HUD: Fighting racism with... more racism

Somewhere in New Mexico, I heard a radio commercial from the Department of Housing and Urban Development which sends a bit of a not-so-subtle racist message. The message is that the word "racism" specifically implies white-against-minority racism, and that only white people - and specifically WASPs - can be the beneficiaries of racism.

Despite that subtext, the commercial recently won the Ad Council's "Golden Bell Award" for the best PSA of 2003:

"Accents," the award-winning PSA, features a prospective renter who, while using varying accents, inquires about an apartment by phone. The PSA focuses on how he is treated differently solely because of his perceived race or ethnicity. The innovative PSA was produced for HUD by the New York-based advertising agency Merkley, Newman & Harty under the direction of Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund and the National Fair Housing Alliance. To view the PSA go to HUD's website at

In the commercial, the impersonator pretends to be, in order, the following:

Juan Hernandez
Sanjay Kumar
Tyrone Washington
Chin Lee
Moshe Goldberg
Graham Wellington

After each voice except the last, the landlady says that the apartment has been rented. "Graham Wellington" learns that the apartment is still available.

HUD's message is that housing discrimination is a bad thing. HUD's subtext is that housing discrimination is only practised by whites/WASPs against various flavors of oppressed minorities.

Are there not landlords and landladies of various ethnicities? Don't some of them discriminate against people of various ethnicities? As far as I know, there is only one version of this commercial. While white-vs-minority discrimination might be the most frequent, it certainly isn't the only kind. But, in HUD's world that appears to be the only kind, or at least the only kind that they care about.

I'm sending an email to HUD about this, and I'll print whatever response I get here.


Hi. I picked up your blog business card at the top of Guadalupe Peak. Good idea. Will an entry on GP be forthcoming?