Against the Manhattan Institute Report

Segregation beyond Indexes

When we talk about racial segregation in American cities we too often start by asking how much there is. Before we know it, we’re knee deep in debates about “segregation indexes.” In the process, we lose track of things people do to keep segregation in place as well as the racial injustices segregation creates. In other words, we lose track of segregation itself.

That’s exactly what has happened amidst the brouhaha that erupted in the wake of the Manhattan Institute’s recent report on segregation.

The criticism of this report in the media is well-founded, but it has not gone far enough. The problem is not so much that the Manhattan Institute researchers did not count all of the segregation that is still out there. The problem is that the report’s main purpose was to make us completely forget about segregation.

The authors of the report, Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigder, do that in three ways. First, their title proclaims that we have reached “The End of the Segregated Century,” despite the fact that their own evidence and even their own analysis does not support that claim. Secondly, they use segregation indexes selectively in a manner that would never pass muster in an academic journal, but that will never get the kind of scrutiny it deserves on the Manhattan Institute’s favorite battleground, the popular press. Finally, and most importantly, the report’s authors make selective, unsubstantiated, and misleading claims about segregationist practices–the things people do to perpetuate segregation–as well as the racial injustices associated with segregation. These claims about segregationist practice and racial injustice are issued insidiously: the authors wrap a few tufts of liberal sheep’s clothing around a deeply regressive wolf howl that America should put all discussion of race behind it.

Others have already done a good job of countering the Glaeser-Vigder report’s use of statistics. Suffice it to say that there are many other indexes that tell a much less rosy picture than the ones the authors chose. Glaeser and Vigder also base much of their report not on their own indexes, but on the number of neighborhoods without a single black person in them, which is hardly an adequate measure of segregation. Many of the issues involved in using segregation indexes were addressed when the census first came out last year in a superb report by John R. Logan and Brian Stults. The fact that the Manhattan Institute chose to reanalyze a slimmer set of data rather than use its connections to the popular media to promote the Logan-Stults report alone suggests that it’s more interested in promoting its longstanding efforts to declare the end of racism than to provide a reasoned argument about segregation. From what we can learn from the broader array of segregation indexes, urban color lines have indeed become somewhat more fluid and a lot more complex, especially due to the immigration of large numbers of people of color. For black people, especially poor black people, and for Latinos–a subject Glaeser and Vigder ignore—however, the “end of segregation” lies, at best, a long way in the future, and it is not at all guaranteed. Segregation deserves our continued and continual vigilance.

Segregationist practice

The bigger problem, though, is that segregation indexes only poorly measure the most important dimensions of segregation. What follows is a report card on segregationist practices and the consequences of segregation.

Racial segregation ordinances: Tried in San Francisco in 1890 and 1901, Baltimore in 1910, and many other cities after that but declared unconstitutional in 1917, as reported in Glaeser and Vigder.

Restrictive covenants: the U.S. Supreme Court ambiguously supported them in 1926 but, as Glaser and Vigder report correctly, declared them unenforceable in 1948.

White violence against people of color who move into white neighborhoods: Obliquely mentioned in the report. Peaked after World Wars I and II during periods housing shortage and large-scale black migration to cities. Some signs of a resurgence against Latino immigrants in some suburbs, though most white segregationist violence today occurs along the U.S.-Mexico border.

White flight: Not mentioned in the Glaeser Vigder report, yet this is the main vehicle of segregation in the U.S. Seems to be alive and well in many suburbs, explaining their often higher than average segregation indexes, but it has not been adequately studied. Gentrification represents a smaller reverse eddy in white flight, but it too can be segregationist, in direct contradiction to position taken casually by Glaeser and Vigder.

Racial steering by real estate agents and landlords: no longer legal and no longer officially part of the professional code of ethics of the National Association of Realtors as it was in the 1920s and 30s. However, audits of real estate offices and the bipartisan Commission on Fair Housing suggest it continues to be most widespread form of illegal housing discrimination. Hard to say whether it has increased or decreased. The Commission estimates that there are about 4 million incidents of racial discrimination in housing every year. Not mentioned explicitly in the Glaeser-Vigder report.

Land-use zoning: Not mentioned in Glaeser-Vigder report. Promoted by the federal government from the 1920s on, and adopted by thousands of suburban municipalities to maintain their exclusivity. Most of these exclusive zoning codes are still in effect, promoting class as well as racial segregation.

Public housing, urban renewal, forced removal, gentrification: From the 1930s on, public housing authorities were forced by white mobs, city counselors, and downtown business interests to segregate public housing. This process exacerbated by destruction of black neighborhoods near downtown and forced removal of their inhabitants to those segregated public housing projects and elsewhere in expanding ghettos. Segregationists of many stripes guaranteed the demise of public housing as a source of affordable housing since then, unlike in Europe, Australia, and Canada where it is often a source of neighborhood integration in the face of gentrification. Recent destruction of public housing towers in gentrifying areas makes segregation more likely not less, in direct contradiction to position adopted by Glaeser and Vigder, who casually label gentrification a source of integration and public housing as an inherently segregationist device.

Redlining: Financial institutions have long discriminated against people of color in allocating credit and charging higher interest rates. The Federal government actively supported the practice from 1933 to 1962. Redlining is the principle reason for large inequalities in wealth holding between blacks and whites and the main reason ghettos are impoverished and suburbs are wealthy. The practice is illegal, and federal government now supports an “affirmative obligation” to lend in redlined areas under Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). However, dozens of reports have established that banks and other financial institutions continue to redline neighborhoods of color at the same time that their lobbies continue to assault the CRA. Glaeser and Vigder simply assert that redlining is “a thing of the past” without engaging a single shred of evidence. Their single most preposterous, unfounded, and regressive claim.

Reverse redlining: Glaeser and Vigder laud the extension of credit to riskier customers that caused the housing bubble as a factor of integration, and oppose measures to regulate banks’ practices. But they ignore the fraudulent nature of predatory loans and their disproportionate effect on blacks—especially those living in the most segregated neighborhoods. Reverse redlining has exacerbated the effects of redlining by heaping punishing debt on the same people who have a long history of discriminatory denial of credit.

Whites’ attitudes: Superficially analyzed by Glaeser and Vigder. In polls and in surveys whites say they’re more open to black neighbors than in decades past, though their ideal neighborhood includes far fewer blacks than blacks’ ideal neighborhoods and though they insist that their black neighbors be of the same class as their white neighbors. The idea that black people bring down property values—which is the most important basis for all practices of housing segregation in the U.S.–also seems to be alive and well, despite studies that show that the speed of white flight is a better predictor of declining values than the presence of blacks. Even white homeowners who do not believe this old myth, however, may feel they have an economic incentive to flee integrating neighborhoods, because they believe that their white neighbors may believe that all other whites in the neighborhood believe this myth and will move out–thus precipitating an actual decline in property values.

Practices that reduce segregation: Here Glaeser and Vigder don a bit of sheep’s clothing, and tell us to “applaud those who fought” for “more freedom in housing.” But tellingly, they don’t mention who those fighters were: legendary black lawyers like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s’ Moorfield Storey and Thurgood Marshall–who were, respectively, responsible for the Supreme Court’s decisions outlawing segregation laws and restrictive covenants–and the countless courageous activists of the civil rights and open housing movements. Perhaps the authors don’t mention them because doing so might put off the main audience of their report.

Nor do Glaeser and Vigder tell us about the attacks on fair housing enforcement that have ensued since the civil rights movement, attacks which have sharply undercut action against segregation and which were largely justified on the basis that we should put all discussion of racial injustice behind us. Of the 4 million acts of housing discrimination committed every year, only about 20,000 receive official attention, and most of those only get attention because of the hard work of cash-strapped non-profit housing justice groups. Nowhere does the report call for extension of fair housing enforcement, the obvious implication of even its very best news.

Consequences of segregation: Glaeser and Vigder once again strap on a bit of sheep’s clothing and evince some concern about inequality, but their final statements on this subject are outright distortions. They claim that there was once a “conventional wisdom” that desegregation would decrease economic inequality, and that because segregation has declined while economic inequality has “persisted” segregation cannot be the cause of inequality. But there was never any such “common wisdom.” Segregation intensified during the 1950s and 60s when overall economic inequality declined; segregation has declined somewhat since, at the same time that economic inequality has not only “persisted,” but risen acutely. The actual “common wisdom” among experts on the subject is and remains that segregation—especially white flight, redlining, and reverse redlining–exacerbates a particular kind of inequality, between black and white wealth holding. Those inequalities have remained very acute—before the crash of 2008 whites owned on average about 10 times the amount of wealth as blacks across the income spectrum. That percentage has since soared because of reverse redlining and the resulting racial gap in housing foreclosures. Segregation also causes other racial inequalities—it cuts people of color off from job pipelines and transport systems giving them far longer and more expensive commutes to work; it helps guarantee that local schools get less resources and concentrates the lowest-income and neediest school children in majority-minority schools; it exacerbates racial inequalities in prison populations perpetuated by the war on drugs; and it guarantees that people of color generally live in neighborhoods with fewer urban amenities and more toxic environments. In other words, it undermines the promise of our cities, exacerbates poverty, and helps to shorten life.

As always, segregation is in constant flux, but it is nowhere near reaching any “end.” The best way to guarantee the real end of segregation is to not so much to engage in technical debates about how much there is, but to prevent the practices that promote it and promote the practices that have a record of successfully fighting it. The dire and ongoing consequences of segregation should be front and center in our conversations, however. Blinding ourselves to color, as the Manhattan Institute has repeatedly told us to do, will only allow institutionalized inequalities between whites and people of color to get worse.

Further links and resources:

The Logan-Stults Report:

Examples of responses to Glaeser and Vigder’s use of statistics:

The report of the bipartisan Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity:

Study of White and Black Racial Attitudes:

Recent study of white flight:

Report on racial and class segregation of low-income African Americans:

Essay on the Racial Wealth Gap:

Effects of Great Recession on Black Middle Class:

Gregory Squires on Reverse Redlining

Reynolds Farley, “The Waning of American Apartheid?” Contexts 2011 10: 36-43.

Robert Mark Silverman and Kelley Patterson, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: A Critique of Fair Housing Policy in the USA,” Critical Sociology 38 (2011): 1-18

William Apgar and Allegra Calder, “The Dual Mortgage Market: The Persistence of Discrimination in Mortgage Lending,” in the Geography of opportunity, Xavier de Souza Briggs,ed., 101-26.

Gregory Squires, From Redlining to Reinvestment (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992)

Jacob. S Rugh and Douglas S. Massey, “Racial Segregation and the American Foreclosure Crisis,” American Sociological Review 75 (2010): 629-51

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality(Oxford: Rowman Littlefield, 2006)

Thomas M. Shapiro, The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Oliver Horton and Thomas M. Shapiro, White Wealth/Black Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality in America((New York: Routledge, 1995)

Harriet B. Newburger, Eugenie L. Birch, and Susan M. Wachter, Neighborhood and Life Chances: How Place Matters in Modern America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011)

Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Harvard University Press, 1993)

To read the Glaeser-Vigder report and its overwhelmingly favorable press coverage, see


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