Last Week Tonight returned from a month-long hiatus (during which the show released breezy segments about octopuses and an enormous penis) to confront a serious subject: housing discrimination in the United States. In doing so, Oliver (after literally talking to his show’s “void” and preparing for a return to a studio audience) made a case for what some feel is necessary to begin closing the racial wealth gap. That hot-button subject would be reparations: “When you deprive somebody of something, you make it right by paying what you owe.”
Oliver referenced Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case For Reparations,” a 2014 article in The Atlantic. Coates’ piece has proven to be highly influential and is referenced far and wide (it inspired Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen reimagining), even though only a minority of Americans believe that reparations should be paid by current generations for the acts of the past. Oliver went in deep on the subject with this ultimate takeaway: “The only really strange thing about paying reparations to Black people is that we haven’t done it yet.”
While making his argument, Oliver revealed how housing discrimination includes methods that are seldom seen by those who don’t experience them. That would include, say, federal home-loan discrimination and even discrimination by appraisal companies. In other words, it saturates every inch of the housing market.
Oliver glided through an intricate argument, including a relevant clip from an interview (around 19:30 in the above video) with a Black female homeowner, whose house appraisal seemed stunningly low. As an experiment, she asked a white male friend to step into her shoes, and her appraisal amount immediately doubled, no questions asked. Her elation turned to despair when she realized, “I’m the thing that’s devaluing my house.” As Oliver put things, this is an unconscionable result. “We all know the only time the addition of a white man should increase value to anything,” the host explained. “Is if that thing is a movie, and that white man is Stanley Tucci. Otherwise it is just not okay.”
Fair enough. Speaking of fair (or rather, unfair), Oliver also addressed the bipartisan dropping of this ball. The host pointed toward how Richard Nixon torpedoed certain segments of the Fair Housing Act by refusing to have the federal government weigh in on integration of neighborhoods. Oliver also shredded Joe Biden’s idea for a $15,000 first-time homebuyer tax-credit idea that would apply to everyone. This measure, Oliver argued, was one of many “efforts to address the legacy of housing discrimination [that] have been resolutely color blind.” The end result, Oliver argues, is “a wound that we are actively choosing not to heal.” Watch the full segment above.