Analysis: When a predominantly white neighborhood wants a divorce from its black town

Buckhead wants to withdraw from black Mecca.

The decades-long hot debate over Buckhead sheds light on a larger racial reality in the United States.

“Today you really have two types of residential racial segregation,” Stephen Menendian, deputy director and research director at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute and lead author of a June report, told CNN. on residential racial segregation in the 21st century. . “In the big cities, you have racially identifiable neighborhoods and schools. You also have rich white suburbs, and then heavily non-white, much poorer suburbs.”

As Sheryll Cashin, professor at Georgetown University Law Center, explains, the consequences of residential caste are vast.

“Successful people have seceded from those who struggle. Highly educated and well-off people tend to live in their own neighborhoods and support policies such as exclusionary zoning and neighborhood school duties that exclude others and concentrate the benefits, “she writes in her essential new book,” White Space, Black Hood: Hoarding Opportunities and Segregation in the Age of Inequality. “

Here’s a look at how the United States got there – and how it might move forward:

Are there particular factors that contribute to the residential caste?

Cashin presents three anti-black processes that support the residential caste. One is the maintenance of boundaries, or the practices and policies that keep black people away. Remember the struggle for secession in Buckhead, a patrician neighborhood that has long played an important role in the history of race and space in Atlanta, such as Professor Kevin M. Kruse of Princeton University describes it in his 2007 book, “White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism.” Or think about the uneven impact that the construction of highways can have on marginalized groups. Of those believed to be displaced by a West I-526 Lowcountry corridor expansion project in South Carolina, 94% live in largely black and brown communities.

Another process is hoarding opportunities, or overinvesting in some communities while divesting elsewhere. Cashin calls the old neighborhoods “benchmark” – neighborhoods with tremendous opportunities that are frequently subsidized by everyone and make the most of everything from grocery stores to infrastructure to schools. In fact, schools are one of the best indicators of racial segregation. “If you really want to understand this, go online, look at the schools in your community, and look at the racial demographics of those schools. .

The third process is stereotypical surveillance. It’s easier to harden boundaries and isolate opportunities when the “hood” image is as dimensionless as it is. Former President Donald Trump was the most vulgar broadcaster of what Cashin calls “ghetto myths,” but others have fueled those narratives as well.

What does this stereotype look like?

Take the example of Trump again. Remember when he crossed swords with Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings – who represented Maryland’s predominantly black 7th Congressional District, which includes parts of Baltimore, where Cummings was born – on conditions at the US-Mexico border ?

“The Cumming (sic) district is a disgusting rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous and dirty place,” Trump tweeted in 2019 .

It was the precise kind of comment – repulsive, distraught, made on Twitter – that was characteristic of the former president. In his rant, Trump didn’t just hit back at one of his countless critics. He brought up the myth of the city center, the black ghetto. Repugnant. Dangerous. Dirty.
Other politicians have launched a similar rhetoric. Here’s Rudy Giuliani, who, in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, brought frank electoral fraud charges against cities with large black populations: “It happens all the time in Philly.… And it’s allowed because it’s a democrat (sic), corrupt town, and has been for years. Many, many years. And they’ve done it in places where they could get away from it. “
And here is Richard Nixon, reminder of “law and order” in 1967, at the heart of a national wave of black rebellion that lasted several years: “Today, in the urban slums, the limits of action responsible are almost invisible ”.

Even the politicians across the aisle supported the myths of the ghetto. After the murder of Freddie Gray, former President Barack Obama condemned the “thugs who tore” Baltimore apart. “He was talking about vandals, but he was still part of a very specific anti-black idea,” Cashin told CNN. “Part of the reason it’s so difficult to pursue humane policies that can uplift people in areas of high poverty is because we apply a lens of alleged thug – instead of alleged citizen.”

Is residential segregation the same today as it was a few decades ago?

It looks a little different. Menendian said that about five or six decades ago, you could find the same pattern of segregation in almost every major American city: in large urban areas, black families were confined to a small number of neighborhoods that were often downwind of factories, near industrial areas. , or near various environmental contaminants. White families, on the other hand, lived in the same cities but in drastically different neighborhoods.

In particular, this trend corresponds to the notion of Cashin’s maintenance of limits.

“The main response (of communities and the federal government) to the nearly six million large migrants fleeing Jim Crow and heading north and west was essentially to contain them in their own neighborhoods,” she said.

In the 1990s, residential models began to change. On the one hand, between 1990 and 2000, large groups of people of color – fueled by higher income levels and less housing discrimination, among others – began to settle in the suburbs. But as the suburbs diversified, they also began to fragment further into outlying suburbs and wealthier outlying suburbs (or outskirts), which typically have newer infrastructure and better schools.

It’s still segregation – just in a different form.

As the UC Berkeley report explains in detail, “Not only are most of our major metropolitan areas and cities highly segregated, but we are finding that nearly 81% of U.S. cities and metropolitan areas are more segregated today. than they were in 1990, after several decades of federal policy applied to this problem. “

Is it possible to break the boundaries of the residential caste?

As you can imagine, realizing aspirations for large-scale change will not be easy or straightforward. But there is hope.

“Integrate and invest. We have to bring back the reality that racial segregation is really the root cause of racial inequality,” Menendian said in June. “You cannot eliminate racial inequalities in a highly segregated society.”

Cashin pointed out that she is inspired by the fact that the United States has bottom-up, multiracial coalitions of people who say Black Lives Matter.

“There are growing coalitions that can reach 51% in a race for mayor, in a race for city council, in a debate on: Are we going to do our part to affirm and advance fair housing? Are we going to adopt mandatory inclusion zoning Are we going to support racial equity, a neighborhood scan that How? ‘Or’ What are we spending money? ”she said.

Aerial view of Baltimore County suburbs, Maryland
Baltimore has made progress in this regard. Through a ballot initiative, the city recently amended its charter and created a permanent fund to promote racial equity in education, housing and the budget. This move allowed Baltimore to begin to repair and atone for its treatment of historically underfunded black neighborhoods.

“I feel an authenticity,” Cashin added. “People seem to want something much better than a society based on separation and inequality, a society based on fear and exclusion of the other.”

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