March 2012Monthly Archives

Chicago Mortgage Rights During The Civil Rights Years

In Chicago during the 1960s, there was a well-established African American population – over three quarters of a million – who had successfully established themselves relatively well off financially compared to African American communities in other large cities.

While still only making half of what local whites would make, their per capita income was higher than Blacks in every other American city apart from Detroit. Of course, success is always relative. Racist institutions and habits both played their part in keeping the community from gaining true equality with their white neighbors.

In fact, ’white neighbors’ itself is a bit of a misnomer. Due to the racist practice of redlining the white and black populations of Chicago were largely segregated. If an African American family wanted to purchase a home, they found it almost impossible to obtain a traditional mortgage at reasonable interest rates.

The alternative they had to pursue was to buy a home on installment payments; similar to the way people would purchase a television or a refrigerator reviews of the terms of these arrangements indicate that they were very harsh.

Missing a payment would result in eviction – just as if they were mere tenants.  Plus, the costs were onerous. Research paid that in Chicago black families paid 70 plus percent more for their housing than white families did, despite their much lower household income! With this type of financial disparity, clearly the prospect of purchasing luxuries such as refrigerators and televisions was dim.

In late 1968, many buyers in this situation banded together to form the Contract Buyers League. On December 1st of that year they organized a payment strike, where several hundred of these contract buyers stopped making their payments at the same time. As a result of this, many of the real estate agents involved renegotiated the terms of many of the contracts with fairer terms.

Social Injustice for Foreigners in Thailand

The civil rights movement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in Europe and America did a lot to protect the rights of vulnerable minority groups. These groups include foreigners. In many parts of Asia foreigners are still commonly perceived with distrust, and are denied the same rights as citizens. The civil rights movement in Asia has not developed along the same lines as it did in the West. A good example of this is Thailand.

Thailand is seen by many as a paradise country. The weather is great nearly year round. The cost of living is cheap. The people are friendly. The infrastructure and medical services are on a par with many Western countries and the crime rate is low. While welcoming foreign tourists, many Thais have a hypocritical attitude to foreigners living in Thailand. Foreigners are called ’farang’. They are viewed as a source of income. Those farang that try and integrate into Thai society are faced with a number of difficulties.

One of the most common phrases in Thai is: ’the farang knows too much’. Those foreigners who become too aware of the scams, the scandals and the extra legal way that many communities operate are often shunned. While learning Thai opens the door to communicating with locals, it also arouses suspicion and puts many Thais on their guard.

The law does not help. A good example of this is the visa system in Thailand. Even if married to a Thai person a foreigner will still have to leave the country every 2 months to make a visa run. This is the height of bureaucratic racism. There is no point to exiting a country and then immediately re-entering. Nothing is achieved except a regular income for those involved in the ’visa run’ business. It is a system designed to remind foreigners that they are only begrudgingly allowed to stay in the country.

Another injustice for foreigners in Thailand involves owning property and land. The law is a mess in this area. Foreigners have to buy through  their spouse’s name. This leaves too much room for cheating. Foreigners not married to Thai nationals can only buy 30 year leases on land, but have permanent rights to anything they build. This is illogical. At the same time the Thai government allows Thai businesses that have minority foreign ownership to buy freehold property.

On the Thai island of Koh Tao the confusion of property law is exploited very cynically. Estate agents sell land and property to foreigners and then at whim they take the property away under the legal loophole that Koh Tao has no land titles because it was once a prison island. It is possible to get recourse in the courts, but a foreigner is always taking the risk of physical threats if they pursue their rights.

If Thailand wants to really attract foreign investment and increase tourist revenues it has to do more to protect the rights of foreigners. At the same time the police force has to be fairly paid so they spend more time upholding the law and not collecting ’fines’.

Sea Gypsies Discrimination

The cause of equal rights takes on many forms. There is a growing awareness of the need for civil rights and equal rights for the various minority races in the West. The same is true of women’s rights – now most Western countries have the right to equal pay for men and women enshrined in the law. These laws are not perfectly enforced but there is always redress by legal means. Those who have the courage and the resources can sue for justice in many parts of the western world.

In Asia the situation is more complicated. Strongly muslim socieities tend to regard the idea that women have equal rights with men as religiously incorrect. The Arab oil nations place strong legal distinctions between nationals and immigrant workers. The latter group treated as entirely unworthy of many the privelges nationals enjoy. Korea and Japan have tried to do more to bring equal rights to their citizens.

In Thailand the government official line is that there are equal rights for all. The situation is made complicated by the millions of illegal Laotion and Burmese workers in the country. Another group who often do not receive much public attention are the sea gypsies. They are also called the Moken. They are semi-nomadic people from Malaysia. The sea gypsies are found in the Gulf of Thailand, Krabi, Phang-Nga and Phuket. They were originally encouraged to settle in the Khao Lak area and other deserted islands to stop the British claiming land that was felt to belong to Thailand. Unfortunately, they were not given any rights to fish the seas in the area. Since the Surin Islands and the Similan Islands became popular diving spots commercial fishing has been banned in the area. This leaves the sea gypsies outside the law as they must fish in order to survive.

They find it hard to gain representation within the democracy of Thailand since they are an isolated group of people who shun modern society. They have their own language and religion and want equal rights. More than that they want to be left alone.