The awkward Zoom call is now a staple of office life, but even by that low bar, this one in November 2020 was painful. A middle-aged White man with a gold pin on the lapel of his gray suit stared into the camera: Charlie Oppler, president of the National Association of Realtors and chief executive officer of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, with 15 offices in northern and central New Jersey. Oppler was speaking at a diversity and inclusion summit, an occasion marked with a mea culpa—and not a small one. The NAR, America’s largest trade group, issued a formal apology for decades of racist policy that excluded non-White people from owning homes.
Real estate agents helped create today’s deeply segregated communities. In the 1930s they provided the raw neighborhood intelligence, using starkly racist language about “negro-blighted” districts and the “infiltration of undesirable racial elements,” that aided in the creation of the infamous redlining maps denying federally backed loans to people of color. They came up with the idea of loading property deeds with restrictive covenants that kept Black people out of the most desirable neighborhoods. The NAR’s predecessor organization opposed the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which barred discrimination in home sales. In case that all sounds like ancient history, multiple instances of members airing racist views on social media in 2020 led the group to adopt a formal code barring hate speech.