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On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that separate educational facilities for blacks and whites are inherently "unequal" and, as such, violate the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, sounded the death knell for legal segregation, but fifty years later, de ...
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On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that separate educational facilities for blacks and whites are inherently "unequal" and, as such, violate the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education, sounded the death knell for legal segregation, but fifty years later, de facto segregation in America thrives. And Sheryll Cashin believes that it is getting worse.
The Failures of Integration is a provocative look at how segregation by race and class is ruining American democracy. Only a small minority of the affluent are truly living the American Dream, complete with attractive, job-rich suburbs, reasonably low taxes, good public schools, and little violent crime. For the remaining majority of Americans, segregation comes with stratospheric costs. In a society that sets up "winner" and "loser" communities and schools defined by race and class, racial minorities in particular are locked out of the "winner" column. African-Americans bear the heaviest burden. Cashin argues that we need a transformation-a jettisoning of the now ingrained assumption that separation is acceptable-in order to solve the riddle of inequality in America. Our public policy choices must be premised on an integrationist vision if we are to achieve our highest aspiration and pursue the dream that America says it embraces: full and equal opportunity for all.
Author Biography: Sheryll Cashin was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, where her parents were political activists. She was a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and served in the Clinton White House as an advisor on urban and economic policy. A Professor of Law at Georgetown University, she is a frequent television commentator on law, politics, and race relations.
Race and Housing
Housing-where we live-is fundamental in explaining American separatism. Housing was the last plank in the civil rights revolution, and it is the realm in which we have experienced the fewest integration gains. When it comes to integration, housing is also the realm in which Americans most seem to agree that separation is acceptable. We may accept, even desire, integrated workplaces and integrated public spheres. But when it comes to our private life space, more visceral personal needs of comfort and security take precedence-especially for families with children. In this context, for many, integration is simply irrelevant or perceived as a threat to more fundamental concerns. Yet segregated residential housing contributes to pervasive inequality in this country and to social gulfs of misunderstanding. Where you live largely defines what type of people you will be exposed to on a daily basis and hence how well you relate to different types. It often defines what schools you will go to, what employers you will have access to, and whether you will be exposed to a host of models for success. We seem to ignore the obvious when it comes to race relations in this country. From civil rights leaders to the average Joe, the issues of where we live and why go unexamined, even as they have seminal consequences for society. I begin with these questions precisely because they are so ignored yet so fundamental.
How do you decide where to live? Eleven years ago, I bought a lovely bungalow in Shepherd Park, an integrated, albeit majority-black, upper-middle-class neighborhood in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C. This was my first foray into home ownership. My goal at the time was to acquire a house in the best and safest neighborhood I could afford. The race or class of my would-be neighbors was not at the forefront of my thinking. But many communities were beyond consideration. As a committed urbanite and a hater of traffic, living outside the Beltway was out of the question. As a black woman with a strong racial identity, I found the overwhelmingly white neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, such as Georgetown, American University Park, and Bethesda, inherently unattractive. I was not prepared, even if investment wisdom counseled otherwise, to make the profound personal sacrifice of living totally among "others" with whom I could not identify and who likely could not identify with me. Implicit in my choice about where to live was the understanding that I wanted to be among more than a just a smattering of black people. If I had been forced to describe my ideal neighborhood, I suppose I would have said it was an integrated one. Shepherd Park seemed ideal when I moved in and still does today. Its tree-lined, quiet streets are on the edge of a swath of neighborhoods known as the "Gold Coast," the territory where upwardly mobile black people in the District staked their claim decades ago. It is not perfect. We have had our issues with drug dealers, burglars, and car thieves. I was burglarized twice in the early years before I wised up and began using my alarm consistently. And the public schools are stronger in the "white" areas of town. Still, if I were a parent I would rather work to improve on the strengths at Shepherd Elementary or, should I lack such faith and courage, pay for private school tuition than live totally among whites.
If you had asked me at the time I bought my home what the racial makeup of my neighborhood was, I would have told you that it was about 60 percent black and 40 percent white. I remember telling friends that I had bought into one of the few well-integrated neighborhoods in the District. I thought it might even come close to a 50-50 breakdown. I was quite surprised to learn, when I later accessed the census data, that the area I live in is 72 percent black and 21 percent white. In fact, I could find only one census tract in the District of Columbia that came close to being a true melding of the races. As of 2000, Census Tract 50, which includes the rapidly gentrifying Logan Circle neighborhood, was 26 percent white, 36 percent black and 29.5 percent Latino. But it is doubtful that this racial equilibrium has endured. With gentrification, inevitably, the area has become whiter and wealthier. Stable racial integration is much more elusive in Washington and elsewhere in the nation than I had imagined.
When I bought my house I had no illusions about economic integration. To be honest, I was not seeking it. There were great deals to be had in other parts of the District in 1993-if I had been willing to be an urban pioneer. But as a single woman living alone who might be coming home late from work, I was not willing to live in rougher areas, although I had done so as a renter. For two years I had rented a garden apartment in the Hillcrest area, a middle-class, predominately black enclave in what was otherwise the District's poorest ward, Ward 8. I had also rented a basement apartment for a brief stint in the early 1990s in rapidly gentrifying LeDroit Park, near Howard University. In those days, the sound of gunfire was not unusual, although the couple who lived above me had cultivated a highly calibrated ear and could tell me with assurance that the gunshots I had just heard were five blocks away. This was a little too much of the hood for my taste. For a black southerner like myself who had grown up in middle-class neighborhoods of detached houses and big lawns, the bourgeois, leafy streets of the Gold Coast felt safer and more familiar.
My thought processes in purchasing a home were not that different from those of most Americans who have choices. In theory I wanted to live in an integrated neighborhood, but one where people of my own race were well represented. I was not willing to buy in a neighborhood with a large number of low-income people because I feared crime and because I wanted to protect my precious property investment. I recognized that gentrifying areas might pay off handsomely, but I feared living in a transitional neighborhood. And so I chose the smallest house in the best block I could afford, in a neighborhood where I also felt comfortable socially. This was my way of maintaining the resale value of my investment.
No doubt, my sense of where I am willing to live, and the type of people I am willing to have as neighbors, is shaped by my relatively privileged economic status. My blackness-or rather my strong identification with being black-also greatly shapes my locational preferences. The only difference between me and Americans of other races who have real choices about where to live may be their distaste for black neighborhoods.
Personal preferences and discrimination help explain why so many of us end up living in neighborhoods where our own race and social class predominates. An article in the Detroit News tells the story of two middle-class families in search of a better life. Both families wanted to live in the suburbs; both had roughly equal middle-class status, but they ended up in very different neighborhoods, one overwhelmingly black and the other overwhelmingly white. Michael and Caroline Mallory, who are black, moved from Detroit to suburban Southfield. Their new neighborhood is 62 percent black, and they say being in majority-black surroundings offers them a certain comfort. Janine and Andrew Gurka, who are white, chose to build a home in suburban Livonia, which is 95 percent white. Their new 1,600-square-foot rancher is a step up from their former cramped home in Dearborn Heights. In other cities throughout the region, they said, "everything was worse than what we had or too expensive." The Mallorys asked about the color of their neighbors when they looked for a home. The Gurkas said they didn't. But it is hard to imagine that, in the bundle of tastes and preferences that went into their choice about where to live, the racial composition of the community they chose (and of those they would not consider) was not a factor, consciously or otherwise. Being overwhelmingly white, Livonia was likely well within the Gurkas' comfort zone in a way that a majority-black or even a well-integrated neighborhood in Southfield likely would not be.
The premium that whites tend to place on such comfort shows up in the costs of predominately white neighborhoods. A working-class African American can find a home in Redford for $112,000 that would probably cost him $160,000 in Livonia. Wayne County executive Ed McNamara sums up his feeling about why racial segregation exists and in his mind should not be viewed as an issue, telling the Detroit News: "Why should an individual pay $50,000 or $60,000 more to live in a community that is ethnically different than they are, and maybe not feel as comfortable?"
Beyond personal preferences, discrimination is also contributing to Livonia's overwhelming whiteness. When Deano Ware and his family, who are black, initially searched for a home in Livonia, they were surprised by the stares they received as they drove through its tree-lined neighborhoods. They were confronted with a remarkable number of homes that already had offers when they inquired. In the end, they gave up on Livonia and gave in to exhaustion. "Sometimes it's like everyone is on a conveyor belt carrying you where you are supposed to go," Ware confessed to the Detroit News. "After a while, it's just easier to go where it's most comfortable." Even though he was willing to try to go where others of his race were not going, Ware acknowledged that he was stymied by barriers that were thrown in his path: "I have to rely on the white homeowners, realtors and mortgage companies. If it breaks down anywhere along the line, you're stuck. I can't change the system alone."
It is not surprising, then, that neighboring towns can evolve into very different racial and economic milieus. These differences often develop out of different cultural histories and are encouraged by planning choices made by city leaders. Southfield, which was initially a heavily Jewish suburb, has something of a tradition of nonhostility toward blacks. But in Livonia, real estate brokers were known to convey the message that blacks were not welcome. Ware's real estate agent, who was not white, kept telling Ware and his family that Livonia was racist and that they should try Southfield or Redford. Ultimately, the Wares decided they could get more for their money in Redford Township and settled on a house that was almost across the street from Livonia. The mayor of Livonia, Jack Kirksey, says his city has never had ordinances or covenants that dictated where blacks could live. But he admits that the biggest problem with integrating Livonia is its lack of apartments or low-income housing-a policy decision made fifty years ago. "You pretty much have to be a homeowner to live here," Kirksey acknowledges to the News. And with undeveloped lots selling for $150,000, many middle-income folks will be priced out of Livonia.
The story of the Mallorys and Gurkas repeats itself over and over in the millions of individual choices that make up real estate markets in the United States. The pull of personal preferences and the push of discrimination can lead to racially polarized private realms, even on the same street. In the Detroit metropolitan area, for example, Alter Road serves as the boundary line between Gross Pointe Park and Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit side of Alter Road is 79 percent black; the Grosse Pointe Park side is 93 percent white. The two cities are worlds apart in terms of racial and socioeconomic composition, as well as the opportunities available to their inhabitants.
There are at least five influences that contribute to such separation:
1. Blacks face integration exhaustion. African Americans are increasingly reluctant to move into neighborhoods without a significant black presence. They prefer places that are recognized as being welcoming to blacks and seem less willing than in the past to be integration pioneers and move into neighborhoods that might be hostile to their presence.
2. Whites place a premium on homogeneity. Whites are less likely than blacks to want to live in diverse neighborhoods. Studies show that whites are willing to pay a 13 percent premium to live in all-white neighborhoods. Three Harvard economists have concluded that this willingness to pay more to live in predominately white areas best explains the persistence of segregated neighborhoods. Overwhelmingly white areas are less affordable to racial minorities, who tend to have less income and wealth to underwrite their housing costs.
3. Racial steering thrives. Racial discrimination is still very prevalent in the real estate industry, with blacks and Latinos frequently being steered to areas perceived as acceptable for them.
4. Private institutional practices support homogeneity. Real estate developers, financial institutions, insurance companies, retailers, and even land-use planners have come to rely on a system of racial and economic profiling of neighborhoods to decide where to invest, develop, and do business. Profiling databases establish a hierarchy of neighborhood types that skew investment decisions heavily in favor of predominately white suburban communities. Neighborhoods that cannot be easily categorized, that is, well-integrated neighborhoods, are at a disadvantage, as are predominately minority neighborhoods, which receive lower-quality commercial and public amenities as a result of such profiling.
5. Public policy choices support homogeneity. A host of public policy choices made in the twentieth century have created a systemic bias in favor of socioeconomic separation rather than integration. While official government policy no longer supports racial restrictions or "redlining" of neighborhoods, as it did in the past, our policies promote local autonomy in land-use planning and zoning in a way that has detrimental effects.
I explain the private and public institutional choices that contribute to race and class separation in more detail in Chapter 3. Suffice it to say that individuals in search of homes must operate in a market environment that decidedly undervalues racial and economic integration and, frankly, overvalues whiteness. The end result is separatism. We say we support integration, but most of us-even those of us who might genuinely prefer to live in an integrated environment-are not truly living integrated lives at the neighborhood level.
Excerpted from [THE FAILURES OF] INTEGRATION by SHERYLL CASHIN Copyright © 2004 by Sheryll Cashin. Excerpted by permission.
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|Pt. 1||Facts about the failures of integration|
|1||Wont's you not be my neighbor? race and housing||3|
|2||Bucking the trend : racially integrated communities and racial integration||39|
|Pt. 2||The costs of our failures - a separate and unequal society|
|4||The dilemma of the black middle class||127|
|5||White separatism : the costs and benefits||167|
|6||Schools : separate and unequal||202|
|7||The cost of the ghetto||237|
|Pt. 3||Our future|
|8||The 50-50 nation : loggerhead politics||263|
|9||What to do about it||289|