News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Study in Confusion

A recent study from Brown University sociologist John Logan reported the following conclusions. 

  • The average non-Hispanic white person continues to live in a neighborhood that looks very different from those neighborhoods where the average black, Hispanic, or Asian lives. The average white person in metropolitan America lives in a neighborhood that is 77 percent white. Still, this represents growing diversity compared to 1980, when the average was 88 percent white.
  • The average black American in metropolitan areas lives in a census tract that is majority black. It appears the same will soon be true for Hispanics. On average, 48 percent of their neighbors are Hispanic and this value is growing steadily.
  • Blacks continue to be the most segregated minority, followed by Hispanics and then Asians. Another surprise in the new data is that while black-white and Hispanic-white segregation is almost the same today as in 2000, segregation of Asians from whites has begun to increase. It is now almost as high as segregation of Hispanics.
  • Progress in residential segregation between blacks and whites since 2000 was even less than in the 1980s. Segregation peaked around 1960. Between 1980 and 2000 it declined at a very slow pace, but analysts have been hoping for a breakthrough since then. The new data show that there is very little change.
Worrisome trends, to be sure. Yet there is a fundamental flaw at work here.

Studies like this one from Brown University paint a distorted, one-dimensional picture of U.S. society.  Based on a paradigm of four quasi-racial groups, research like this fails to convey the true complexity behind these simplistic labels.

For example, where do people from the Indian subcontinent fall in this four-group paradigm? Are they "Asian"? Moreover, are we to believe U.S. residents from Asian nations with long-held enmities like China and India or Japan and Korea live side-by-side in "Asian" communities? I doubt it -- and so will most people who know much about the region.

Then we come to Hispanics. What neighborhood do Afro-Latinos live in? More people in the Americas of African descent speak Spanish or Portuguese than English. Yet reports like this Brown study, assume Black Hispanics do not exist-- or that they live in neighborhoods with other Latinos. One look at the ethnic composition of a city with a large Afro-Latino population like New York shows this is not the case.

Although studies like this are well-meaning and attempt to illustrate the slow progress we have made toward a true "melting pot," they also create a much too simplistic picture of minorities. These false identities foster misconceptions which affect both mainstream Americans -- and even minority members themselves. 

In the end, misconceptions inevitably breed prejudice.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez