By Rajini Vaidyanathan
Legal segregation in the US may have ended more than 50 years ago. But in many parts of the country, Americans of different races aren’t neighbours – they don’t go to the same schools, they don’t shop at the same stores, and they don’t always have access to the same services.
In 2016 the issue of race will remain high on the agenda in the United States. The police killings of unarmed black men and women over the past few years reignited a debate over race relations in America, and the reverberations will be felt in the upcoming presidential election and beyond.
Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago are three cities synonymous with racial tensions – but all three have another common denominator. They, like many other American cities, are still very segregated.
In my reporting across the United States I’ve seen this first hand – from Louisiana to Kansas, Alabama to Wisconsin, Georgia to Nebraska. In so many of these places people of other races simply don’t mix, not through choice but circumstance. And if there’s no interaction between races, it’s harder for conversations on how to solve race problems to even begin.
Newly released census data, analysed by the Brookings Institution, shows black-white segregation is modestly declining in large cities, but it remains high. If zero is a measure for perfect integration and 100 is complete segregation, analysis from Brookings showed most of the country’s largest metropolitan areas have segregation levels of between 50 to 70.
According to the Brookings report, “more than half of blacks would need to move to achieve complete integration”.
(Some have pointed out that the wording of this part of the report itself highlights the challenges in these issues – why can’t this be measured in the number whites who would have to move?)
Racial and socioeconomic segregation are closely linked – if you’re a black person in America, you’re more likely than a white person to live in an area of concentrated poverty.
This isn’t simply a matter of choice, or chance. Some of it is by design – and down to decades-old housing policies which actively prevented African Americans from living in certain areas.
Kansas City is one of the country’s most segregated cities. Drive around the west of Troost Avenue and there are large houses, their vast porches overlooking equally vast driveways. Properties are anything from $356,000 (£243,000) to $1.2m.
But you only have to go east to see a very different picture. Abandoned houses and unkempt lawns greet you at most corners. One building I pass is completely boarded up, with piles of rubbish outside, and the words “Stay Out” in spray paint.
The housing on either side of Troost is very much split down race lines.
The US government had a hand in this creating this segregation due to practices it instituted back in the 1930s, which prevented many blacks from getting on the property ladder in certain areas.