|From a citywide perspective, Chicago does indeed look like this. At more local levels, it doesn’t. Source: prweek.com|
I came across a very intriguing premise several months ago that’s stuck with me ever since. I think I’ve had a subconscious acknowledgement of it for some time, perhaps years, but it was only when reading an interview in the Atlantic with New York Times investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones about school segregation that the notion clicked. The interview was conducted with The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffery Goldberg, and offered a revealing and enlightening view of how segregation works today:
“Goldberg: What do you call “curated diversity”?
Hannah-Jones: I never talk about school inequality in terms of “diversity” because I think it’s a useless word. I think it’s a word that white people love. When I say “curated diversity,” it means white parents like a type of diversity so they’ll still be the majority and there won’t be too many black kids.
White Americans, in general, are willing to accept about the ratio of black Americans at large: 10 to 15 percent.
Goldberg: But you get into the 20s…
Hannah-Jones: When you get into the 20s, white folks start to exaggerate how large the percentage is. So in New York City, one of the most segregated school systems in the country, if you’re a white parent in the public schools, you don’t want all-white schools.
Goldberg: Because you’re a liberal?
Hannah-Jones: Yeah. But what you want is a majority-white school with a small number of black kids and a good number of Latino, a good number of Asian. That makes you feel very good about yourself because you feel like your child is getting this beautiful integrated experience. The problem is that the public schools in New York City are 70 percent black and Latino. So, for you to have your beautiful diversity, that means that most black and Latino kids get absolutely none.
The tolerance for increasing particularly the percentage of black kids is very low, and even lower if those black kids are poor. No white parents in New York City mind having my kid in their school because they feel like I’m on their level. But if you get too many of kids like mine who are black but poor, there’s very little tolerance.”
What I’m finding is that in many cities, especially in Chicago where I am, there’s a real desire to curate the diversity of the city. And the result is that it leads to widely varying views on actual diversity, and ultimately on economic and social inequality and mobility.
How so? Let’s use Chicago as an example. In 1970 Chicago had a population of just under 3.4 million people. The Great Migration that brought hundreds of thousands of African-Americans to the city had essentially come to a close, and the wave of Latino growth driven by Mexican in-migation had yet to fully start. Chicago’s demographic breakdown at the time fell approximately in this way:
In Chicago, as in many cities, you’d never find a geographic unit of any type that had the kind of demographic breakdown seen above. Most census tracts, neighborhoods, community areas, zip codes — whatever unit of geography — are overwhelmingly one group or another.
I borrowed a map from the DePaul University Institute of Housing Studies to illustrate this point. I colored in Chicago Community Areas (CCAs, which are the city’s long-standing community units for small area data collection) by their concentration of white or minority population. Here, green CCAs had a population that was 80 percent or more white in 1970, blue CCAs had a population that was 80 percent or more minority in 1970 (in this case, black, Latino, Asian and “other”), and purple CCAs had a population that was between 20 percent and 80 percent white:
“I hear this all the time: “You can’t integrate schools in York City because there’s not enough white kids.” But that’s only based on the premise that you can’t expect white kids to be in the minority. The demographics of the New York City public schools are about 40 percent Latino, almost 30 percent black, 15 percent Asian, 15 percent white. If you picture a classroom like that, that’s a beautiful school. That’s a beautifully diverse, integrated school. You could have that if you chose. We just don’t choose it, because we automatically say, “You can’t expect that a white parent will put their kid in school with all those black kids.””
And finally, this:
“We have a system where white people control the outcomes. And the outcome that most white Americans want is segregation. And I don’t mean the type of segregation that we saw in 1955. I don’t mean complete segregation. I don’t think there are very many white Americans who want entirely white schools. What they do want is a limited number of black kids in their schools.”