Buckhead wants to cut out of the Black Mecca.
The combustible, decades-long debate over Buckhead shines a light on a broader racial reality in the US.
As Sheryll Cashin, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, explains it, the consequences of residential caste are vast.
Here’s an overview of how the US got to this point — and how it might move forward:
Are there particular factors that contribute to residential caste?
Another process is opportunity hoarding, or overinvesting in some communities while disinvesting elsewhere. Cashin calls the former “gold standard” neighborhoods — neighborhoods of tremendous opportunity that are frequently subsidized by everyone else and that get the best of everything, from grocery stores to infrastructure to schools. In fact, schools are one of the best indicators of racial segregation. “If you really want to get a handle on this, go online, look at the schools in your community and look at the racial demographics of those schools. They’re often stark in any major metropolis unless there’s an integration plan,” Menendian said.
The third process is stereotype-driven surveillance. It’s easier to harden boundaries and isolate opportunity when the image of the “hood” is as devoid of dimension as it is. Former President Donald Trump was the most vulgar broadcaster of what Cashin refers to as “ghetto myths,” but others also have nourished these narratives.
What does this stereotyping look like?
“Cumming (sic) District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place,” Trump tweeted in 2019.
Even politicians on the other side of the aisle have sustained ghetto myths. After the killing of Freddie Gray, former President Barack Obama condemned the “thugs who tore up” Baltimore. “He was talking about vandals, but he was still participating in a very specific anti-Black idea,” Cashin told CNN. “Part of why it’s so challenging to pursue humane policies that can uplift people in high-poverty areas is because we supply a lens of presumed thug — instead of presumed citizen.”
Does residential segregation look the same today as it did a few decades ago?
It looks quite a bit different. Menendian said that about five or six decades ago, you could find the same pattern of segregation in almost every major US city: In big urban areas, Black families were circumscribed to a small number of neighborhoods that were often downwind of factories, near industrial areas, or close to various environmental contaminants. White families, on the other hand, lived in the same cities but in dramatically different neighborhoods.
Notably, this trend fits with Cashin’s notion of boundary maintenance.
“The main response (by localities and the federal government) to some six million Great Migrants escaping Jim Crow and going north and west was essentially to contain them in their own neighborhoods,” she said.
It’s still segregation — just in a different guise.
As the UC Berkeley report lays out in granular detail, “not only are most of our major metropolitan regions and cities highly segregated, but we find that nearly 81% American cities and metropolitan regions are more segregated today than they were in 1990, after several decades of federal policy applied to this problem.”
Is it possible to break up the boundaries of residential caste?
As you might imagine, concretizing aspirations for large-scale change won’t be easy or straightforward. But there’s hope to be had.
Cashin underscored that she’s inspired by the fact that the US has ascending, multiracial coalitions of people who say that Black Lives Matter.
“There are growing coalitions that can get to 51% in a mayoral race, in a city council race, in a debate about: Are we going to do our part to affirm and further fair housing? Are we going to pass a mandatory inclusionary zoning ordinance? Are we going to support racial equity, a neighborhood analysis that pays attention to how we spend money?” she said.
“I sense an authenticity,” Cashin added. “People seem to want something much better than a society that’s premised on separate and unequal, a society that’s premised on fear and the exclusion of the other.”
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