Saturday, January 14, 2006

"The Continuing Reality of Racial Segregation"

Douglas S. Massey in The Next American City

"Every day that our nation was segregated was a day our nation was unfaithful to our founding ideals." So said President George W. Bush, in the wake of Senator Trent Lott's controversial remarks on Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday. Unfortunately the President's use of the past tense is unjustified. In many ways the nation is segregated and we are unfaithful to our ideals. Americans of all races may endorse the principle that people should be able to live wherever they want to, regardless of race. That is far from how we actually live.

According to census data from the year 2000, 48 percent of all African Americans in U.S. metropolitan areas experience conditions of residential isolation so extreme that they satisfy the criteria for "hypersegregation." Within hypersegregated cities, the typical black resident lives in a neighborhood that is virtually all black. These neighborhoods are packed tightly together around the urban center. An additional 21 percent of African Americans in 2000 lived in conditions of "high segregation"; only one-third of urban African Americans lived under conditions of low or moderate segregation.

Historically in the United States, very few other groups have ever experienced high segregation, and never for long periods of time. Segregation levels for Jews, Italians, and Poles, while briefly "high" during and after the great migrations of the early-20th century, fell sharply in the ensuing decades as generations wore on and socioeconomic status rose. We observe much the same pattern among Latino and Asian immigrants today. No other group in the United States besides African Americans has ever experienced hypersegregation, with the exception of Latinos of Afro-Caribbean origin. Indeed, the only other historical example--anywhere in the world--of such high levels of segregation persisting over a prolonged period of time is South Africa under apartheid, where levels of segregation were only slightly higher than those observed today in the hypersegregated cities of the United States. (more)

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