Modern Racial Segregation according to Massey & Denton
The inequality which has long been inherent to the experience of the African-American is at the center of the text by Massey and Denton (1993). The various facets of America’s sociocultural makeup that have conspired to relegate certain ethnic and racial groups to a lesser status is considered in Chapters 6 through 8 in particular, where the authors provide explanation for the significant imbalance as it persists today.
Massey and Denton avoid blaming the victims, as it were, by focusing not on the tendencies of individuals living in negative cultural and economic circumstances to perpetuate negative habits and tendencies but on the larger social barriers preventing ascendance. The argument that pervades Chapter 6 seems ultimately to resolve that there are distinct geographical and residential patterns that have foretold and sustained the inequality which is generally experienced by African-Americans. As the text tells, “the high degree of residential segregation imposed on blacks ensures their social and economic isolation from the rest of American society. As we have seen, in 1980 ten large U.S. cities had black isolation indices in excess of 80 (Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Gary, Newark, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.).” (Massey & Denton, 160)
This figures significantly into such works as that by Shaw (2008), which argues that the outcome of such a condition can be observed quite clearly in our public schools. According to Shaw, public schools are a pointed example of the repercussions of geographical segregation. Though the late 1970s and 1980s had seen an active integration of schools promoting greater diversity, Shaw, using Seattle as an example, reports that this trend has essentially been reversed. The conditions in our neighborhoods are also evident in our schools, where, “today, a total of 30 schools — close to a third of the district’s buildings — have nonwhite populations that far exceed the district’s average of 58%. In 20 of them, nonwhite enrollment is 90% or more.” (Shaw, 1)
This is a condition which begs a question concerning the efforts of public representatives and government agencies in terms of improving the circumstances of the African-American community. In Chapter 7, Massey and Denton make an argument which underscores this question, indicating that African-American political representatives may often be at least somewhat to blame for sustaining the isolation experienced by the demographic. Namely, Massey and Denton contend that such public representatives will actually tend to exploit the benefits to electability and political mandate by maintaining pockets of African-American support. The geographical isolation of African-Americans will tend to make them a solid voting block which, while not stimulating greater power for the population itself, will help to elevate the career of individual public officials. In the text’s perception, this is a cynical and self-interested tendency that helps to sustain tendencies of economic segregation.
The idea of pursuing integration by improving the degree to which job placement and job creation programs helps African-Americans to work outside of the ghettos and with exposure to other races and socioeconomic classes seems to be an appropriate one. As this is discussed in Chapter 8, it does represent the most compelling way to begin to dismantle the ghettos. Indeed, the primary argument of the text and this discussion seems to be that isolation, both willfully foisted upon African-Americans and, in turn, reflected in African-American tendencies toward a concession to this isolation, are responsible for the current state of inequality. Only by finding ways through education, profession and public interaction to remove this isolation can we hope to eliminate the ghetto system that permeates America’s cities.
Massey, D.S. & Denton, N.A. (1993). American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard University Press.
Shaw, L. (2008). The resegregation of Seattle’s school. The Seattle Times.
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