. Thus, a major distinction between perpetrators of anti-integrationist violence and perpetrators of other types of racially-motivated hate crimes is that anti-integrationist violence is largely defensive, where only racial minorities moving into the neighborhood are considered a threat. Conversely, many other racially-motivated hate crimes are driven by a generalized animus towards a specific race and are thus more offensive in nature.
Chapter 4 extends the analysis of perpetrator motivation as a defensive bias by looking at the example of interethnic violence between Latinos and African-Americans in parts of Los Angeles County. In that case, Bell finds support for defensive bias as a motivation for anti-integrationist violence as Latino gangs, the majority of perpetrators, felt threatened by African-Americans moving into their neighborhood. Chapter 5 further examines perpetrator motivation in anti-integrationist violence through the lens of socioeconomic class. Using a group position model of prejudice, where prejudice by one group towards another is measured by the extent to which the other group is seen as a competitive threat, Bell examines the reactions of working class whites to African-Americans moving into their [*88] community. She finds that across geographic boundaries, from suburban Chicago to urban Philadelphia, working class white neighborhoods have a tight sense of community and some view African-Americans as not belonging to that community and a possible threat to their way of life. Bell also finds that incidents of anti-integrationist violence occur even in more affluent white neighborhoods, where African-Americans and other minorities are sometimes perceived as poor, and therefore a threat to the prestige of the neighborhood. Overall, Bell provides evidence that, across the country, many racially-homogenous neighborhoods are highly resistant to minority integration, especially from African-Americans, and individuals in those neighborhoods may resort to violence to intimidate minority targets to “defend” their community.
Chapter 6 examines the legal remedies available to combat anti-integrationist violence, from federal statutes to local ordinances. First, Bell notes the difficulty of police investigation into these acts, such as cross-burnings, as they often occur at night, leaving little evidence and few witnesses. In looking at federal remedies for anti-integrationist violence, she finds that civil rights laws and the Fair Housing Act are often insufficient in addressing the complicated factors in these cases. State remedies fare somewhat better as most states have some form of hate crime law that can enhance the importance of the criminal investigation and the sentencing if the perpetrator is caught. However, Bell finds that hate crimes statutes are limited in their ability to serve as a remedy because prosecutors must prove the intent of the perpetrator, something that is difficult to do in practice. Thus, she indicates that present legal remedies are failing to truly address the problem of anti-integrationist violence.
In concluding the book, Bell highlights the importance of ending anti-integrationist violence and segregation in neighborhoods by underscoring the devastating toll it has on the targets of such violence, and on communities at large. Given that the current legal remedies are not sufficient to address this problem, this book signals the need to focus efforts on finding better remedies for anti-integrationist violence, and lasting solutions to the underlying causes of continued residential segregation.
Bell’s book has several strengths that make it an especially fascinating read. First, each chapter includes dozens of personal stories from targets of anti-integrationist violence, both putting a human face on these crimes and adding a rich context to illustrate each of the frames used by the author. Second, the book does an impressive job uniting existing research on racially-motivated hate crimes and residential segregation with Bell’s own empirical analysis. Bell introduces in the book new data she has collected on news reports of acts of anti-integrationist violence from 1990 and 2010, and finds that 455 incidents were reported during that time. This original empirical research further enhances the urgency of her call for action to address these crimes and their causes, and provides insight for future research on this important topic. Additionally, the highly engaging writing style makes the book accessible to a variety of audiences, though it will be particularly appealing to scholars of race and the law, hate crimes, and residential [*89] integration. The book is also likely to be of interest to civil rights advocates given the author’s compelling conclusion that we need to place a greater emphasis on anti-integrationist violence in the agenda for future social reform and legal mobilization. Overall, HATE THY NEIGHBOR offers a needed look at the state of racialized violence in the Obama age, and serves as a strong reminder that the struggle for true integration is still ongoing.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. 2012. HATE CRIMES STATISTICS, 2012. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice.
Copyright 2014 by the author, Jared D. Perkins