Sunday, May 4, 2014

Now Here's an Example of White Privilege

Law professor Dorothy Brown appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry a week or so ago. Brown's research shows that white people don't want to live anywhere there are too many black people. Without conscious efforts to build a diverse neighborhood (as is practiced in places like Oak Park, outside Chicago), when the number of black households hits 10 percent, white people leave, no matter that those black people have similar incomes to the white people. In one of her papers, Brown quotes comedian Chris Rock:

I will give you an example of how race affects my life. I live in aplace called Alpine, New Jersey. . . My house costs millions of dollars. . . In my neighborhood, there are four black people. Hundreds of houses, four black people. Who are these black people? Well, there‘s me, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and Eddie Murphy. Only black people in the whole neighborhood. . . Do you know what the white man that lives next door to me does for a living? He's a dentist!
As a result of so many people trying to sell their houses, home values are undermined and as a result, black homeowners rarely have as much equity in their homes as an average white homeowner. Just another depressing aspect of structural racism. White people, what is our problem?

This ties in with the recent news from ProPublica about the prevalence of segregation in schools, which we all thought had somehow magically disappeared, as well as housing.

And it reminded me of a tab I've had open since last November that I couldn't bear to write about: The Paradox of Diverse Communities by Richard Florida, writing in The Atlantic. He tells about a recent study, called "The (In)compatibility of Diversity and Sense of Community," by a sociologist and psychologist. The authors ran 20 million simulations of community composition and arrangement, and kept coming back to this:
The more diverse or integrated a neighborhood is, the less socially cohesive it becomes, while the more homogenous or segregated it is, the more socially cohesive. As they write, “The model suggests that when people form relationships with similar and nearby others, the contexts that offer opportunities to develop a respect for diversity are different from the contexts that foster a sense of community....

...the models demonstrated that it was impossible to simultaneously foster diversity and cohesion “in all reasonably likely worlds.” In fact, the trends are so strong that no effective social policy could combat them.
Florida points out that it's only a simulation (even if there are 20 million of them), and also tries to balance that grim conclusion with this:
If diversity is unattainable at the neighborhood level, might it be possible at the level of the city, as essentially a network of more or less similar neighborhoods? Jane Jacobs liked to say that great cities are federations of neighborhoods. It’s exactly what I see in vibrant cities like New York or Toronto. When I asked Neal about this, he sounded a more optimistic note: “Their patchwork of segregated communities allows for both diversity and cohesion. We usually view segregation as problematic, but when it comes in the form of a patchwork of neighborhoods and enclaves that each have their own character, it may actually ‘work.’”
Clearly, that's not enough. But it may have to be the place to start.

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