Sociologist: “housing segregation is still a reality”

A sociologist responds to a recent study about declining residential segregation by suggesting there are still barriers to reducing segregation:

This divergent cinematic representation of Baldwin Hills illustrate the propinquity of the black middle class and the black poor and provides a dramatic example of a widespread phenomenon: that the black middle class is a spatial and social buffer between the white middle class and the black poor…

The treatment of blacks in the housing market provides strong evidence that discrimination played and continues to play an important role in explaining why blacks and whites live in highly segregated neighborhoods…

A residential segregation research finding that I have always found interesting and equally offensive is that Asians, Latinos, and whites all rank blacks as the racial group least desired to have as neighbors. This finding holds up even taking class into consideration: when middle class blacks move into white neighborhoods, whites are still inclined to move…

When you take all this into consideration, it is clear that there is much more to this story than the headlines trumpeting record low levels of residential segregation. Blacks are still more likely to have black neighbors than white ones. And by no means does lower black segregation suggest that we live in a “post-racial” society—a term that Tim Wise recently called a “nonsense term devised by those who would simply rather not deal with the ever-present reality of racism and ongoing racial discrimination.” The take home message should be that race (and class) still matter in terms of residential housing patterns. Yes, segregation is decreasing, but it is still alive and well.

I like how this analysis is broken into three spheres: economics, discrimination, and preferences. In all three areas, the decks are still stacked against blacks, even if the situation has improved somewhat.

I was reminded in reading this analysis about the interplay of race and class. There may be less residential segregation as measured simply as whether racial groups are living near each other or not but that does not account for different classes. And even when you account for class, middle-class blacks are still more likely to live in worse neighborhoods than poorer whites. Has anyone done an adjusted dissimilarity index that accounts for class or even a dissimilarity index that uses class instead of race?

Since I’ve seen others respond to this study, I wonder how much of it is a matter of perspective: the reduced levels of residential segregation are an important marker of progress or the long history of segregation in the US means that these improved figures are only a small step in a long process that still has a ways to go.

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