“There goes the neighborhood.”

The phrase easily conjures up a picture in your minds eye… A white family standing on the porch of a picturesque house wearily eying the new neighbors moving in as “they” are the darkest color found in this sunny scene.

Inequality is defined as “unequal opportunity or treatment based on social or economic disparity”. Racial inequality is still seen today in the picture painted above, and in one example, stems from the residential segregation of neighborhoods across America. I grew up in the South where some neighborhoods were somewhat interspersed with various color and ethnicities, while areas remained faithfully “white”. It wasn’t until I had moved out of the South and lived in both Dallas and Seattle that I ever comprehended how pervasive residential segregation was. For several months after moving to Seattle, I had thought that there wasn’t much of a presence of black people in the Northwest. Later I learned that I had this misconception because “they are all south of Jefferson or Yesler and Martin Luther King Way”. I was unaware, and I lived on Capital Hill! How more blatant can you get?!

This form of racial inequality stems mostly from the phenomenon articulated by studies that show that white people avoid or flee from neighborhoods with more than a few black neighbors. (Massey et al. 1994; Quillian, in press) Based on the perceptions placed upon those of color, residential segregation continues to be passively enforced by means of that phenomenon. While studies (Clark 1991; Farley and Frey 1994) have found that most whites would prefer to move into neighborhoods with less than, and by no means more than, 30% blacks, we cannot derive that these preferences are based on prejudice as many believe ‘white neighborhoods’ are safer and suffer from less crime, whereas ‘black neighborhoods’ are the opposite.

The result I found most intriguing: The racial segregation of residential areas is not based on racial prejudice but actually because of the characteristics that are linked with race, such as poverty and crime statistics, which are associated with high minority concentrated neighborhoods. (Taub et al. 1984, p. 181) However, an interesting twist is that “perception is reality”. This study performed by Quillian and Pager (2001) found that the perception of crime rises as the percentage of young black males increases within a neighborhood, and that percentage has a stronger effect on how safe a neighborhood is viewed than any other variable other than actual crime rates.

“Segregation was evil in [Martin Luther King’s] mind not because of skin color but because it almost always led to unequal opportunities, given the realities of American society, and because it produced both ignorance and damaging racial stereotypes in the minds of both the segregated and the segregators.” (Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee 2005)

In summary, the biggest problem I see that came to light through Quillian and Pager’s research was that the current motivating factor behind racial inequalities found by means of residential segregation is based on perception, not reality. This evidence moves me to believe that an effort should be made to amend these perceptions in the minds of America’s neighborhoods, and perhaps a bit of sociological imagination could be used to first ease the soul of those who are unfairly affected, and then allow a new avenue of pursuit to influence change.

Works Cited

Qullian, Lincoln, and Devah Pager, 2001. “Black Neighbors, Higher Crime? The Role of
Racial Stereotypes in Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime.” American Journal of Sociology 107(3): 717-767.

Massey, Douglas S., Andrew Gross, and Kumiko Shibuya. 1994. “Migration,
Segregation, and the Geographic Concentration of Poverty.” American Sociological Review 59:425–45.

Clark, William, A. V. 1991. “Residential Preferences and Neighborhood Racial
Segregation: A Test of the Schelling Segregation Model.” Demography 28 (1): 1–19.

Farley, Reynolds, and William Frey. 1994. “Changes in the Segregation of Whites from
Blacks during the 1980s: Small Steps toward a More Integrated Society.” American Sociological Review 59:23–45.

Taub, Richard P., D. Garth Taylor, and Jan D. Dunham. 1984. Paths of Neighborhood
Change: Race and Crime in Urban America
. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Orfield, Gary and Chungmei Lee, 2005. “Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and
Educational Inequality” Cambridge: Harvard University. The Civil Rights Project,


Leave a Reply