NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

South's Racial History a Difference of Degrees

December 31, 2002

If Northerners oppose school desegregation or the integration of the suburbs with affordable housing, that's not considered racism, though it has the effect of segregating blacks that is at least as damaging as it was in the South, according to Gary Orfield, a professor of education and social policy and co-director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard.

  • Orfield's group found 70 percent of black children attended predominantly minority schools in the 1989-99 school year, up from 66 percent in 1991-92 and 63 percent in 1980-81.
  • More than a third were in schools almost as segregated as in the Old South, with 9 of 10 students black or Hispanic.
  • They also found minority students were most likely to go to schools with whites in the South and that, by two measures, the states with the most segregated schools were New York, Michigan, Illinois and California.
  • Also, a recent census report, "Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregations in the United States: 1980-2000," found American housing still largely segregated, with the worst segregation in the Northeast and Midwest -- with the most segregated metropolitan area Detroit, followed by Milwaukee, New York, Newark and Chicago.

Others argue that issues like busing, exclusionary zoning and affirmative action are murkier and the remedies less certain than when the issue was the need to dismantle Jim Crow in the South. Similarly, many suburbanites, North and South, balk at the notion that wealthy suburbs segregated by income are equivalent to a society of white and black water fountains and schools segregated by color.

Whatever the cause, observers say, the focus still remains on the South and the past.

Source: Peter Applebome, "America's Blind Spot on Race," The New York Times, December 22, 2003.


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