By George C. Galster (Click here to view the entire P&R issue)
Professors Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown analyze contemporary American racial attitudes, behaviors, symbols and politics and come to the pessimistic conclusion that black-white integration is impossible during our lifetimes. There is no doubt that the challenges of moving toward a racially integrated society are immense and long-standing. But there are trends in our metropolitan areas overall, and especially in certain communities, that suggest a less pessimistic future. Racial residential segregation is falling and integration is rising among black and white households.
Part of the picture is painted by trends in residential segregation indices provided by Professors Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton in American Apartheid. For example, in 18 Northern and Western metropolitan areas with the largest black populations, the mean dissimilarity index fell 8%, from 84.5 in 1970 to 77.8 in 1990. Similarly, in 12 Southern metropolitan areas with the largest black populations, the mean dissimilarity index fell 12%, from 75.3 in 1970 to 66.5 in 1990.
Professor Ingrid Gould Ellen provides a more detailed view, based on data from 34 large metro areas with black populations greater than 5% and Hispanic populations less than 30% in 1990. She notes several encouraging trends from 1970 to 1990:
• The percentage of the white population living in census tracts having less than 1% black population fell from 62.6 to 35.6
• The percentage of the white population living in census tracts having between 10 and 50% black population rose from 10.5 to 15.6
• The percentage of the white population living in census tracts where non-whites comprised at least 10% of the population rose from 25.0 to 35.1
• The percentage of the black population living in census tracts having between 10 and 50% black population rose from 25.7 to 32.4
• The percentage of the black population living in census tracts having greater than 50% black population fell from 67.1 to 53.9
Moreover, Prof. Ellen finds that the stability of racially mixed tracts has risen since 1970. During 1980-1990, the average loss of whites from tracts with more than 10% black residents was 10.5 percentage points, versus 18 percentage points during the prior decade. Between 1980 and 1990, 76.4% of the mixed tracts remained so, whereas only 61% remained so during the 1970s. Finally, the proportion of mixed tracts that did not lose whites between 1980 and 1990 was 53.3%, compared to 44.5% a decade earlier.
The causes for this increase in stable, racially diverse neighborhoods are undoubtedly multi-faceted. But, one clearly is the efforts by many non-profit organizations, localities and a few states to enact pro-integrative policies, which attempt to adjust racial patterns of demand for their communities in a way that diversity is encouraged and maintained. Many of these activities are documented in Juliet Saltman’s book, A Fragile Movement.
Professors Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown may dismiss these efforts as wildly unpopular because they represent, in their words, “social engineering,…government authority,…and a willingness by citizens to relinquish at least some personal choice for the greater good.” Yet, the aforementioned pro-integrative policies are overwhelmingly the results of municipalities, school boards and neighborhood groups democratically fulfilling the wishes of their constituents. Most pro-integrative practices, like affirmative marketing and financial incentives, do not constrict freedoms. Far from constraining choices, such policies are the only means of providing a choice that many Americans clearly want — by words and actions: a stable, racially diverse community in which a high quality of life is maintained.
George C. (email@example.com) is Clarence Hilberry Professor of Urban Affairs at Wayne State University.