What would you do if you were put in a position where you were expected to discriminate against certain people? Would your better angels win out in that moment, or would the necessity of a paycheck override your ideals of fairness and equality? When P.M. was put into such a position, not only did he immediately disentangle himself from that situation, but he also found a way to fight back against discrimination by becoming a tester in the Fair Housing Justice Center’s Acting for Justice program.
Several years ago, when P.M. was miserable waiting tables between acting jobs, his friend told him about an opportunity to earn a steady income in real estate. P.M. decided to try it out, and spent a summer learning about the industry from his friend. One day, while he was shadowing his friend in an office that focused on rentals in a Manhattan neighborhood, P.M. witnessed a broker lying about the availability of an apartment to a prospective renter who was African American. This occurred because of a directive, issued by a building owner, who said he did not want any African Americans in his buildings. P.M. left both the office and the industry the moment he saw this, before he even took his licensing exam. But P.M. couldn’t get this incident out of his mind and felt guilty that he didn’t do more to stop this discrimination. “I just thought about it a lot, but I wasn’t sure what I could do or what I should do,” he explained. “Then one day, when I was at the Actors Fund in-between jobs, somebody mentioned the opportunity to become a tester. And I thought, ‘This is it. This is the way I can work towards righting this wrong, even in just a small way.’ So that’s why I became a tester, and why I am still a tester.”
Since becoming a tester four years ago, P.M. has seen an even greater need to do this work, especially recently. “I’ve started noticing now that people will confide in me some more ugly, bigoted thoughts,” he reflected. “It feels like some people have started sharing the things with me – a stranger – that they would normally hide in their darkest recesses just because I am a white guy.”
In fact, P.M. feels that the shifting culture, particularly the resurgence of white supremacy and cultural divisiveness, makes the work of uncovering and rooting out discrimination even more vital than before. “It used to feel like I was contributing in a small way, but now it feels like I am contributing in a huge way given the way the world is going,” said P.M. “It is like we are doing the Lord’s work… Sometimes it feels like this is the only thing I should be working on.”
This story is part of a series called Acting for Justice Stories, which highlights the experiences of the testers who make up the FHJC’s Acting for Justice testing program. Testers pose as ordinary home seekers in order to determine if housing providers and others are complying with fair housing laws. If you are interested in supporting the Acting for Justice program, consider donating to the FHJC at www.fairhousingjustice.org/give.