Race, segregation, and Census 2010—what does it mean?
In our final installment in the very short series on race and Census 2010, we try to draw some conclusions about segregation and integration in the U.S. today.
It may seem contradictory that many white Americans feel their towns and neighborhoods are home to more non-white residents than ever before at the same time that non-white segregation is holding steady or, for Asian Americans, increasing slightly. If a town goes from 90% white to 77% white, that is an appreciable, visible change—but it’s still a white majority that should be shrinking faster, given the pace of Latino and Asian immigration.
According to The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New Findings from the 2010 Census (which is the official report by Logan and Stults, as referenced in part 2 of this series), “the typical white lives in a neighborhood that is 75% white, 8% black, 11% Hispanic, and 5% Asian. This represents a notable change since 1980, when the average whites’ neighborhood was 88% white, but it is very different from the makeup of the metropolis as a whole.” How is the average white American’s experience different from the “metropolis as a whole”?
“The experience of minorities is very different. For example, the typical black lives in a neighborhood that is 45% black, 35% white, 15% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. The typical Hispanic lives in a neighborhood that is 46% Hispanic, 35% white, 11% black and 7% Asian. The typical Asian lives in a neighborhood that is 22% Asian, 49% white, 9% black, and 19% Hispanic.”
There is an interesting chart that appears after this illustrating this data, which basically shows how likely you are to experience white neighbors according to your race. Asians’ neighbors are 50% white, Hispanics’ and black Americans’ neighbors are 35% white. White Americans’ neighbors are 77% white. Asian Americans are the only one of the four groups who do not live in neighborhoods in which they are the majority. In neighborhoods where most Asian people live, whites and Hispanics make up the majority of residents.
Assessing segregation and integration data by city requires a lot of background information. While black-white segregation fell dramatically in both New Orleans and Kansas City, in New Orleans it was because so many black people were forced to leave the city when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their neighborhoods, while in Kansas City the integration has no negative, temporary, “act of God” backstory—the people of the city are just integrating more.
The historian has to consider why it is black Americans who are still least likely to integrate in large numbers with white Americans. There’s never one reason. It’s a combination of factors, including the fact that Hispanic and Asian Americans are more likely to be considered newcomers who might adopt white culture, and therefore be acceptable, while black Americans are seen as possessing a unique culture that a) will never change and b) is diametrically opposed to white culture. The well-documented centuries of slavery and Jim Crow that describe black-white relations lead to suspicion and resentment, fear and anger on both sides, while the identically horrible racist campaigns against Asians in the late 19th- and early-to-mid-20th centuries are not as well-known outside the Asian American population, and therefore Asian Americans have more of a “blank slate”. Housing discrimination is still an issue, or course, most seriously for black Americans, but also for Latinos and Asian Americans.
While color works against black Americans, language works against Hispanics. For at least 170 years, and maybe since 1700, Americans have inveighed against foreigners coming in and refusing to speak English, trying to overthrow English, working as agents of a foreign government. So it goes with Latino immigrants today. Latinos are moving away from their Latino immigrant neighborhoods—in 1980, 55% of Latinos lived in majority Latino neighborhoods, while in 2010 40% do. That’s quite a drop. And data shows that as Latinos raise families in the U.S., they are very likely to stop speaking Spanish entirely. A second-generation Asian American is far more likely to speak an Asian language than is a second-generation Latino American to speak Spanish.
This is just the barest summary of part of the information in the 2010 Census. Studying the Census is one of the most fascinating and thought-provoking things you can do. This latest window into who we are as Americans has its depressing and its uplifting aspects. We have to take our cue from its findings and do what we can to keep integration moving steadily upward, and segregation vanishing into the past.