When Racial Groups Self-Segregate and Its Effect on Schools and Neighborhoods

“Where can I live where there are no Black people?”

It was nearly twenty years ago, I was working at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce when a lady preparing to relocate called to get demographic information. We had a delightful conversation about Nashville’s growth, how the cost of living was below the U.S average, and with two small babies of my own, I assured the potential newcomer that Nashville was the perfect place to raise a family.

But near the end of our call, she needed to know specific places to move where there would be no signs of the likes of me, the nice Chamber of Commerce employee whose “sista-ness” she somehow missed. Without missing a beat, I directed her to my neighborhood and told her how much I would love to be her neighbor. I remember that phone call like it just happened because it hurt like hell.

So many lessons learned from that seven minute conversation, but it was then I realized people actually placed priority on the color of their neighbors over the color of the house. Whether they admit it or even realize it.

But is it not human to find security in familiarity? Is this not why we seek to join membership organizations that allow us to move and speak freely with perceived like-minded individuals without having to put in the work of getting to know them? I won’t explain away behavior like the racist lady on the phone call, but people have a right to live where they want.

In the two articles referenced below, the authors call out white people for self-segregation in the areas of schools and neighborhoods (which are interconnected). Because I’ve witnessed this for a few years now, the information is not shocking, but it does inform another narrative – school choice.

From my vantage point, it is the middle-to-upper class self-segregated whites who tend to be the biggest opponents of charter schools and the choice movement. So I have a problem when one’s life is rooted in choices/privilege, yet fix their mouths to bash choices offered to those with so few. We will save this for another day.

In this New York Times article by Kate Taylor, we see white families in Manhattan who live in close proximity to a public school but refuse to send their own kids there, one father even calling it “malpractice.” The school is mostly Hispanic and low income with a mediocre performance record.

In the case of P.S. 165, only two in five of the kindergartners who lived in the school’s zone and attended public school were enrolled there in 2015, according to Education Department data. White families disproportionately shun the school: Roughly a third of the public school students who live in the school’s zone are white, but only 13 percent of the school’s students are white. Its test scores, like those at the other district schools where black and Hispanic children are a majority, lag behind.

We see a different narrative with an identical outcome in this Vox article by Alvin Chang where the focus is jobs in a suburb of Minnesota.

But in 1989, the local pork processing plant added 650 jobs and attracted new workers, many of Mexican descent, by giving them one free week of lodging and food.

By the early 1990s, about 5 percent of the town’s population was Mexican. People told their friends and family about these jobs, and more and more Hispanic workers came to Worthington — a phenomenon called chain migration.

By 2010, more than one in three residents were Hispanic.
Unlike the silly lady who called looking for Black-free neighborhoods, most people do not announce their racism and/or classism. We can only surmise that our majority-minority schools and neighborhoods are products of hate. Still, the information is good to have, even if it’s to serve as a mirror. But we will ever love our neighbor as ourselves?