Segregation Is Down. Great News, Right?

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


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Skepticism will be natural — and quickly relieved. Many, wary of news like this, will check out the stats in Glaeser and Vigdor’s report and come away having to process what is, quite simply, good news backed up by solid, simple math. For example, nota bene, social scientists: Yes, the report does measure both isolation (the extent to which black people live only with other blacks) and dissimilarity (the percentage of blacks or whites who would have to move to make a neighborhood perfectly integrated).

Did segregation decrease everywhere? Of course not. But only in 95 districts did dissimilarity and isolation increase over the past 10 years. Notably, they are places where this would neither surprise nor much bother anyone, largely because so few blacks live in them. For example, black people are less than 4 percent of all but one of the 10 biggest cities with small black populations. Plus, the segregation levels in these cities are themselves quite low.

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?