San Rafael

When we (a white family) first moved to Marin from New York City in 2011 and were fortunate to buy a small house in Santa Venetia, I was horrified to find among the title documents an original racist covenant for the neighborhood, dated 1940. It came with a disclaimer noting that such covenants are now illegal and unenforceable, but that did little to mitigate my naive and profound shock. The document stipulated that no home built on the land of this subdivision should be "in any manner used or occupied by Asiatics or Negroes, except that persons of such races may be employed as servants." This wasn't what I thought of when I thought of California! I knew so little about the ubiquity of racist residential covenants and redlining nationally; I had believed they were largely or solely a Southern phenomenon. To find them operating not only here, but as late as 1940 — openly and so bluntly — was a revelation.

For me, this was one of those experiences that brought home to me my white privilege: in this case, thinking about how physically shaken and sick I felt in confronting this document, bursting out at me like a landmine from amid what I had thought was a boring and bureaucratic stack of legal paperwork — and then imagining the far greater psychological violence of that encounter if I had been Black or Asian-American or indeed any person of color. I thought of my own Asian-American and Latinx family members who would be visiting me in that home, and the burden of violence that they still have to carry.

Now that I know a little more about the history of African-American presence in Marin, I know that within a year or two of that original covenant large numbers of Black residents were building ships for the war effort just a few miles away in Marin City while being actively prevented from living outside of that concentrated enclave. And I can see how the grotesque inequities and embedded segregation visible now in Marin are the results of fully intentional and structural discrimination that we have not yet done the collective work to dismantle and mitigate.