From Rice News (by Mike Williams):
However much people choose to live in a segregated society, the trend is a losing proposition for all.
That was the takeaway message delivered by Rice’s Michael Emerson in a presentation to the Houston Association of Hispanic Media Professionals (HAHMP) last week. Members came to campus to hear him discuss select results from the Houston Area Survey, particularly as they relate to housing preferences among blacks, whites and Hispanics.
Emerson, the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and co-director of the university’s new Institute for Urban Research (IUR), gave a brief summary of segregation in Houston based on the 2000 Census that showed distinct separation between black and white neighborhoods, with Hispanics somewhat more integrated but still dominating many neighborhoods of their own.
“People make their own decisions, their own incomes, and they’re all trying to get the best house and neighborhood they can get. How does it end up they live so segregated by race?” he asked.
Emerson said he hears two common answers. The first: “It’s not race; it’s class.”
“In fact, that’s not the answer,” he said. “There is a range of incomes within any racial group, and when we look at where people live by income level, (they’re) still segregated by race. Segregation by race is substantially greater than segregation by income.”
The second answer — “People like to live with people like themselves” — is somewhat more accurate, he said, but still not the answer. “What we have found is that in current times, many people want not to live with certain people — people they think will drive down their property values, raise crime and lower the quality of local education. They use race to decide these other factors.”
Emerson’s own neighborhood is a good example of what has befallen not only Houston but also major cities nationwide. “When I moved there, it was mixed with many racial groups, but now it’s 99 percent black and Hispanic,” said the professor, who is white. He noted that in 21st-century America, he’s “totally convinced we have to live in integrated neighborhoods, so my family and I choose to do so.”
Too few are so committed to diversity, according to the most recent Houston Area Survey.
A “factorial experiment” of African-Americans, Hispanics and whites, 1,000 each, revealed important results. Individuals were first asked if they’d buy a house that had everything they were looking for, was close to work and within their price range.
“Everybody hears that,” Emerson said. “Then there was a part that was computer-generated (with parameters that changed for each phone call): Checking on the neighborhood, you find the property values are increasing/decreasing, the crime rate is high/low, the schools are of high/low quality, and the neighborhood is X percent respondent’s own race and X-to-100 percent of another racial group.
“This is a lot to remember,” he said. “That’s exactly what we want, because we’re looking to see what people key on. For example, if I hear ‘crime rate is increasing,’ that’s what I’ll remember, and I probably won’t buy that home.”
Emerson said the results showed, as expected, sensitivity among all groups to high crime rates and low-quality schools. Blacks and whites were more sensitive to home valuation than Hispanics.
“Are there still racial-composition effects? If what people tell us is true, they should go away,” he said. Race is indeed less of an issue for Hispanics, at least in Harris County. But for whites, “you get a different story. They are highly sensitive to percent black and percent Hispanic.
“Even if you take a neighborhood that has low crime, high-quality schools and rising property values and you say it’s 30 percent black, in almost every single case, the white respondent will say, ‘Not likely to buy the home.'”
And the more educated whites are, the more likely they are to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, he said. “Again, this is not an income effect; it’s an education effect.
“What we find is that we can have diverse neighborhoods; we just can’t have whites in those diverse neighborhoods for very long because of their racial preferences.”
Similarly, he said, African-Americans in Harris County proved less interested in neighborhoods where the percent of Asian residents was on the rise.
Why does neighborhood segregation by race matter? The fourfold increase in the national gap between net worth of white and black families — demonstrated in an “incredibly detailed” study of 2,000 families followed over 24 years from 1984 to 2007 — is telling, Emerson said. The study, he said, “shows most middle-class Americans generate their wealth through their homes, and white neighborhoods, due to higher demand, rise in value more than in other neighborhoods. So it’s a big deal where people live. We must find ways to stop giving benefits along racial lines. As most Americans believe, benefits should go to people by merit, not race.”
Emerson said he and his IUR colleagues are anxious to see the results of the 2010 Census when they become available next year. He hopes to find Houston neighborhoods that have been integrated for 20 years or more. “We will attempt to understand why they are stably integrated and what the consequences are, positive and negative, for people who live there,” he said.
“People give all kinds of reasons why it’s OK to have segregation and to have inequality by class and race, never actually trying to face it,” he said. “That’s what we’ve really got to push on. Why is it OK? Who is it OK for? Who gets hurt by it?
“The fact is,” he said, “the society our children inherit will suffer and the society our grandchildren inherit will suffer even more if we don’t address racial segregation and the resulting increasing racial wealth gap.”
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