In the 1980s, America’s neighborhoods became more diverse as Whites, Blacks and other ethnic groups began to live in proximity to one another. It was as if the ideals of the Civil Rights Movement were finally coming to life. Thirty or so years later, things have changed…and not for the better. As far as integration goes, this country has taken a step backward.
Analysis of the most recent Census data tells us that segregation is alive and well. In fact, most people, regardless of their ethnic group, live in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly made up of people who look just like them. Blacks are the most segregated minority group in this country; more than 60 percent live in majority Black neighborhoods while only 48 percent of Hispanics and 45 percent of Asians live in monolithic communities. The average White American lives in neighborhood that is 74 percent White.
This isn’t the segregation of the 1960s, though some of the deep seeded feelings and policies that created that system still affect us all today. Rather, many Americans tend to self-segregate. It’s not as if Blacks are falling over themselves to live in all-White communities. Our natural tendency to ‘stick with our own’, however, has its drawbacks. When racial groups are separated; that division creates an unfamiliarity with the beliefs and culture of others. This lack of knowledge creates an environment where stereotypes and racial and ethnic bias thrive.
Additionally, segregated neighborhoods lead to separate but wholly unequal services. For example, in communities where the majority of the residents are minorities, there is less funding available for schools. As a result, our children receive substandard instruction. Indeed, middle class Black children living in majority Black neighborhoods are less prepared for college than lower income White children living in majority White communities.
Anyone who lives in—or has visited—Milwaukee, New Jersey, Detroit, Chicago and New York will not be surprised that these cities lead the nation in segregation. The mayor’s of these metropolitan areas should form a task force and work together, along with the federal government, to address the divisions that segregation creates. From purposefully creating diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods to developing a school finance system that equally funds each child, there are numerous steps cities can take to lessen the negative impacts of racial segregation.
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