Enduring Obstacle

Enduring Obstacle

“Integration: the interval in a neighborhood between the moment the first black family moves in and the last white family moves out.” This bit of folk sociology made the rounds in Chicago during the bloody open occupancy and fair housing marches of the 1960s. After the violence ended it seemed for a while that hard-won legislation could help ensure a future of racial integration in communities throughout America. Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s masterful study of residential segregation in the United States will help explain why these hopes are still frustrated.

Some readers may be put off by the bold assertion, explicit in the book’s title, that race relations in the United States bear comparison to South African apartheid. But the authors wish to shock us into recognizing that racial segregation in neighborhoods and communities continues to give the lie to our ideals of integration in any sphere of our society. Sociologists with long credentials in the quantitative study of population, the authors provide stark evidence for what they term the “hypersegregation” of American blacks in most urban centers and suburbs. Segregation in our living places, they argue, is the root cause of our failure to achieve racial justice and equality of opportunity over the forty years since Brown v. Board of Education. “It seems to us amazing,” they write, “that people were even debating whether race was declining in importance when levels of residential segregation were so high and so structured along racial lines. . . .”

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Lima