One Nation Ep1 Pt 2: A Look Inside One of America's Most Segregated Suburbs

Yahoo Life correspondent Brittany Jones-Cooper continues her look at segregation issues on Long island, NY, this time speaking with Newsday journalist Keith Herbert about his team's award winning investigation into the area's housing segregation, and chatting with a mother who lives in one of the predominantly non-white neighborhoods about her experience living on the Island.

Video Transcript

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: After learning about Long Island's problematic history with housing segregation, I wanted to learn more about how it is still very much a present day issue, so I traveled to the headquarters of Long Island newspaper "Newsday," where I spoke with journalist Keith Herbert who, along with his team, recently won a Peabody for his investigative report on fair housing entitled "Long Island Divided."

KEITH HERBERT: 2016, we started seeing a trend of Long Island getting more diverse. At the same time, we were realizing that the historical segregated housing pattern that existed on Long Island for decades wasn't changing at all, despite the new residents. There are 291 individual municipalities or census-designated places on the island. African Americans live in 11 of those.

So those numbers really tell you about the concentration of black folks on Long Island and where they live. So that was one of the things we knew about when we were thinking about testing the housing market to see, if in any way, that real estate agents might play a role in that historical segregation pattern.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: For over 18 months, the "Newsday" team hired actors of different ethnicities to play potential homebuyers. Each homebuyer would had the exact same credentials and financial standings. The only difference would be the color of their skin.

JOHNNIE MAE ALSTON: Oh, so that means I can't go out to see anything.

ANNE MARIE QUEALLY BECHAND: I won't-- I won't do it. You can try another person, but I don't have the time to do that.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: After they were outfitted with hidden cameras and microphones, each actor went to different agencies to see if there were any differences in the way they were treated. The investigation found that 49% of black applicants faced some form of discrimination.

KEITH HERBERT: The disparate treatment or unequal treatment, you know, was many different forms. It could be what we call racial steering in the sense that they get sent to a neighborhood that's more diverse if they're a person of color. And the white person would be sent to a neighborhood where the overall average of that neighborhood makeup was less diverse.

So it came in many different forms. One form could be a minority tester would go to an agent, and the white tester we go to the same agent, but the agent would tell the white tester something derogatory about a neighborhood dominated by minority residents, while the black tester wouldn't get any information about that.

You know, it's really troublesome that a person of color, particularly the Black person, would risk perhaps some form of discrimination nearly half the time they would go into the housing market and search for housing. And housing is a requirement, you know? It's right up there with food, clothing, and shelter, right? So it seems that more robust enforcement of the existing fair housing standards would be in place.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I visited with a family who lives in one of Long Island's predominantly non-white neighborhoods. Ama is an educator, children's book author, and mother who's raising two little boys on the border of the towns of Baldwin and Freeport. And you have two children now? Tell me about your family.

AMA YAWSON: OK, so they are beautiful, wonderful boys, who I think enjoy the space and the greenery of Long Island. We love the parks of Long Island, doing nature walks all the time. There's lots of beauty and there's lots of potential, but, of course, there are also challenges. I would say one challenge is that I feel as if the amenities, the stores that are located in our community don't reflect the economic diversity of the community.

So very often we are-- as a mother, I'm interested in very healthy foods for my family, unable to find them at an affordable price in my own community. I'm very often going to Merrick, I'm going to Garden City, I'm going to Westbury in order to shop and get the sort of vegan products, gluten-free products, healthy, organic price-- organic products at an affordable price. I cannot walk to buy kale, but I can walk to buy Yaki weaves and all types of [INAUDIBLE] and so forth. It's like unconscionable to me. Unfortunately, Long Island is sort of like a microcosm of the United States.

- United we stand!

- Divided we fall!

- United we stand!

- Divided we fall!

- United we stand!

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: So I know there have been some local protests. Have you and your family attended them?

AMA YAWSON: I did take them out on a couple of marches because I wanted them to know that this is a problem, like many other problems in the past, that we are going to overcome, and that we are situated in a position of resistance, and we are making sure that this is going to change. And that this type of behavior does not in any way crush their dreams. Their dreams of becoming video game programmers and scientists, those dreams will continue. We continue to give them examples of people of African descent who are doing well so that they feel encouraged.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: I know there were some counter protests just across the road over in Merrick with them telling protesters to leave their community.

- Go west!

- Go west!

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: How did that make you feel?

AMA YAWSON: It's troubling because it's a nearby community. And so I would like to feel as if the people that I am around, of all races, understand the value of my life and the value of my children's lives. And so instead of being enraged by protests, they would join with protests in saying, this has got to stop.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Do you think there's a way to bridge that gap with some of the predominantly white neighborhoods and work together?

AMA YAWSON: Oh, absolutely, because some of the protesters were white. And some of the protesters were from all over Long Island who are white. What keeps me hopeful is just the amazing work that so many people on Long Island are doing in order to make sure that we are creating a more equitable environment. And so I'm extremely hopeful that we will indeed engage in the change that we need to make sure that all of us thrive.

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