Whites are the ones who want to live away from blacks, not the other way around

Here is a reminder of how whites and blacks view diversity in their neighborhoods differently:

This notion is a popular one: that people like to live among their own. But it’s highly misleading, because research has shown that it is far more true for white Americans than for black Americans. Here’s what a 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago sociologist Maria Krysan and other scholars, published in the American Journal of Sociology, found: Given a choice of all-white, 60 percent white and 40 percent black, or all-black, “whites said the all-white neighborhoods were most desirable. The independent effect of racial composition was smaller among blacks and blacks identified the racially mixed neighborhood as most desirable,”along with all-black neighborhoods.

And it isn’t so much that whites want to live among “people who are similar to them,” Krysan and her co-authors write, but rather that “anti-black feelings [are] driving whites’ residential preferences.”

Other studies, the authors note, have found that whites are not comfortable with more than 20 percent of their neighbors being black, while blacks prefer a 50-50 split and don’t particularly prefer either all-white or all-black neighborhoods. Importantly, black people’s aversion to all-white neighborhoods is rooted not in a desire to live exclusively among blacks, but rather derives from the fear of discrimination in all-white neighborhoods.

“It is misleading, I think, to use the word ‘voluntary choices’ given what underlies the preferences of African Americans in particular to not be the ‘pioneer’ or one of just a few blacks in a neighborhood/community,” emails Krysan. “A number of different studies (my own and others)… demonstrate that the desire for more diverse neighborhoods is driven importantly by concerns about discrimination in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly white. I would not call that a truly ‘voluntary’ choice, given that it is inextricably tied up with past and present circumstances of racial violence and discrimination towards blacks who move into neighborhoods that are all or very predominately white.”

So much for free choice in where people can live; the system still includes discrimination (whether perceived or real doesn’t really matter) as well as economic barriers (many white neighborhoods have higher price points). White Americans would tend to claim that it isn’t about race or ethnicity at all and that it is about economics and quality of life (a shift that took place starting in the 1960s as race-based arguments became illegal and less accepted in public) yet we still have persistent residential segregation.

MLK streets in the US contained in a “nation within a nation”

Many American cities have streets named after Martin Luther King Jr. and many are located within black areas:

Across the country there are 730 streets named after civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr…

For his book “Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street,” author Jonathan Tilove visited nearly 500 Martin Luther King streets across the country. In his book, he described a “nation within a nation” as “a parallel universe.”

“For many whites, a street sign that says Martin Luther King tells them they are lost,” Tilove wrote. “For many blacks, a street sign that says Martin Luther King tells them they are found.”

And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drive in Chicago has its own complicated past:

Instead, a South Side designation was boosted by Mayor Richard J. Daley. It was a move Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor describe as “disingenuous” in their Daley biography “American Pharaoh.”

Foes when King was alive, Daley, by supporting the renaming, was attempting to portray himself as a forward thinker on race relations ahead of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the biographers said.

In dedicating the street, Daley “invoked King’s devotion to nonviolence in a verbal formation that made it sound as if Daley had the idea first,” Cohen and Taylor wrote.

Par for the course in a racialized country: where the effects of race extend even to street names. That said, I wonder what would happen in some major cities if there were efforts to extend MLK street into white and/or tourist areas…

Housing bubble pushed more whites to leave mixed-race neighborhoods

A recent study suggests that American housing bubble influenced racial segregation:

In a paper released earlier this year, researchers Amine Ouazad and Romain Rancière show how the credit boom affected the racial makeup of U.S. neighborhoods. Expanded credit led some black households to leave mostly black neighborhoods for more racially mixed neighborhoods, a move consistent with buying larger or newer homes in areas with better schools or more amenities. Yet at the same time, their report finds that the credit boom led still more white households to leave racially mixed neighborhoods for mostly white neighborhoods—meaning greater isolation for black households…

Given easier access to credit, black households moved into more mixed neighborhoods—but not at the rates that whites households were leaving them. And black households found little purchase in mostly white neighborhoods, Ouazad explains…

“Empirically, what we observe is that black households tend to become homeowners in their own neighborhoods or in mixed neighborhoods,” Ouazad says, “whereas white households used their mortgage credit to move into mostly white neighborhoods.”

The researchers say they were surprised by these findings. Yet, this fits the longer-term patterns in American life: when they are able to, whites tend to move away from blacks. While we may not be in the era of racial covenants, restricted deeds, and redlining (early 1900s) or blockbusting and white flight (post-World War II), whites still express their preference to live in mostly white neighborhoods rather than live with blacks.

It would be worthwhile to then track these neighborhoods that have experienced significant racial change just before and after the housing bubble. What happens in the long-term? Once whites leave, do the neighborhoods (often suburbs) become majority black or do they also offer space for other non-whites? And do those attractive amenities blacks sought continue to exist, thrive, or decline over time?

Glaeser argues “desegregation is unsung US success story”

Residential segregation is a persistent feature of American life (a few earlier posts here, here, and here). Yet, economist Edward Glaeser argues that things are improving on this front:

As the figure shows, as of 1970, almost 80 percent of either whites or blacks would have had to move neighborhoods in order to achieve an even distribution of whites and blacks within the average metropolitan area. By 1990, that dissimilarity measure had dropped to 66 percent; it is 54 percent today. We are very far from living in a perfectly integrated society, but our nation is far more integrated than it was 40 years ago.

The progress over the last decade has been particularly dramatic. Every one of the 10 largest metropolitan areas experienced drops in both dissimilarity and isolation of 3.6 points or more. The isolation index is below 45 percent in every one of those 10 largest areas, except for Chicago. Long among the most segregated places in America, the Windy City has experienced a particularly dramatic decline in segregation since 2000.

The general decline in segregation has also been accompanied by a change in its nature. Before 1968, segregation is best understood as the result of hard, if often informal, barriers against black mobility. There were neighborhoods that were simply off-limits. The effect was that blacks paid more for housing, especially in more segregated cities…

After 1970, however, that pricing pattern switched. By 1990, blacks were paying less for housing than whites, especially in more segregated metropolitan areas. This switch can be explained if segregation, post-1970, reflects white preferences rather than barriers preventing black mobility. If the segregation that remains is the result of whites liking to live in primarily white neighborhoods, then we should expect whites to pay a price for limiting their own choices, and that is exactly what the data show.

The decline in segregation hasn’t been uniform across the black population. Much of the decline reflects relatively well- educated black Americans moving into white districts. While that freedom is something to celebrate, the exodus of the more skilled left many urban neighborhoods behind, and the effect of growing up in a segregated community appears to have gotten worse over time.

A few things to note here:

1. Glaeser ends by suggesting this is a triumph for everyone. While the numbers overall may have improved, there is still a lot of work to do – as he notes, cities like Chicago still have higher levels of segregation and only certain segments of the black population have had the options to move to whiter areas. On one hand, you want to celebrate progress but on the other hand, you don’t want to minimize the fact that this is still a major issue. The issue of where people (can) live is tied to a lot of other concerns including school performance, wealth, and life chances.

2. Glaeser suggests the change in recent decades is due to white preferences rather than the presence of real barriers. Two thoughts on this:

a. Really? There are no barriers for lower-income or non-white residents to move into wealthier areas? Why do we still then have cases about exclusionary zoning (such as an example in Westchester County)? Why there are still big debates about constructing affordable housing (an example from Winnetka, Illinois)?

b. Glaeser seems to suggest these white preferences are okay since they pay for this privilege. This is the appropriate penalty for essentially restricting the abilities of others to live in certain places? I bet a lot of sociologists might have some complaints about this – this is the key difference between de jure and de facto segregation and both have negative outcomes.

Another story on Glaeser’s study has a response from a sociologist who suggests some caution:

“We’re nowhere near the end of segregation,” says Brown University sociologist John Logan, who was not involved in the study. “There are still no signs of whites moving into what were previously all-minority neighborhoods, and there is still considerable white abandonment of mixed areas.”

3. Glaeser also seems to be only looking at the black/white divide in where people live, the widest measure. I would be interested to hear his explanations for the differences between whites and other groups.

“Wrestling with how to get more Latinos to pick a race”

Here is another overview of the problems the US Census is having with measuring the Latino population in the United States:

So when they encounter the census, they see one question that asks them whether they identify themselves as having Hispanic ethnic origins and many answer it as their main identifier. But then there is another question, asking them about their race, because, as the census guide notes, “people of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin may be of any race,” and more than a third of Latinos check “other.”

This argument over identity has gained momentum with the growth of the Latino population, which in 2010 stood at more than 50 million. Census Bureau officials have acknowledged that the questionnaire has a problem, and say they are wrestling with how to get more Latinos to pick a race. In 2010, they tested different wording in questions and last year they held focus groups, with a report on the research scheduled to be released by this summer.

Some experts say officials are right to go back to the drawing table. “Whenever you have people who can’t find themselves in the question, it’s a bad question,” said Mary C. Waters, a sociology professor at Harvard who specializes in the challenges of measuring race and ethnicity…

Latinos, who make up close to 20 percent of the American population, generally hold a fundamentally different view of race. Many Latinos say they are too racially mixed to settle on one of the government-sanctioned standard races — white, black, American Indian, Alaska native, native Hawaiian, and a collection of Asian and Pacific Island backgrounds.

American conceptions of race usually center on black and white without having much room for middle or other categories. There is a long history of this in the United States as various new groups struggled to become labeled as white.

I like the admission here that the Census needs to find a definition that also fits Latinos’ own understanding. Imposing social science categories on the world can be problematic, particularly if they are not understood in the same ways by all people. Survey questions are not that great if people don’t understand the answers or see where they fit in the possible answers.

This isn’t the first acknowledgment that the Census Bureau has issues here. I would be curious to hear sociologists and others project forward: how will the Census and others measure race, ethnicity, and culture in 2050 when the United States will look very different? Are there ways to measure race and ethnicity in the Census without the pressure of it being tied to federal dollars?

The racial disparities in the Chicago blues scene

An article in a series about the blues in Chicago explores how the white, downtown clubs are thriving while the older, black clubs on the south and west sides are struggling:

Two clubs, two worlds, one music: the blues. That’s how it goes in Chicago, a blues nexus crisply divided into separate, unequal halves. A sharp racial divide cuts through the blues landscape in Chicago, just as it does through so many other facets of life here, diminishing the music on either side of it.

The official Chicago blues scene — a magnet for tourists from around the globe — prospers downtown and on the North Side, catering to a predominantly white audience in a homogenized, unabashedly commercial setting. The unofficial scene — drawing mostly locals and a few foreign cognoscenti — barely flickers on the South and West sides, attracting a mostly black, older crowd to more homespun, decidedly less profitable locales.

Not all the grass-roots places are dying as quickly as the music room at the Water Hole. Some, such as Lee’s Unleaded Blues, on the South Side, attract a small but steady crowd on the three nights it’s open each week.

But how long can this go on? How long can a music that long flourished on the South and West sides — where the blues originators lived their lives and performed their songs — stay viable when most of the neighborhood clubs have expired? How long can a black musical art form remain dynamic when presented to a largely white audience in settings designed to replicate and merchandise the real thing?

Lots of interesting history. Additionally, the conversations about authenticity and tourism are intriguing: why doesn’t Chicago promote its music and culture more and would a major push in this direction water down the product?

It would probably be very interesting to talk to Chicago and suburban residents about blues music. How many of them know its an available option and if they do know this, how many would choose it over other entertainment activities? How many students in the region know that the blues has such a rich history in Chicago? How many colleges teach about American music (blues and jazz and their contributions to the development of rock ‘n’ roll) as opposed to classical music? How much does like for the blues cut across racial lines? Is the blues most acceptable to educated whites (in more sociological terms, cultural omnivores)?

How being multiracial affects self-reported health

It is only in the last 11 years or so that official forms (like the Census) have allowed individuals in America to identify as being from more than one race. A couple of sociologists argue that this multiracial identification impacts self-reported health:

Bratter and Bridget Gorman, associate professor of sociology at Rice, studied nearly 1.8 million cases, including data from more than 27,000 multiracial adults, from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) questionnaire…

The new study found that only 13.5 percent of whites report their health as fair to poor, whereas most other single-race or multiracial groups were more likely to report those health conditions: 24 percent of American Indians, 19.9 percent of blacks and 18.4 percent of others. Single-race Asians were the least likely to report fair-to-poor health – only 8.7 percent did so.

While differences in self-rated health exist between single-race whites and multiracial whites, the percentage of single-race blacks who rated their health as fair to poor is nearly identical to that of multiracial blacks. The same is true for single-race and multiracial Asians.

“Our findings highlight the need for new approaches in understanding how race operates in a landscape where racial categories are no longer mutually exclusive yet racial inequality still exists,” said Bratter, director of Race Scholars at Rice, a program within the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “This extends beyond health data to other measurements of well-being, income, poverty and so much else.”

The key question here seems to be whether multiracial individuals experience the same health outcomes as single race individuals.  From this description, it sounds like this study suggests that being multiracial and white has different health outcomes compared to whites while being black or multiracial black has the same health outcomes. This would make sense given what we know about health differentials by race (more than genetics and extending to areas like life expectancy).

(I searched the journal Demography for more information about the conclusions of this study but it must not be listed yet.)