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23 April 2012

A Peek outside of Privilege

My wife and I just signed a new lease for the fall. For the first time since we moved out of our parents' homes, we'll be living in a single-family standalone house. We're pretty excited. The process was illustrative, though. The women from whom we'll be renting is a first-time landlord. She has owned the house for quite some time but has only rented to her own children and their friends while they were college students. Understandably, she has been nervous about the prospect of renting to strangers. She confided in us that she was hoping to be able to rent to a professional couple instead of to college students. Frankly, both on paper and in reality, my wife and I are very desirable tenants. I am a Ph.D. tenure-track college professor, my wife is finishing her second bachelors degree, our household income is well above the national median, and we both have excellent credit scores. Oh, and we're white.

Even though we're really a lessor's wet dream, our future landlord was oddly skeptical. She was obviously uncomfortable throughout the process and seemed intent on finding flaws with us. We found out after-the-fact that our current landlord gave our future landlord a glowing reference over the telephone for us, so glowing in fact that our future landlord asked if our current landlord was related to us. My wife and I haven't been able to shake a very icky feeling from the whole ordeal. We feel suspect and belittled. Most of all, we are incredulous. Never in our lives have we been put on such defense. As we were leaving the property, my wife astutely pronounced, "Now, we know what it feels like to be black."

The reality is that the challenge to our privilege that has made us feel so uncomfortable pales in comparison to the constant and repeating attacks to character that people of color experience frequently and repeatedly. Check out these data that point to the problems of racial privilege that led to differences when the housing bubble burst.


UPDATE (4/25/2012): More here on race, residential segregation, and unequal outcomes.

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