Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wealth Circles

One of the interesting factoids about race in American life is the degree to which even relatively well-off Black and Hispanic Americans are still deeply tied into structures and neighborhoods we associate with poverty. Some new census data helps paint the picture:
The average affluent black and Hispanic household -- defined in the study as earning more than $75,000 a year -- lives in a poorer neighborhood than the average lower-income non-Hispanic white household that makes less than $40,000 a year.

"Separate translates to unequal even for the most successful black and Hispanic minorities," says sociologist John Logan, director of US2010 Project at Brown University, which studies trends in American society.

"Blacks are segregated and even affluent blacks are pretty segregated," says Logan, who analyzed 2005-09 data for the nation's 384 metropolitan areas. "African Americans who really succeeded live in neighborhoods where people around them have not succeeded to the same extent."

Ta-Nehisi Coates has some great analysis.

On the one hand, this is obviously pertinent to the typical "it's not race, it's class!" rejoinder deployed against those who still think that racial injustice is a serious problem in America. I've already explained the most basic flaw in this analysis -- that race is not an independent source of disadvantage in American life -- but the continuing fact of segregation also reminds us that part of the benefit of wealth is being surrounded by wealth.

My family was quite well off. And that was very advantageous for me! But a goodly portion of that advantage also came from the fact that we lived in a wealthy, well-connected neighborhood. The fact that the whole area was well off meant that the schools had a larger than average tax base. The fact that families had considerable disposable income meant that there were more resources to support extra-curriculars. The fact that I was surrounded by high-performing individuals meant I had potential role models for virtually any high-end career I possibly could have imagined. And so on and so forth. Wealth is good on its own, but its utility multiplies dramatically when it isn't lonely. That many people of color, even those who are well off, still live in much poorer neighborhoods, with much worse services, and much fewer connections, is a detriment.

But Ta-Nehisi also points out the need not to pathologize everything. There are benefits to growing up and being able to walk in more than one world. And even if life circumstances aren't ideal, people value where they came from. I don't have much to say about that side of his post, other than recognizing its import and not wanting it to get lost.

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