Segregation Is Down. Great News, Right?

But was it ever really a bad thing that black people lived together?

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Quite frankly, race relations in Boise, Idaho; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Burlington, Vt., are not exactly at the top of anyone's list of urgent issues of the day. What interests us are places of more sociological interest in terms of race than burgs like those. Segregation has plummeted in Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City, Mo.

In cities like these, black ghettos are even depopulating, and not just in that Latinos are changing a neighborhood's profile. Black people are getting away. Much of the change is due to the destruction of housing projects like the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago.

One might take in a film like one running now, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, about how sad it was that this complex of housing project buildings was destroyed rather than fixed. However, another side of the argument is that it decreased the segregation that we are taught is such an obstacle to black success, such as depriving poor blacks of role models.

This news ties into a question: How will we write the history of post-civil rights black America? Did you ever notice how a certain drama is lost after 1968? What, after that, is the story until Obama's election in 2008? Jesse Jackson? Afros? Roots? O.J.? Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill? The Million Man March? Tyler Perry?

Well, here's something, highlighted in the report. There were two eras when it came to residential segregation. From 1910 to 1960, it increased for black people as whites corralled migrants from the South into ghetto districts. But the story from 1960 to 2010 has been one of decreasing segregation. It's still going on. A lot, and fast.

This report is not designed to shut people up about injustice. Its final words are "While the decline in segregation remains good news, far too many Americans lack the opportunity to achieve meaningful success."

However, there is a crucial implication of this and the report. As the authors put it, "The persistence of inequality, even as segregation has receded, suggests that inequality is a far more complex phenomenon." That is, while black America does suffer from overall socioeconomic inequality with the mainstream, addressing that will not be a matter of worrying about whether black people live in neighborhoods with too many other black people in them.

We should welcome this news. It means that we no longer have to put up with smart people telling us that when too many black people live in one place, you have to expect all hell to break loose. It is rather striking how this insult to black dignity is so warmly received as kindly wisdom.

In any case, the upshot is simple. Black residential segregation is at its lowest in more than 90 years. It's good someone decided to find that out. We should keep it in mind the next time someone tells us that blackness is a pathology -- be it Newt Gingrich or a social science professor who says he or she is doing the right thing by warning black people about the pitfalls of poor black people hanging out only with other poor black people.

John McWhorter is a contributing editor to The Root.