TBR: The Failures of Integration

Today’s book is The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining The American Dream, by Sheryll Cashin.  (I had actually requested it from the library, but not started it, when Bitch PhD wrote about itDorcasina is also reading it.)  It’s a very interesting book, but ultimately one that left me somewhat frustrated.

The first section of the book simply reviews the facts about residential segregation in the United States.  Little of this section is new research, but Cashin lays out the facts in a readable conversational tone.  She points out that much of what we consider "integration" consists of small number of well-off minorities living in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, as well as of neighborhoods that are in transition.    Very few whites — and even fewer whites with children — choose to live in neighborhoods that have a significant black presence, let alone that are majority black, even when such neighborhoods are less expensive than comparable majority-white neighborhoods.  (Cashin mostly discusses race in terms of black and white, although she notes that one type of stable integrated neighborhood is the multi-ethnic urban center.)  Cashin also notes that a significant number of blacks who could now afford to live in majority-white neighborhoods have chosen to live in majority-black communities where they are "more comfortable."

In the second section, Cashin makes a case that most of society is worse off because of the persistence of race and class segregation.  The ways in which poor urban minorities suffer have been well documented.  Cashin argues that middle-class whites also suffer because they have to spend more than they can afford and/or put up with horrible commutes in order to guarantee safe neighborhoods and decent schools for their kids.  (These sections echo some of the arguments from Perfect Madness and The Two-Income Trap.)  And for me, the most novel part of the book was Cashin’s discussion of how the problems of urban areas follow middle-class blacks into majority-black suburbs.  She spends a lot of time discussing Prince George’s County, MD, and why it still has mediocre schools and few retail shops, even though it is the most affluent majority-black county in the country. 

I found the third part of the book, in which Cashin discusses her hopes for the future, the weakest.  Cashin doesn’t really have much of a solution to offer to the problems she’s identified.  She calls for better enforcement of housing anti-discrimination laws, which I agree is a necessary, but not sufficient first step.  She supports school choice in the form of charter schools, but not vouchers, and talks approvingly of Raleigh’s busing scheme, but doesn’t directly address the issue that busing was a significant factor in pushing white families out of urban school districts.    She bewails our polarized political environment and the focus on suburban swing voters, but doesn’t discuss how gerrymandering penalizes communities that are geographically scattered. 

I like where Cashin’s aiming at; I just don’t see how we get from here to there.

Update: I really want to encourage anyone who is reading this in a feedreader to click over to the comments on this post and the next one.  If you’re only reading my posts, you’re missing out.

2 Responses to “TBR: The Failures of Integration”

  1. Jody Says:

    There are way too many issues for me to deal with here (having just bought a new house in an utterly segregated development, and having left a neighborhood that was integrated along the black/white axis but considerably “below” the social standing of where the rest of our academic cohort chose to buy) but I did want to write that one reason we chose not to buy in Wake County was because of the busing there. Most of the new housing developments (we had determined ahead of time to buy lead- and asbestos-free on this go-round) are constantly being jiggered into new schools, to comply with the Wake County system. And selfishly, we didn’t want to be in the position of some folks we knew down there, whose kids attended three elementary schools, then a single middle school, but finally two different high schools — because of Wake County redistricting.
    I read the percentages in that Times article, that 85% of kids attend neighborhood schools, but the assignment of developments to neighborhood schools is not fixed. One year, your neighborhood middle school might be Davis and the next year it might be something else. We toured developments were one side of the street attended one elementary school and the other side attended a different one — and the boundaries were set to shift again in another year.
    That’s just too much instability for us. We need to build social capital in a single school, because in a school with four teachers per grade, we’re going to have to deal with three of them. And we want to know the powers-that-be well enough for our hints about bad learning-style fits with that notorious fourth teacher to be heard. Every parent wants that: to build up some sense of belonging, not just for comfort’s sake, but to have power, and feel a little bit in control. The Wake County system, especially in the areas of new building, undermines that.
    The property values reflect the costs of redistricting uncertainty. Our Wake County realtor could talk specifically about neighborhoods that hadn’t been reassigned in such-and-so-many years, which was why houses there cost 20-30K more. And the quality of the next nearest schools was just as high — the problem wasn’t with being assigned to “bad” schools, the problem was being constantly reassigned to new ones.
    In the event, we chose to buy a house on the other end of the Triangle in a development close to a 1996 school, where we felt reasonably certain that we wouldn’t be re-districted elsewhere half-way through the kids’ elementary years. The X factor is that a city-county school merger remains on the table for us, and if it happens, who knows?. The powers that be claim districts wouldn’t be redrawn, but no one believes them. Still, we’re a five-minute drive from the assigned elementary/middle-school campus, and we’re hopeful.
    Just so it’s clear: the problem we perceived in Wake County wasn’t the risk of being bused into Raleigh to comply with the economic integration program. I REALLY don’t approve of long bus rides, which makes it hard for me to formulate good solutions to school integration in the current segregated housing climate, but the big problem wasn’t that. The problem was the unpredictability of school boundaries from year to year.
    As the Wake County school board advises on their website: “If you live in a fast-growing section of the county, there’s a chance your child will be reassigned to a new school at least once during their school career.” Realtors were saying that in North Raleigh and in Cary/Apex, three times was far more typical. We just didn’t want to deal with that, so we didn’t buy there.

  2. Mrs. Coulter Says:

    Very interesting. The school district question seems to be the sticking point for people all over. We decided not to even look for housing in the District because we felt that it was ultimately committing us to private schooling for our children (at that time planned but unconceived). I know that a critical mass of involved middle class parents is probably the key to improving DC’s woeful public schools, but who wants to take chances with their own kids? Instead we ended up in Montgomery County, in an area of Silver Spring that is rapidly gentrifying. However, the neighborhood schools are still heavily Hispanic and poor. The county has implemented a program where two schools are paired together, bussing kids from one area to the next in order to create greater economic and racial diversity in the schools. However, as the area has gentrified, the schools have become even less integrated. I guess higher income residents who can afford the houses are more likely to be able to afford private school as well. There’s an interesting discussion of the issue here.

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