Real Estate Racism: A Social Experiment

PHOTO If you heard a realtor making racist remarks to her clients, would you intervene? An episode from the ABC television program, What Would You Do.

What would you do if, while touring a $1.4 million home for sale, you overheard a steady stream of blatant racism directed toward an African-American couple?

ABC News decided to find out by rigging a home for sale with hidden cameras and staging an "open house." We then hired a white actress named Margot to play the role of a racist home-seller who doesn't want to sell to African-Americans. Black actors Cezar and Vanessa were the targets of her discriminatory remarks.

When both actors told us they had personally experienced this type of bigotry when house-hunting themselves, we weaved some of their real-life stories into Margot's dialogue.

"Perhaps you're looking for something more urban than suburban," Margot said to the couple while touring the home. "This is a quiet community -- we don't need altercations here. You know, there aren't a lot of your types in this area."

Real Estate Racism

Will other visitors to the open house say anything when they overhear these racist comments, or walk away?

'I Don't Know Where You Come From'

The first visitors to walk in the door were mother and daughter, Dee and Jessica Dolese, who live nearby. As they toured the home and heard Margot's offensive remarks, they at first seemed confused and tried to avoid the scene, moving quickly from room to room.

We cued Margot to say her most astonishing line yet: "We don't have a lot of colored people in this neighborhood." Dee Dolese, who is white, finally reached her limit and gave our racist seller an earful.

"I'm appalled. You obviously don't live in this town because we do and everybody is welcome here. I don't know where you come from but I've got to go now. I'm throwing up," she said.

The next visitor, local realtor George Walsh, also white, wasn't nearly as vocal.

"We have a very nice calm neighborhood, you know," Margot told the couple. "We don't have a lot of altercations and things like that. We don't have people, you know…"

Cezar asked, "You think we bring trouble?"

"Well, you know. I don't know," Margot responded.

Walsh smiled and shook his head.

Although we could tell by his facial expressions that he had heard at least some of Margot's racist comments, like most people touring the home, his initial response was to walk away. After about eight minutes he approached Cezar, Vanessa and Margot and tried to end the offensive conversations.

"I don't know that you're going to accomplish anything more. Why don't you just look at the house?" he said to the couple.

He gave our actors his business card and told them to call if they needed a home-seller.

When we spoke with Walsh later he told us he was astounded by what he had heard, especially given that this is the 21st century.

Yale University social psychologist Jack Dovidio said that while Walsh's response seemed sincerely concerned and sympathetic, "If you're really concerned about racism, you have to take an active step and confront the racist."

'That Is Horrific'

We then met Mindy Scheier, a young white mother who took no time at all to respond to Margot's bigotry. As soon as Scheier heard our actress tell Cezar and Vanessa their children might not "fit in" at the local schools, Scheier instantly jumped in, assuring the couple their children would indeed fit in. But it was our racist homeowner's next comment that really set Scheier off.

"These are people who aren't … well, I don't think they're 'like us,'" she confided to Scheier.

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