The White Imagination and Housing For Black Folx
Let’s stop fooling ourselves about Black house hunting experiences
This quote from DL Hughley resonated with me.
The most dangerous place for black people to live is in white people’s imagination
- DL Hughley
He was talking mainly about the risk of Black people getting shot in America, both by law enforcement and other white people, but it also applies to other situations and other places.
The truth is that as a Black person you don’t have to do anything for white people to feel a way about you. I’ve mentioned many times my first experience of being called the N-word when a white guy assumed I was up to no good - in Trinidad, one of the world’s most multicultural places. That has stayed with me.
Housing Discrimination in France
But when I thought of Hughley’s quote, I remembered my time in France. My white roommate had made the arrangements for our flat (she later turned out to be problematic in her own way, but that’s another story), and it was time for us to go to our ancient French landlady and pay our rent. This we did and one of the first things that landlady said to me was “if I’d known you were Black I wouldn’t have rented to you”.
I was astounded, because she couldn’t possibly have known anything about me that would justify that remark. She said that based on half-formed ideas about what Black people were, and assumed that I would be found wanting.
That said, at least she didn’t evict us, so I suppose I should be grateful that her bigotry crumbled a little in the face of the hard cash of rent money, which was always paid on time.
Housing Discrimination in the UK
The issue with white imagination and housing would continue to plague me. In England, when my sister-friend and I rented a flat in Southampton, when we went to pay our second month’s rent, the landlady, who lived upstairs, remarked that we didn’t play loud music, with a hint of surprise. Again, she knew nothing about us.
And later on, when looking for rental property, both in Southampton and London, I had more unusual experiences. In Southampton, when visiting a flat, someone tried to point out all its flaws so I wouldn’t want to take it. And in London, someone told me the house in which I had been hoping to rent a flat had mysteriously been sold since that morning’s phone call. Both those approaches are pretty unusual when someone is trying to rent out a property.
More Scrutiny, Less Grace
Moving away from my personal experience - which I know is shared by many - that white imagination can deny Black people shelter, and can make their experience of having that shelter less than pleasant.
As with other Black experiences, there’s an added level of scrutiny and a lot less grace. Often, people think of you as some strange creature, and they go out of their way to exclude you - that’s happened to me many times.
And I know of a friend whose eventual neighbours were told, in hushed tones, that a Black family had bought the house next door, so maybe they’d like to choose another property on the estate. (They told the estate agent where to go, happily purchased the house, AND exposed the racism they’d seen.)
There’s also the issue of low valuations for homes owned by Black people (and no, that doesn’t just happen in the US.)
We keep trying to fool ourselves that we live in a post-racial society, but I’ve had experiences in the 1990s and since similar to the ones my parents had in the 1960s and I know of people today who are still having those experiences. Not enough has changed.
Would-be allies, be honest with yourselves…
How do you feel about Black families moving into your area?
When they do, do you include them in neighbourhood get togethers?
Are you pushing back against those in your area who assume anyone who isn’t white is a possible problem?
The answers to those questions will tell you where there’s still work to do.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Co-Founder of , educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.
People are in general very narrow minded and easily influenced and when the narrative has thickened over centuries it is very difficult to change it. Good on you for trying and very sorry to hear you had to experience all this discrimination. I am comfortable with all three scenarios. Race or color doesn't bother me much. I either click with someone or don't. Or neutral.
I'm fortunate enough to be from DC and still live near enough that of course, some of my neighbors are black.
But since I'm white, I can't tell you if my black neighbors feel as welcome as I assume they are. I would hope they all do.
The term I've heard locally is "white-washing" before selling.
Remove everything personal from the house.
Have a white friend show the real estate agent around.
Once the real estate agent prices it, then you resurface.
Not fair to you but think of it like women having male friends go car shopping with them. Play their prejudices against them.
If you have to draft a white friend to look at apartments do that.
As long as you get market for your house, all's good. As long as you get the apartment you want, all's good.
Again, not fair but the goal is to get equal treatment and if it requires sneakiness, so be it.
The good news around here is I'm not sure the nieces and their friends even know this exists. They've never lived in a white world. Their cousins are both black and Asian. Their schools looked like mini UNs.
And thank God for it.