Posted on September 28, 2021

When a White-Majority Neighborhood Wants to Divorce Its Black City

Brandon Tensley, CNN, September 23, 2021

Buckhead wants to cut out of the Black Mecca.

According to a September analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about 54% of the residents surveyed “strongly or somewhat support” seceding from Georgia’s capital, ostensibly spurred by fears of recent spikes in crime across the city.

Racial demographics complicate the data. Well-to-do Buckhead is a majority-White neighborhood; Atlanta, majority Black. Some observers worry that cityhood for Buckhead could be devastating, removing access to revenue from a critical tax base and even deepening racial tensions.

The combustible, decades-long debate over Buckhead shines a light on a broader racial reality in the US.

“Today, you really have two kinds of racial residential segregation,” Stephen Menendian, the assistant director and director of research at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute and the lead author of a June report on racial residential segregation in the 21st century, told CNN. “Within large cities, you have racially identifiable neighborhoods and schools. You also have suburbs that are White and affluent, and then suburbs that are heavily non-White and much poorer.”

As Sheryll Cashin, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, explains it, the consequences of residential caste are vast.

“The successful have seceded from the struggling. Highly educated and affluent people tend to live in their own neighborhoods and support policies like exclusionary zoning and neighborhood school assignments that lock others out and concentrate advantage,” she writes in her essential new book, “White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality.”


Cashin presents three anti-Black processes that sustain residential caste. One is boundary maintenance, or practices and policies that keep Black people at a remove. {snip}

Another process is opportunity hoarding, or overinvesting in some communities while disinvesting elsewhere. Cashin calls the former “gold standard” neighborhoods — neighborhoods of tremendous opportunity that are frequently subsidized by everyone else and that get the best of everything, from grocery stores to infrastructure to schools. In fact, schools are one of the best indicators of racial segregation. “If you really want to get a handle on this, go online, look at the schools in your community and look at the racial demographics of those schools. They’re often stark in any major metropolis unless there’s an integration plan,” Menendian said.

The third process is stereotype-driven surveillance. It’s easier to harden boundaries and isolate opportunity when the image of the “hood” is as devoid of dimension as it is. {snip}


It looks quite a bit different. Menendian said that about five or six decades ago, you could find the same pattern of segregation in almost every major US city: In big urban areas, Black families were circumscribed to a small number of neighborhoods that were often downwind of factories, near industrial areas, or close to various environmental contaminants. White families, on the other hand, lived in the same cities but in dramatically different neighborhoods.


By the 1990s, residential patterns began to change. For one, between 1990 and 2000, large groups of people of color — fueled by greater income levels and less housing discrimination, among other things — started to move into the suburbs. But as the suburbs diversified, they also began to further fragment into inner-ring suburbs and wealthier outer-ring suburbs (or exurbs), which typically have newer infrastructure and better schools.

It’s still segregation — just in a different guise.

As the UC Berkeley report lays out in granular detail, “not only are most of our major metropolitan regions and cities highly segregated, but we find that nearly 81% American cities and metropolitan regions are more segregated today than they were in 1990, after several decades of federal policy applied to this problem.”