What's this racist deed provision saying?
October 1, 2014 2:32 PM   Subscribe

My friend is buying a house and received the original 1942 deed to the place, in Arizona. There's a (blatantly racist) provision we're having trouble parsing.

There's a paragraph that reads:
"No race or nationality nor any person other than those of pure Caucasian blood shall use or occupy any building on any lot except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant, and this restriction shall exclude those of the Negro, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu and Turkish race."
Now, the casual read is that the deed is indicating only Caucasians can use or occupy the building on the lot. But the restriction clause confuses us: are they indicating that the restriction (of only Caucasians) shall exclude those of those races? So it's okay if those races also use and occupy the buildings, even if they're NOT servants?

If that's the case, who are they trying to exclude? Native Americans?

This is a nasty, terribly fascinating thing to read in a property deed, but I'm definitely curious about how to parse the restriction. I'm also curious why those races in particular, if anyone has any insight there.
posted by disillusioned to Law & Government (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
It should be noted that this no longer applies, of course.
posted by disillusioned at 2:36 PM on October 1, 2014


I think they're listing the races that they are intending to exclude.
posted by aubilenon at 2:36 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


That is, exclude from the property, not exclude from the restriction.
posted by aubilenon at 2:37 PM on October 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


The clause starting with "this restriction" is providing a non-exclusive list of types of people who would be excluded by the restriction in the first clause. So, it isn't just those five categories that are excluded, but the drafter wanted to make it clear that they were definately included in the exclusion.
posted by Area Man at 2:41 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think aubilenon is right. It was written by an ignoramus.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 2:42 PM on October 1, 2014 [11 favorites]


Sounds like it's saying "No non-white user or occupier, except servants, but servants can only be Negro, Mexican, Chinesse, Japanese, Hindu, or Turkish".
posted by pdb at 2:42 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


You may want to read up on the long, sordid history of racially restrictive covenants (that's a quick, and more general, wikipedia overview, but also google "racial(ly) restrictive covenants" as a phrase). It was one of the underlying techniques to enforce redlining in various places throughout the US, famously Chicago, but also apparently Arizona.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 2:43 PM on October 1, 2014 [5 favorites]


To me this is a straightforward exclusion of non-Caucasians, and in particular "black" people, Hispanic people, Asian people, Indian people and Arab people as anything but servants.

Ick.
posted by bearwife at 2:45 PM on October 1, 2014


Oh, also, putting the "industry" name for this practice (such as it was) together with the particular language you are looking at, I would parse it as such:

"No race or nationality nor any person other than those of pure Caucasian blood shall use or occupy any building on any lot
except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant,
and this restriction shall exclude those of the Negro, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Hindu and Turkish race."

Where "this restriction" applies to the entire effort to restrict the race of the owner / occupant, not the exception thereto.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 2:46 PM on October 1, 2014 [13 favorites]


Back in the 1940s, and I'm sure to some degree even today, it was extremely common for members of various ethnic minorities to consider themselves white. Whiteness is... well, it's sort of a weird "we know it when we see it" thing, and my Mexican family absolutely does not see themselves as non-Caucasian, for example. I'm pretty sure they were enumerating things specifically to make sure that various peoples who might not be white enough for their taste were all covered.
posted by Sequence at 2:58 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]


The case of US v Bhagat Singh Thind was a 1923 case in which a Sikh man tried to argue that, as a person of Aryan descent, he was a Caucasian and thus eligible for naturalization. That's probably in the background of why the drafter of this clause chose to spell out some of the races/ethnicities they wished to exclude from their definition of "Caucasian".
posted by katemonster at 3:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [11 favorites]


It sure looks like the "restriction" is the approval of servants of non-caucasian races, and that despite that approval, the listed races aren't welcome even as servants.
posted by bullatony at 3:56 PM on October 1, 2014


"Except for servants, white people only to live here, and really really really not these non-white people to live here."
posted by jaguar at 4:22 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree with everyone who has suggested that the exclusion is aimed specifically at people in those categories, rather than exempting people in those categories. You can learn more about the history of the legal struggles about who was a Caucasian (including the case katemonster references), and racially restrictive covenants by watching the documentary, "Race:The Power of an Illusion", which I cannot recommend highly enough.
posted by lassie at 5:36 PM on October 1, 2014


The restriction excludes.

"Nobody but Caucasians can use or occupy" is a restriction.

"Except that others can be servants" is not a restriction; it's an exception to a restriction.

"The restriction excludes so-and-so" is just repetitive emphasis on "the restriction", not an exception to the exception to the restriction.
posted by Flunkie at 6:51 PM on October 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


To expand some on Joey Buttafoucalt's answers, racial discrimination in housing was very common in the US throughout the 20th century, and in addition to covenenants such as the one you discovered there were a number of other policies that enforced segregated housing. This features promininently in Ta-Nehisi Coates excellent The Case for Reparations (discussed on MeFi) and is written about in depth in much of the source material for his essay. It is worth noting that this sort of thing was nationwide, not just areas where Jim Crow held sway, and was backed up by federal policy. It is also a good example of how the notion of "race" is quite mutable; your example was less than 100 years ago, yet few would consider "Hindu" and "Turkish" to be racial descriptors today.
posted by TedW at 8:45 AM on October 2, 2014


Yeah, pretty moot as this is completely unenforceable, but they want to exclude non-white people from any use of the property, unless you want to have some as servants. That's okay. They then define some people who are explicitly not white. (And word it awkwardly in the process.)

But hey, this is Arizona. And the framers of the document apparently considered the Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and Greeks and various other unnamed nationalities as being white, if only by omission. Baby steps, baby steps...
posted by Naberius at 9:13 AM on October 2, 2014


If anyone is curious, The University of Washington has a project on the history of restrictive covenants in the Seattle area..
posted by Good Brain at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


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