Segregation, even after a generation
Published: Monday, April 16, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 17:08
Chicago is the most racially segregated city in the United States of America, according to recent Census data reports.
Despite the dubious ranking, Chicago also rates as the most improved city in America in terms of solving racial issues. This points to two things: Chicago was one of the worst offenders of racial equality throughout most of the 20th century, but now has learned how to combat the issue.
“The older cities are always going to come out as more segregated,” said John McCarron, a journalism instructor at DePaul who specializes in urban affairs. McCarron said that while some formulas unequivocally point to Chicago being the most segregated city in the country, one must understand the history of and trends associated with segregation.
“These reports come out periodically and they all seem to be true. They all use some variation of the formula that the Census uses. But the formula doesn’t take a lot of things into account, making it a crude formula,” McCarron said.
By the numbers, Chicago is indeed more segregated than any other U.S. city. Using a well-known measurement called the dissimilarity index, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research calculated that in 2010, Chicago had a dissimilarity rating of 71.9 – by far the largest number of all the cities in the study. This number indicates that 71.9 percent of white or African-American people would have to move to a different geographical area in order to have an even racial distribution across the city. In comparison, New York City was in second place with a dissimilarity rating of 64.7. Out of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the country, the Dallas-Ft. Worth area had the lowest rating, at 47.5.
But McCarron disagrees with the notion that segregation in Chicago is purely the result of racism. “The numbers undoubtedly say that Chicago is very segregated, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because white people and African-American people don’t get along,” he said.
McCarron points to history as his first guide as to why the city is so divided. The Great Migration and the Second Great Migration, which occurred between 1910 and 1970, were two instances where massive amounts of African-Americans moved into the northern cities, completely changing those cities’ traditional demographics and forcing immediate interaction between races. The racism that pervaded in the cities defined the era, causing damage to racial relations that seemed irreversible. The racism has since scaled back dramatically, as McCarron said, but the social impact of the Great Migration period is a primary reason as to why the city is so divided today.
Students at DePaul seem surprised by the ranking.
“In relation to where we live on campus and what I’ve seen downtown, you see such an array of people. Based on that, I’d disagree that we are the most segregated city,” said sophomore Brianna Kemper-Newell, who is African-American.
“It surprises me a bit,” said junior Ian Blinstrup. “It might be somewhat of a shock that the city is number one in terms of segregation, but if you live in Chicago, you know that the area is pretty segregated. It’s just the reputation of the city.”
“A lot of it has to do with something called self-selection,” McCarron said. “A lot of primarily African-American high rises were emptied out in the last few decades and the residents were given vouchers to live wherever they wanted. The vast majority of these people chose to live in segregated, ethnicity-specific neighborhoods, essentially “self-segregating” themselves. It’s just human nature to live with the type of people that you’re comfortable around.”
“Overall, people like to live where they’re comfortable,” Kemper-Newell said.
McCarron said that we should always be mindful that the numbers don’t tell the whole truth.
“I would encourage people to understand that when a study like this goes out, you should know the criteria and what other factors besides racism might be involved.”