The Urbanist Musings of Pete Saunders

More On Segregation

Scenes from the Marquette Park Open Housing March in Chicago in 1966.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and fellow marchers were pelted with rocks from a surrounding mob, in what they called a defense of their community.  Source:
Yesterday I wrote a piece at Forbes about the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Cost of Segregation study that details the impact of economic and racial segregation in the Chicago area.  I’m grateful that Forbes gives me plenty of editorial latitude, because I realize that this was a story that does not typically appeal to most Forbes readers.  Indeed, it’s been one of the least-viewed pieces I’ve written for Forbes (granted, it’s only one day since I wrote it, and things can change).

I wanted to appeal to Forbes readers on the topic by stating the very same thing MPC does — state-sanctioned policies and practices, as well as individual choices, have a dampening impact on the Chicago regional economy.  MPC aptly captures it in the tag line for the study: “lost income, lost lives, lost potential.”  The study goes on to estimate the costs of segregation to the Chicago region:

  • $4.4 billion in lost income to African Americans, and an overall metro area GDP of $8 billion;
  • Perhaps as many as 230 lives lost — median level segregation would mean a drop in the region’s homicide rate by 30 percent;
  • 83,000 fewer people in the Chicago region, of all racial and ethnic groups, with college degrees.
As I said in the Forbes piece, I applaud MPC for taking on this initiative.  I truly believe that Chicago hasn’t fulfilled its economic potential in part because its exclusionary policies have prevented it.  I also believe that Chicago and several other Midwest/Rust Belt cities — Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and St. Louis, among others — developed and perfected a type of segregation with the advent of the Great Migration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that was exported to the rest of the nation.  And we live today with the legacy of policies that were set in place more than a hundred years ago.  
That’s not something I believe typical Forbes readers are willing to hear.
As I was reflecting on MPC’s study and its significance, Daniel Kay Hertz wrote a wonderful piece at City Observatory that was completely unrelated to the MPC study but fit well into the overall context.  I also found an op-ed in Crain’s Chicago Business that covered similar themes.  Quite honestly, as I was writing the Forbes piece, these articles haunted me, because they highlight how difficult the work to create a more equitable society really is.  
Hertz began by quoting Northwestern sociology professor Mary Patillo from a roundtable of essays on integration from 2014:

“I must begin by stating that I am by no means against integration…. My comments are not to promote racial separatism, nor to argue that people of the same “race”–-and we must always signal just how time- and place-specific “race” is–“naturally” want to be around each other….

Instead, my point is simply to identify the following conundrum of integration politics: Promoting integration as the means to improve the lives of Blacks stigmatizes Black people and Black spaces and valorizes Whiteness as both the symbol of opportunity and the measuring stick for equality. In turn, such stigmatization of Blacks and Black spaces is precisely what foils efforts toward integration. After all, why would anyone else want to live around or interact with a group that is discouraged from being around itself?”

Hertz then goes on to quote NYU sociology professor Patrick Sharkey on why segregation endures:

“Living in predominantly black neighborhoods affects the life chances of black Americans…because black neighborhoods have been the object of sustained disinvestment and punitive social policy since the emergence of racially segregated urban communities in the early part of the 20th Century. Residential segregation has been used consistently over time as a means of distributing and hoarding resources and opportunities among white Americans and restricting resources and opportunities from black Americans. Racially segregated communities provide one of several mechanisms through which racial inequality is made durable.”

In Crain’s, Amara Enyia followed a similar theme:

“The focus on “reducing segregation” has, for decades, led to unsustainable, ineffective solutions—for example, bussing and school vouchers—that essentially tokenize people of color. Only the “lucky few” get access to a housing or school voucher, for example, and are able to access higher quality resources. Meanwhile, the root of the problem remains unaddressed—under-resourced communities, inequitable school funding, etc.

What’s more, this report’s stated goal of reducing segregation invariably puts the onus on marginalized families to move into more affluent communities to create more inclusion and integration. This is why the equity and justice lens is key, and the power analysis is critical. White flight was, and still is, a thing.”

I guess my point is this.  African Americans are acutely aware that our communities are stigmatized by the broader society, but understand that the stigmatization originates from outside sources.  Unlike other groups, we’re quite clear that our communities were created for us, either because concrete barriers were established or a white flight vacuum created a devastated community in its wake.  We’re also aware that the broader society views white communities as the standard, and uses that as a starting point for integration policy.  School busing and housing policy are two examples of this at work.

 If African American families were asked the question, “which would you rather have, integration or opportunity?”  we’d overwhelmingly take opportunity.  However, society’s response has mostly been “integration is opportunity”, even though we know that integration is that fleeting period between the first black moving into a community and the last white leaving.  That period lasts a little longer than it used to, because whites have become more accepting of diversity at the neighborhood level, but it’s still temporary.  It’s hardly a coincidence that the metros with low segregation levels have low minority numbers.  Hello, Seattle and Portland.

And that brings me back to Sharkey’s profound explanation for why segregation persists in America, and the point I tried to bring up in the Forbes article but really struggled to articulate.  Inasmuch as we can quantify the impact of segregation in metropolitan economies, and even know that it keeps us from realizing our full potential, I’m afraid the broader society is quite wedded to a system that routinely hoards resources for some and restricts resources for others.  In fact, despite the analysis, I think broader society believes exactly as I said at the end of my Forbes piece:

“(T)oo many members of our society are committed to a belief that our system is a zero-sum game, that if one group receives a perceived benefit, it’s a cost to other members of our society — even if the numbers demonstrate that we can make our economic pie even bigger.”

We have to do something beyond offering integration as opportunity.


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