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Excerpted From: Leah K. Burton and Noelle G. Hicks, Overcoming Racism in Community Associations: Attorneys as Agents of Change, 37 No. 5 3 Practical Real Estate Lawyer (September 2021) (109 Footnotes) (Full Document)
Racism exists in community associations. We all know it does. How many times have you been on the phone with a board of directors discussing a covenant violation when all of a sudden one of the board members chimes in with a comment about the race of the homeowner at issue? Before you even have a chance to bring up the Fair Housing Act and remind the board that it cannot discriminate against homeowners on the basis of race or national origin or selectively enforce its covenants and restrictions, the board member at issue will hastily exclaim that “race has nothing to do with it.” A red flag goes up in your mind. You want to give the board member the benefit of the doubt and believe that the board member's actions are not motivated by implicit bias against people of color, but you know as an experienced professional and counselor of the law--not to mention as a human--that racism is playing a role in the board member's decision-making on this particular issue.
So, what do you do? As counsel for the community association, you are obligated to advise on the law and make recommendations based on the state of the law as it exists at the time of the rendering of your opinions. Does this include educating boards and managers on addressing and overcoming racism in community associations? We believe it does.
Disclaimer: This topic will make you uncomfortable. It is a highly sensitive issue that carries the weight of centuries of hostility and pain. Rather than shy away from it, we encourage you to lean into the discomfort and consider how we as attorneys can become agents of change in overcoming racism in community associations. We are not here to shame anyone, but rather to educate about belief systems and stereotypes that are oftentimes engrained in our psyches as a result of our experiences and environment rather than as a result of deliberate choice. We will also explore how we can become more mindful of the roles that lawyers and community association boards and managers play in unintentionally perpetuating racism in our communities.
This article will discuss the history of racism in community associations and the current state of the law as it pertains to discrimination on the basis of race. It will also discuss overcoming racism in community associations by acknowledging the existence of racial micro-aggressions and implicit bias; taking accountability for the roles we play in the perpetuation of those micro-aggressions and implicit biases; providing tools we can use to overcome and reduce racist behaviors and stereotypes; and adopting behaviors and policies that support equality in community associations.
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In closing, we want to acknowledge the fact that we all make mistakes. However, we don't always like to acknowledge mistakes when it comes to race because we equate perfection with being a good person. Just know that we're not supposed to be perfect when dealing with race. “Keep in mind that we are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain between our imperfections that allows us to be good.”
The tackling and overcoming of racism in community associations will not happen overnight. The hope is that by utilizing the four “A's” of overcoming racism-- awareness, accountability, action and adoption--first for ourselves and then through education of our community association boards and managers, we can do our part to make our communities more diverse and inclusive places to call home and can serve as true agents of change like the trailblazer attorneys that came before us and those that will seek to follow our example in the future.
LEAH K. BURTON is a Shareholder and soon-to-be Manager of the Dallas office of Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC.
NOELLE G. HICKS is an Associate in the Property Owners Association Law Section of Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC.
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