Why Are Blacks Concentrated in Inner Cities?

Why do so few whites still not know about sundown towns? James W. Loewen, in his book Sundown Towns, wonders if there some major dissociation and denial going on here. As he explains (and as quoted in my post Racism Without Racists),

“Perhaps it is more accurate to say that white Americans know and don’t know about sundown towns.”

How could Americans not know when they are surrounded by the evidence? Our entire society is structured by a long history of racism that has left no part of our lives untouched. The segregation of populations is no accident. It certainly wasn’t the choice of blacks.

Sundown towns developed all across the country. They excluded blacks from moving there and expelled most of the blacks already living there. This wave of violence drove blacks into the inner cities, where they were able to find some safety in numbers, although no place was completely safe.

p. 53

“Similarly, blacks did find some refuge in majority-black neighborhoods in the inner city. Whites usually proved reluctant to venture far into alien territory to terrorize residents. Although whites attacked black neighborhoods in Chicago; East St. Louis, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Tulsa; and other cities between 1917 and 1924, they were unable to destroy them for good.”

This ghettoization of the black population was exacerbated by public policies that further concentrated and isolated them:

p. 130

“When the federal government did spend money on black housing, it funded the opposite of suburbia: huge federally assisted high-rise “projects” concentrated in the inner city. We are familiar with the result, which now seems natural to us, market-driven: African Americans living near the central business district and whites living out in the suburbs. Actually, locating low-income housing on cheaper, already vacant land in the suburbs would have been more natural, more market-driven. One of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects, Cabrini Green, lies just a stone’s throw west of an expensive and desirable lakefront neighborhood north of the Loop, separated by the elevated railroad tracks. This is costly land. To justify its price, the Chicago Housing Authority had to pile hundreds of units onto the tract, building poorly devised physical structures that bred a festering, unsafe social structure. The steps taken by suburban developers and governments to be all-white were interferences in the housing market that kept African Americans from buying homes and locked them in overwhelmingly black tracts inside the city.”

Being ignorant of this history, many whites don’t even stop to question it for it seems natural and inevitable. Poor blacks live in inner cities. It is just what poor blacks do. But it should seem strange since at one time most blacks were farmers. After the Civil War, blacks spread out across the country.

p. 142:

“Before 1890, however, African Americans moved to counties and towns throughout America, as Table 1 showed (page 56)—even to isolated places such as northern Maine, northern Wisconsin, and Idaho north of the Snake River Valley. Then during the Great Retreat, they withdrew to the larger cities and a mere handful of small towns. Distance from the South, from African American population centers, or from major trade routes cannot explain this pattern, because towns in Maine, Wisconsin, Idaho, and elsewhere were at least as isolated socially between 1865 and 1890, when African Americans were moving into them, as they were between 1890 and 1930, when African Americans were fleeing them.11 In other words, because social isolation cannot explain the increases in black population in northern counties before 1890, it cannot explain why those increases reversed after that date. Something different went on after 1890.”

What happened? One common explanation is that it is simply an issue of class, of poverty. Blacks are poor, always have been and always will be. If that is the case, why are even wealthier blacks disproportionately underrepresented in wealthy suburbs and poor whites disproportionately represented in poor inner cities and poor communities in general?

Conflating race with class, as is common, doesn’t explain any of this.

pp. 143-145

“Other whites seem to think it’s somehow “natural” for blacks to live in the inner city, whites in the outer suburbs. This idea is a component of what law professor John Boger calls “the national sense that [residential segregation] is inescapable.” Most African Americans arrived by train, goes this line of thought, and they’re just taking a long time to move out from the vicinity of the train station; as soon as they make enough money, they too will move to the suburbs. But the whiteness of our suburbs is not “natural.”13

“Over and over, white academics as well as residents of sundown suburbs suggest that social class explained sundown suburbs, if not independent sundown towns. “I couldn’t live in Grosse Pointe either,” one professor put it in 2002, referring to one of Detroit’s richest suburbs, also one of its whitest. For all-white suburbs to result from classism is seen as defensible, because classism is OK, since we all presumably have a reasonable if not equal chance to get into the upper class. This ideology is a form of Social Darwinism: the best people wind up on top, and whites are smarter, better students, work harder at their jobs, etc. People who think like this don’t see Grosse Pointe’s whiteness as a white problem but as a black problem. “They” haven’t worked hard enough, etc., so they haven’t accumulated enough wealth—and perhaps enough social connections and knowledge—to crack these suburbs.

“This line of thought seems plausible. Segregation by class is an important component of suburbanization, and increasingly so. Residents of elite suburbs such as Grosse Pointe segregate on the basis of both race and class, and for the same reason: being distant from African Americans and from lower-class people conveys status.14 Nevertheless, the reasoning does not hold up, for two reasons. First, it ignores history. People who think like this have no idea that as recently as the 1960s and 1970s, when today’s mature adults were starting their careers, whites in much of the country flatly banned African Americans as a group from many occupations—not just professions but also jobs like construction work, department store clerk, flight attendant, and railroad engineer.

“Second, sundown suburbs simply do not result from class. Research by Michael Danielson points to a key flaw in the argument: the proportion of a metropolitan area’s blacks in a suburb, controlling for income, is less than half the proportion of whites in that suburb, except for the handful of interracial suburbs. That is, if we tried to guess the number of African Americans in a suburb just using income, we would always predict more than twice as many black people as actually lived there. Something has been keeping them out in addition to their class status. Conversely, a much higher proportion of poor white families live in suburbs, compared to poor black families. If income were the crucial factor, then there would be little difference by race in the distribution of the poor.15

“Continuing with our Grosse Pointe example, in the Detroit metropolitan area, class has mattered even less, race even more, than elsewhere in the nation, according to research by Karl Taeuber. “More than half of the white families in each income level, from very poor to very rich, lived in the suburbs,” he found. “Among blacks, only one-tenth of the families at each income level (including very rich) lived in the suburbs.” In short, social class, at least as measured by income, made little difference in the level of suburbanization. Rich whites have been much more suburban than rich blacks; poor whites have been much more suburban than poor blacks.16

“Sundown suburbs with an industrial base—such as Dearborn, Warren, and Livonia, around Detroit—have long employed African Americans, at least as janitors, but they could not spend the night. Some of these suburbs—like Livonia and Warren—are working-class. Other sundown suburbs, like independent sundown towns, are multiclass: houses in Dearborn, in 1997, ranged from starter homes around $45,000 to executive homes for $800,000 and up. Social class simply cannot explain the absence of African Americans from multiclass or working-class communities. Nor can it explain the absence of Jews from such elite suburbs as Kenilworth and Flossmoor, Illinois, and Darien, Connecticut.17

“Sociologist Reynolds Farley and his associates used our old friend D, the Index of Dissimilarity, to compare the power of race to that of class. Specifically regarding Detroit, they observed, “If household income alone determined where people lived, the Index of Dissimilarity would be 15 [almost completely integrated] instead of 88 [almost completely segregated].” Instead,

Economic criteria account for little of the observed concentration of blacks in central cities and their relative absence from the suburbs. The current level of residential segregation must be attributed largely to action and attitudes, past and present, which have restricted the entry of blacks into predominately white neighborhoods.18

“Indeed, blaming the whiteness of elite sundown suburbs on their wealth actually reverses the causality of caste and class. It is mostly the other way around: racial and religious exclusion came first, not class. Suburbs that kept out blacks and Jews became more prestigious, so they attracted the very rich. The absence of African Americans itself became a selling point, which in turn helped these suburbs become so affluent because houses there commanded higher prices. To this day, all-white suburbs attract the very rich. Twelve of the communities on Worth magazine’s list of 50 richest towns were all-white in 2000 or had just one or two African American families. Typically they were all-white first and became rich only when affluent families moved in. After 1959, for example, when Jews were let into La Jolla, California, a number of WASP families fled from La Jolla to Rancho Santa Fe, fifteen miles north and inland from the beach. Now Rancho Santa Fe is #16 on Worth’s list, well above La Jolla at #85,19 based on median home price.20

“In yet another way, blaming blacks for being poor, as a cause of segregation, reverses cause and effect. As Chapter 12 shows, residential segregation itself constrains and diminishes the cultural capital and social connections of African Americans, thus artificially decreasing their income and wealth. It won’t do to then use blacks’ lower income and wealth to explain residential segregation.”

Many other rationalizations are likewise carefully dissected by Loewen. None of them explains the history of segregation and its continuation. The only explanation left is that of racism.

Working Hard, But For What?

There has been a lot of debate and discussion about what Bill Cosby has said about blacks. One thing he argues for is the need for hard work. The thing that he doesn’t understand is most blacks believe in hard work as much as most whites. But being a hardworking poor minority doesn’t get you very far in this country without all the privileges of race and class.

The cook at McDonalds making minimum wage, the self-taught unlicensed car mechanic working in an alley, the people doing yardwork for cash, the prostitute, and the drug dealer are all working hard. But they are working hard in a society that is working against them when they are poor minorities.

Those are some of the hardest jobs in the world. And some of the people working them are the among the most brilliant and talented around. The guy who works his way up from a high school drop out to the head of a gang is more hard working and innovative than the average manager you’ll find in other careers. I’m often reminded of the drug dealer who was intelligent and was well informed about economics (Social Environment & Human Potential):

“In the project, Venkatesh finds men and women who easily flit back and forth between the legal and illegal economies (depending, usually, on which pays more at any given moment). Drug dealers aspire to buy small businesses, and their subordinates move between legitimate jobs and the hustle of drug dealing and prostitution. What Venkatesh is able to develop, through the view J.T. grants him, is a new way of thinking about the ghetto and ghetto crime, as the consequences that come when morality is uncoupled from the law.

“J.T. is a good tutor. He is a learned and steady bureaucrat of the drug trade, a man with some college and management experience behind him. Most of his life is spent dealing with, somewhat endearingly, the small headaches of petit bourgeois career life—managing less-than-competent subordinates, handling the objections of Taylor Homes residents, and trying to restrict police access to the project.”

These people believe in the American Dream and try to live it best they can, under almost impossible conditions. They aren’t asking for handouts. They are solving their own problems, even when those problems are forced on them by the larger society.

Take gangs, for example. Most gangs are what white people would call militias. When the police fail in their job, gangs do the job for them. If you are a black who is targeted by the police and everyone you know is targeted by the police, you’ll organize in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your neighborhood.

That is how community forms when all of the outside world is against you, when life is difficult and desperate, where daily living is a fight for survival. When there are no jobs available, poor minorities make their own jobs. When there are no police to protect them, poor minorities police themselves. When the larger society is against them, they make their own communities.

They do this all under the hardest conditions in America. It is quite impressive what humans are capable of. Imagine what poor minorities could accomplish if the larger society supported them instead of trying to destroy their lives?

If hard work mattered in this country, black communities would be among the wealthiest. If there was a way to measure it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the results showed the average black is more hardworking than the average white.

Cosby isn’t wrong in saying hardwork is generally a good thing. But it misses the entire point.

It seems to me that most Americans love to work, even in our off time when no one is paying us. If Americans have a problem, it is that we work too much and work so hard that we work ourselves into an early grave.

In a just and fair world, we would work less for more. But neoliberal capitalism tells us our only worth is our time spent in labor and our worth is measured by our pay check. That seems effed up to me. There is or should be more to life than work, especially the drudgery work most Americans have to do just to get by.

We live at a time when there are more people looking for work than there are jobs. With mechanization and computerization, those jobs aren’t coming back and even more jobs will be disappearing. The advice of working harder is cruel and ignorant, especially when directed at the most poor and disadvantaged, those least likely to be able to find a job no matter how hard they work or how much education they get.

That said, if we must speak of hard work, let’s talk about working hard to build stronger communities, to build more social capital, to build better schools, to build much needed infrastructure, to build housing for the homeless, to build more parks, to build a stronger labor movement, and to build an actually functioning democracy.

Why not use our hard work for things that matter and make the world a better place? Why not use all the hard work we are already doing in order to achieve great things in our communities and our country?

Our Bleak Future: Robots and Mass Incarceration

My friend last night dropped me off a copy of Time magazine (September 9, 2013). There was an article he wanted me to read which I just now finished reading. It’s about robotics and human employment.

Winners and Losers in the New Robot Economy
by David Von Drehle

I wouldn’t highly recommend the article. The author doesn’t offer any deep insights. Still, it is always an interesting topic to think about. The article is worthwhile n terms of a conversation starter, and indeed conversation(s) needs to be started.

There is disagreement about how quickly this robotic revolution will transform society. I suspect it will happen sooner than most people realize. It has already begun, that is for sure. Robots taking over jobs here and there, doing minor functions that no one cares about. But so far it has been fairly isolated. At some point, though, all the pieces will come together and whole job sectors will disappear almost over night. It has been a gradual process, but the final result will feel like it came out of nowhere because the average person isn’t paying attention (neither are many above average people).

This really is an extension of deindustrialization which has been going on for a half century. Before that, industrialization had been an equivalent replacement for an agricultural society. As the article points out, half the population was employed in farming a little over a century ago. Most of those people moved to the cities and found factory jobs. That seemed like progress. But things have been quite different with deindustrialization for there has been fewer jobs created than destroyed.

This connects to my recent preoccupation with mass incarceration. Black communities have been hit hardest as blacks have been concentrated in the inner cities. Racist houing and home loan practices and sundown town policies forced blacks into the inner cities. Housing projects, highway bypasses, poverty, underfunded schools and general ghettoization (along with other aspects of structural racism) have trapped them there. And now they are less than desirable places to live. But that wasn’t always the case.

During the early 20th century, the inner cities were thriving communities. This is where many of the early factories were located and so blacks were highly employed. Deindustrialization, along with globalization, decimated these communities. In the 80s and 90s, much of the American population was doing great, but blacks were being hit by unemployment rates not seen by whites since probably the Great Depression. Most of the jobs left and with them the hope of escaping the inner city. Poor blacks became surplus humans. At least under slavery, they were necessary to the economy. Now they had become useless eaters, a problem to be solved or eliminated.

The War on Drug became the perfect solution and so it was purposely targeted at the victims of deindustrialization. Since we had no jobs to offer poor blacks in this brave new world of globalization, we decided to wharehouse them in prisons and housing projects or else concentrate them in isolated inner city ghettoes. That way at least they would be hidden from sight where the rest of us wouldn’t have to acknowledge this evidence of our society’s failure and dysfunction.

Whites who aren’t impoverished might ask, what does this have to do with me? Screw those losers in the game of life. It’s a jungle out there. Eat or be eaten. If you are useless to our society, then you should count yourself lucky to be imprisoned where we good taxpayers will pay for your room and board.

To this, I’d point out that poor blacks are the canary in the coal mine. What has been happening to them for a half century is now beginning to happen to the rest of us. We are all slowly but surely becoming less-than-useful, all of us accept the upper classes that is. This is why unemployment, poverty and economic inequality is growing and why socio-economic mobility is shrinking. The jobs are disappearing and we have no reason to expect them ever to return.

Do you really think it can’t happen to you?

Back when blacks had high employment, they had healthy and thriving communities. Their marriage rates were very high and their families were stable. They saw socio-economic mobility like never before seen for blacks in America. Economic inequality was decreasing for all Americans. It was what we once referred to as living the “American Dream”

Now, whites are starting to have worse marriage rates than blacks had back then. Also, consider the fact that blacks now with all the problems inflicted on them have a higher average IQ than whites had a half century ago, and presently the black/white IQ gap is quickly closing. Those low IQ whites of the oldest generation lived the American Dream, despite lacking much in the way of education or even formal training of any sort. In order to find work, all that was required was a willingness to work. That world is quickly disappearing for many Americans.

What makes those not a part of the upper class think they are somehow special, somehow exempt from the forces of brutal capitalism?

The future provides us with two basic options. We might all become part of the under-caste like poor blacks. In that case and if we are lucky, the majority of the population will be ghettoized and incarcerated. If we aren’t so lucky… well I don’t want to think about that. The only other option is a massive welfare state like portrayed in Star Trek, specifically Next Generation. In that show, all poverty and related problems have been solved. Anyone is free to do what they want without fear of homelessness, starvation and sickness. But everyone knows that isn’t the American way. We’d rather let people suffer and die than to create such a welfare state. So, I guess that means mass incarceration (or its equivalent) for us all will be on its way.

That is my happy thought for the day. You’re welcome!