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Thursday, March 31, 2011

When It Comes to Segregation, Chicago Isn't the Second City

Posted by on 03.31.11 at 03:45 PM

More like the third coast.

As we know from Steve Bogira's cover story last month, Chicago is to segregation as wet is to water.

The city's racial demarcations continue to keep blacks and whites and Latinos cloistered in their own enclaves. Keeping the races apart began as a by-product of the Great Migration and the early days of the Chicago Housing Authority, when the CHA gave up on plans to integrate public housing, often because of violent riots perpetrated by white residents.

Historically white neighborhoods like Cabrini-Green became almost solely black, as whites opposed integrated public housing, fleeing not only the new projects built after World War II, but the very prospect of having black neighbors. Some black politicians like William Dawson opposed integration. The south-side committeeman and state representative preferred to coast on the Democratic Machine's coattails, offering jobs and favors in exchange for a grip on power.

Steve's story was based on historical census data and data from the American Community Survey, and found that for all the talk of racial harmony - Obama, and all that - Chicago remains separate and unequal.

So things haven't changed a whole lot in the last, oh, century or so. And now, according to Slate Salon, a University of Michigan study has confirmed what we already know, pegging Chicago as the third most segregated city in the nation.

The rankings are based on a dissimilarity index, and can be found at CensusScope.org. The dissimilarity index is a system used by sociologists to measure segregation, with the highest score - meaning total segregation - being 100. The lowest - complete integration - is 0. The numbers reflect the percentage of people from one race (black and white are measured here) that would have to move in order to create complete integration.

Chicago is behind only New York and the nation's most segregated city, Milwaukee, in the rankings. Detroit sits at number four. (In Illinois, by the way, Pekin is the state's most segregated city; south suburban Dolton is the most integrated.)

The Michigan study gives Chicago a racial dissimilarity rate of 76.43, which means that in order to achieve even distribution of races, about 76 percent of the city's black or white residents would have to move to another neighborhood.

But Northwestern sociologist Lincoln Quillian says the problem isn't outright segregation, but the way an uncomfortable discussion is swept under the rug.

Today, middle-income blacks are increasingly moving into Chicago's suburbs. And though Quillian says that there isn't white flight like there was in the past, many communities appear to be resegregating. The problem now is white avoidance.

That's what Steve found in his reporting, and the solutions are few and far between:

"Politically, it doesn't play," says Alexander Polikoff, the lawyer who brought the Gautreaux case. "People aren't anxious to be reminded of the fact that we've got residential segregation. And doing something about it is damnably difficult."

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