Equal housing

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BY HEINO MOLLS


 

We must demand equal housing for everyone!

 

As a person who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, I watched the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King live on television.

 

I saw people beaten by police in Selma, Alabama as they crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge. They were marching in a peaceful demonstration for freedom. I watched as people were hosed by water pressure that was described by Dr. King as “so powerful, it could tear bark off a tree” simply because they demonstrated for the right to cast a ballot in American elections.

 

It was horrific.

 

It was all described to me in great detail by Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, on the Buffalo news stations that we were able to pull in on the TV antenna. About the same time, there were commercials about housing on good old WKBW and WBEN-TV, which gave me my first introduction to the real estate community and endeared me to Realtors. It began a life- long admiration I have for this industry.

 

The commercials I saw promoted home ownership and used a term we all got used to hearing and using. The phrase was “equal housing”.

 

I soon began to hear other terms such as “civil rights” and “integration”. These phrases implied simple freedom to go where you wanted to go, attend the school of your choice and live where you wanted to live.

 

But it was the Realtors’ term, “equal housing” that I heard first and most frequently. Here was an industry willing to put up money for a phrase that simply meant common dignity and freedom, for all, during a very ugly time in society. Here was an industry that was willing to face the issue head on and do something about it.

 

The two words in that phrase spoke volumes. One of the most important things it implied was that if our society ever separated a group of people based on the colour of their skin, their ethnic background, their religious beliefs or any other commonality, then that society is wrong to begin with.

 

If we look back in time, we will see that the most shameful points of our history were the times when people were set apart from others. At one point in America, there was a government department to administer the purchase and sale of Negroes. At one time, there was a department of Jewish affairs in Germany.

 

There will never be enough money that can be used to repay the agony and degradation to the descendants of these people, but the societies that are involved can and should pay something, as well as give a formal apology, and ask for forgiveness. In some cases this is happening, in some cases it is not.

 

It is not happening in Canada, despite negotiations that have lasted more than 100 years. Despite human tragedies that included taking children away from families even in recent times, we continue to separate people in Canada. We call them Indians.




I am ashamed to think that our government believes that as long as we give separated people their own place to live, like a “reservation”, and give them some special privileges such as not paying some taxes and fishing, that we are going the right way in our dialogue.

How can we possibly believe that? This is terribly wrong. For heaven's sake, we are shooting each other over the right to fish lobsters in Nova Scotia to this day.

 

I was in the Walmart store in Dryden, Ont. one day when the cashier in the store asked a young man in front of me, “Do you have a status card?” I immediately thought of all those movies I've seen where the Nazis ask people, “let me see your papers please”. It was like somebody asking, “I don't know if you are a Negro or not, do you have an identification card that says you are?” This practice is completely demeaning and here it was, right in front of me.

 

We must pay each of the decedents of aboriginal, First Nation people as much money as we can for retribution of what we have done to them. We must ask their forgiveness. We must all be aware that it will not be enough.

 

But thereafter, we must work together to never lower ourselves to the ugliness that once existed. We should celebrate everyone's heritage and learn from it. We must live together in “equal housing”.

 

Our country will soon be facing a federal election. It seems to me that the real estate industry and its many thousands of participants represent a powerful number of voters. I would think that when these candidates show up at our homes and businesses looking for support, we should ask them: Which one of you will respect the call of the real estate industry for “equal housing”? Which one of you will get rid of Indian reservations? Which one of you will go to the House of Commons and dismantle the shameful, degrading and racist, Department of Indian Affairs?

 

Heino Molls is publisher of REM.

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