The Geography of Discrimination: Hypersegregation, Isolation and Fragmentation within the African-American Community1

Article excerpt


The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. Since that time, African Americans, as a group, have forged substantial progress in gaining access to an extended menu of housing choices. But, despite these advances, the 2000 census has underscored what has long been evident: that as America has become more racially and ethnically diverse, the nation's inner cities are more segregated now than they were 50 years ago.2 Most urban neighborhoods in the North and Midwest are more segregated than they were before the 1960s, when segregation was enforced by laws in the southern half of the country and perpetuated by custom in other regions. Indeed, today's African Americans who reside in the nation's inner cities live in such extreme racial isolation, that social scientists refer to it as "hypersegregation."3 Studies conducted regularly by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, by academic researchers, and by private organizations, all demonstrate conclusively that today's residential segregation stems not from the private choices of individual families but from decades of official segregation and the persistence of unlawful discriminatory practices.4

For example, one of the most harmful ways in which the adverse effects of segregated housing show themselves is in the racial composition of public schools. In most inner-city areas, student populations are primarily racial minorities while white students predominate in suburban schools. As school districts closely follow the boundaries of political districts-student populations mirror the racial make up of a given area's residents. As a result, because schools are financed by local property taxes, and communities that are predominantly African American and Latino tend to be much poorer than predominantly white areas, schools in these areas suffer from inadequate resources, a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers and chronic under funding.

A generation of African Americans have benefited from opportunities created by the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. Those who were in a position to do so took advantage of the educational, employment and other opportunities that were foreclosed to African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. The success of middle- and upperincome African Americans and the growth in their numbers over the last thirty years is a testament to their intelligence, ambition and hard work. For these groups, the Civil Rights Movement created unprecedented avenues for advancement. However, for the one-third of the AfricanAmerican population left behind in the nation's inner cities, the Civil Rights Movement might as well have never happened.

The increasing isolation of inner-city African Americans and the profoundly negative, often irreparable, effect this trend has on them should be a considerable cause for concern. These individuals live in conditions that are, in many ways, more oppressive than those African Americans endured during the depths of the segregation era-their levels of unemployment are higher, their families are less intact, their educational opportunities have not improved, the infrastructure of their neighborhood has deteriorated and their communities are far less safe. Not only is there extreme isolation and segregation from whites, there is also a growing separation of inner-city African Americans from middle- and upper-income African Americans. In most important respects, the bonds of commonality among African Americans have endured. However, the growing spatial separation and deepening economic disparities separating middle-class African Americans from impoverished, inner-city residents threatens to fragment the African-American community. For the last thirty years, civil rights organizations have devoted a considerable amount of their resources to efforts to secure equal educational opportunities. That focus must be broadened. …