Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
A new nationwide poll shows that African Americans are more often feeling discrimination not in suburbs but in urban neighborhoods.
The findings of a comprehensive survey on American discrimination conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health has revealed several interesting and not-so-interesting observations so far. There’s the Wait, what?! findings that more than half of white Americans believe that discrimination exists against white Americans. And there’s the Wait, that’s news? findings that majorities of African Americans said they or their family members have been discriminated against when applying for jobs or pursuing housing.
There are also some illuminating nuggets that haven’t yet surfaced in the top-line findings of the poll.
One standout section of the study finds that African Americans living in majority-black neighborhoods expressed more negative opinions about quality of life issues across the board than those in other neighborhoods. Whether talking about schools, job opportunities, park access, housing, or crime, there were more people reporting poor perceptions about their neighborhoods from those living in majority-black settings than from those living in non-majority-black settings.
It can be argued that this is because government policies have starved majority-black neighborhoods of the resources needed to put them on even keel with neighborhoods where they are the minority, and there’s plenty of truth in that. But that wouldn’t totally explain the finding that black people in majority-black neighborhoods more “often” feel discrimination when voting or participating in politics than do black people living in non-black majority neighborhoods.
The study also finds that African Americans who live in low-income and majority-black areas were more likely to report discrimination than African Americans living in middle-class and non-majority-black areas. According to the study, 45 percent of black people who live in “lower income areas” were more likely to say that they or a family member were told they weren’t welcome, or felt unwelcome in their neighborhood, building, or housing development. That’s compared to 32 percent of black people living in “middle-income areas” reporting the same. Similarly, 45 percent of African Americans living in urban settings said black people “often” experience discrimination when trying to rent or buy housing—far higher than African Americans living in suburban settings (31 percent) reported.
It used to be that the suburbs, with their history of redlining and racial exclusion, were the primary province where African Americans encountered this kind of hostility and rejection when looking for housing.
These findings could be outcomes of the fact that larger percentages of low-income families are now living in suburbs than in cities, as is increasingly the case for African-American families in general. Or, that the kind of “inner city” discrimination African Americans are experiencing is a bug, or a feature, of white families and professionals moving back to city centers. Recent data around the rise of inequality in areas where tech-innovation sectors are flourishing could also explain this.
It could be all of the above. Either way, it’s clear that the separate-and-unequal nature of racial segregation continues to make life harder for black families, and living in predominantly black urban quarters has yet to produce much protection from that fact. If anything, it shows that arguments for living in or preserving predominantly black neighborhoods, or “Chocolate Cities,” might be more complicated than we think.
This article is part of our project, “The Diagnosis,” which is supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.