Sunday, August 12, 2007

Social Science Permission for the Segregated Residential Status Quo

(As a major hat tip, if you ever want to find news affecting Black folks that evades folks like me who are always burning the candle at both ends, you cannot do much better on the 'Net than Prometheus6. His page is a must-read for me whenever I can.)

I'm thanking P6 because but for him it would likely been a while before I found the article he linked from the Boston Globe about the latest research findings from Hah-vad:

Diversity is bad for communities.

(At least, in the short- and medium-run)

Whether purposeful or simply fortuitous social science timing (I assume the latter), it didn't take long for someone to announce empirical data to psychically reinforce the emotional message of the Supreme Court's decision in Parents Involved with Community Schools vs. Seattle School Dist. #1 that segregated schooling resulting from white flight/white residential segregation was not a problem for which a legal remedy should exist.  That someone is Robert Putnam of the Saguaro Seminar, Harvard's think tank on civic engagement.  And now, sure enough, we have empirical evidence suggesting that indeed neighborhood homogeneity -- including racially segregated neighborhoods -- has real benefits and diverse neighborhoods come with a real down side.  Specifically, according to the research the down side of diversity is that mixed/diverse communities are characterized, according to Putnam's research with all of the following indications of social ill:

  • Reduced levels of voting

  • Reduced volunteerism

  • Reduced charitable giving

  • Reduced levels of neighborly trust

  • Increased television watching!

  • One has to give Putnam credit as a studiously honest researcher.  Reading between the lines (because he never says why he chose to do the study but the repeated focus throughout on immigration policy and heavy citation to researchers whose work is in the area of immigration belies an original agenda) it appears that Putnam set out to prove that the diversity created by mass immigration was a net benefit to communities.  Then, when his data came in showing the opposite of his null hypothesis, instead of freaking, he published anyway, admitting that he is seeking to have peer review provide criticism for his new hypothesis that diversity reduces "social capital" in the short- and medium term in all United States communities he sampled.

    That takes guts.

    (He also appears to have hammered away testing the robustness of his data before taking a position when it first appeared inconsistent with both his hypothesis and his "common sense".  That doesn't happen much anymore and it's very nice to see.)

    Putnam also gets major credit as a researcher for realizing that the reasons for the phenemona he observed -- what he calls "hunkering down" in diverse communities, accompanied by a reduction and/or lack of either engagement with, of trust between, diverse neighbors -- may be for very different reasons depending on whose behavior you are looking at and when in time you are looking at it.  He is especially honest when he notes that that immigrants are not immune to these phenomena (even as he tries to give them a pass on anti-Black sentiment, consistent with most immigrants who deal with the question; no surprise there) and that issues relating to African-Americans may well have their genesis in white supremacy/historical discrimination as much as anything else. Even though the purpose of Putnam's research, and this publication, was clearly NOT to answer the question "Why?" so much as identify the phenomena he saw.

    (Of course, nobody ever asks "Why" when it comes to interracial relations in America.  It's too loaded a question in a country busy trying to elect a Black man president (or at least one who is 1/2 Black, since so many of his non-Black supporters keep bringing up his white mama) so they can, finally -- where dealing with structural institutionalized racism and white supremacy is concerned -- sing "Free at last, free at last - racism is officially dead we are free at last".)

    All snark aside, reading the actual white paper (which I encourage everyone to do by clicking this link) Putnam clearly realizes that his data raise a number of questions about American social policy as it has been advanced by liberals over the past 45 years, but none so clearly as the idea of diversity and integration providing an immediate benefit for Americans and America as a whole.  Putnam seems almost afraid of talking about this too much, perhaps because it violates orthodoxy for those on the left spectrum of politics.  Yet it is clear that he is also afraid of his unexpected findings being misused by evil people for evil, hateful purposes, such as undoing the clock on racial progress.  The tension between both feelings is, IMO, what leads to the most quotable quote in the entire white paper:

    It would be unfortunate if a politically correct progressivism were to deny the reality of the challenge to social solidarity posed by diversity. It would be equally unfortunate if an ahistorical and ethnocentric conservatism were to deny that addressing that challenge is both feasible and desirable.

    Given the number of times that Putnam emphasizes points for which he cannot cite empirical support yet outside of the work place (such as his claim that nearly 1/2 of folks now worship in integrated churches, particularly evangelical metachurches; and his suggestion that historically immigrants didn't *really* take on hatred of Blacks as a condition of "becoming white"; it was just a coincidence - obviously he has not read much of the rhetoric of the times) it seems evident that he still wants to believes that in the long-term, diversity is a net benefit, a social good.  And he cites longitudinal work done in other countries to highlight this, perhaps knowing that at present, he can cite no American data to support the claim.

    I think it's fair to say that most well-meaning folks share his hope and his view about the future, when it comes to diversity in our country.

    But I'm not sure it matters much.  We all know that, in keeping with the rule "Make hay while the sun shines" that Putnam's work is going to bring joy to the hearts of both hard core white supremacists and guilty white liberals (who were most of the ones that engaged in white flight out of the Northeastern cities) all over America.

    Given that we now know that the death knell of civic engagement (at least in the short-term and medium-term horizon; nobody has said when the long-term benefits will start kicking in) is trying to live next to folks not like you, it's apparent that the Supreme Court had the ultimate right of it when it disavowed any compelling state interest in integrated education and has fully embraced the idea of grave harm in compulsory integration when one is faced with residential segregation in white-flight communities. 

    The science says so.

    Thus, with this study collectively whites (and wanna's; increasingly in this country some non-white immigrants treat Blacks no better than the descendants of Europeans do, to the point where they are also engaging in anti-Black employment discrimination, and occasionally outright anti-Black violence) now effectively have permission to continue doing something that they have been doing ever since the Warren Court's jurisprudence started undoing de jure segregation in the 1950's -- make sure that they live away from more than a handful of Black folks.  While now being able to actually cite reasons that have nothing to do with the usual "code" for "I don't want to live near too many Black people".

    It's for the good of the community, you see.

    So, since we have no idea when all the long-term benefits of diverse neighborhoods will start kicking in, it seems to me that we must come to grips with the fact that what we thought was doing the right thing in trying to integrate may in fact be diametrically opposed to the right thing. 

    At the neighborhood level, anyhow.

    But.....Setting aside legitimate fears that the reactions to this study will be the same as they were to the 1960's Moynihan paper contendng basically that Black folks' problems all came them being trapped in a "tangle of pathology" pretty much from birth and that -- with deteriorating conditions for most Black folks today -- we'll soon be in yet another era in which "Blacks' only problem is their inferiority" becomes the public justification for ongoing racism, I think the Putnam study nonetheless has a silver lining for the advocates of diversity.

    For example, even though it does not itself study this particular subject, after a brief review of the literature Putnam does does offer one extremely positive conclusion about diversity:

    There is scientific consensus that in the most intellectually-stimulated workplaces, diversity is a must to achieve the best professional solutions.

    In other words, it seems clear that the best thing for American businesses and the workplace is precisely the opposite of what is going on right now and historically, where race-based employment discrimination has been relatively unabated.  There is increasingly no remedy for such discrimination, because the standard of proof under existing law is increasingly unfavorable to worker claims of covert discrimination --with a small death knell coming in the Supreme Court's most recent narrowing of the jurisdictional period for wage discrimination in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire.  With fewer and fewer cases being resolved through either of the two federal agencies responsible:  the almost-crippled-since-2001 EEOC (private employment/contracting) or OFCCP (for federal government employment/contracting), which presently has an estimated 50,000 case backlog, one can only hope to fall on a larger social good to make the case that we should keep fighting to diversify the workplace.

    This, it seems to me, give us here in America that larger social good and presents an excellent opportunity for a win-win situation.

    I'm willing to move forward with new ideas instead of relying on the old ones that are clearly failing Black folks, largely across the board, and have only driven white racism underground and into the subconscious rather than eradicate it from American hearts.  Anything for a change.  Boldness is, it seems to me, required.

    So, therefore, for what it is worth I hereby officially assuage all white folk henceforth of any guilt they might have quietly felt because they turned tail and ran to the politically and racially homogeneous suburbs from whatever neighborhoods Black folks moved into at more density than the average raisin in a bowl of vanilla ice cream the minute we reached the raisin tipping point (statistically, something between 5 and 20% of the population.)  They are from this moment free from any obligation to let us live next door, go to their schools or hang out at their social gatherings (even though their college students seem hell bent on making sure we attend their parties -- at least in spirit!)

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I'd be willing to make a deal:  white folks will ensure that the majority of Black folks who are educated and play by the rules can finally get decent jobs at fair pay across the board (finally!) commensurate with their skills and ability despite the  obstacles for Blacks still firmly embedded in Corporate America when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling into positions of power and authority, such that law abiding Black job applicants get treated worse than white criminals, and without regard to little things like whether we have Black sounding names.  In exchange, Black folks will continue to live in racially-segregated neighborhoods with each other and eschew henceforth worrying about whether white students are in our schools, or worrying about having to come together to do things like stump during election time for our favorite candidate or collect funds for the local library.  And we'll all be a lot better off, because we'll all be apparently watching way less TV.  In other words, we're one big happy family during the day when folks are taking care of business and getting things done, and at night nobody will ever again have to worry that someone not like them will be observed through the peephole knocking on the door needing to borrow a cup of sugar at the end of the work day.

    For those households like mine in which multiple races live in the same home, we get our pick about where to live, simply because we got it going on like that.)

    I can't think of too many Black folks that would turn that type of proposal down, can you?


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