ESPN host Bomani Jones suggests the Donald Sterling affair is less about his recorded comments and more about his contribution to a large issue in the United States that fewer people pay attention to: residential segregation. While others have noted Sterling’s tainted past, particularly his historic $2.725 million settlement in a housing discrimination case, Sterling is part of a bigger system where white people have generally moved out of neighborhoods that blacks and others have moved into. Jones ties Sterling’s past with the problems facing poor neighborhoods in Chicago that have a lack of economic resources and opportunities after whites left for the suburbs. As noted in American Apartheid and numerous other sociological works, the disparities in where people live affect a wide range of outcomes including jobs, social networks, educational opportunities, political power, crime rates, and health.
Of course, tackling residential segregation is much harder to address. As I noted earlier this week, whites tend to argue they should be able to move where they want and take advantage of their economic power. Others don’t have such options. Various efforts to limit some of these geographic disparities – like busing to schools or moving poor urban residents to suburbs – tend not to be met with favor with suburbanites who see such moves as intrusions on their self-rule. It is one thing for whites to tolerate other racial and ethnic groups in society but a much different thing to live in close proximity, share local institutions, and interact regularly with others.