Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Racial Apathy in DC

In an early January post, I wrote about a study of residential segregation in DC by GWU sociologists. From their telephone survey of DC residents, Gregory D. Squires, Samantha Friedman, and Catherine E. Saidat found that blacks experienced racial discrimination in the DC housing market, even when controlling for class and other variables. Their findings support those of a 1998 Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington study, in which the Council sent out pairs of people (one black and one white) to investigate the local housing and mortgage market. According to Squires and his colleagues, "Investigators found that blacks were discriminated against 33% of the time in their efforts to buy homes, 44% of the time when they attempted to rent, and 37% of the times they applied for mortgage loans." The GWU sociologists found that the white nature of certain DC neighborhoods is not purely the result of economic reasons, educational levels, or personal choices.

The GWU sociologists made another interesting finding. Blacks are significantly less likely than whites to believe that blacks and whites have the same opportunities within the housing market. They found that over 50% of whites believed that whites and blacks, and whites and Hispanics, had the same choices in the housing market. In contrast, 16% of blacks believed that whites and blacks had the same choices, while 21% of blacks believed that whites and Hispanics had the same choices.

Why is this so interesting? Because it reflects the trends discussed by Emory University sociologists Tyrone A. Forman and Amanda E. Lewis in their fascinating article, "Racial Apathy and Hurricane Katrina." Forman and Lewis demonstrate that this belief that housing markets and society more generally no longer discriminate racially is actually a new form of racial prejudice, a color-blind racism. By analyzing national- and city-level opinion surveys, the authors find that the white Americans in increasing numbers have racial apathy -- apathy towards racial and ethnic inequality. By 2003, for example, 27% of young whites said that they were "never concerned about race," up from 10% in 1994. This would not seem to be a problem except that this racial apathy is statistically correlated with opposition to marriage to Blacks and Latinos, lack of sympathy for Blacks and Latinos, and the perception that Blacks and Latinos are economic and political threats; in addition "Whites who believe that Blacks and Latinos (1) are less intelligent than Whites, (2) are more difficult to get along with than Whites, and (3) do a worse job supervising their children relative to Whites, are more racially apathetic." Racial apathy is a form of collective indifference to and ignorance of racial inequality in the US. The surprise many felt when they saw the poverty among many Blacks in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina can be explained by this racial apathy. They weren't paying attention, or they could actively and successfully ignore the situation.

The authors then turn to a survey and long interviews (1-6 hours long) with graduates of an integrated high school in the Midwest. The white respondents interviewed stated that they were color-blind and open minded. They also said that they were in their own worlds, avoiding politics and race discussions. Yet, some had actively structured their lives to avoid people of other races, such as by moving to nearly all white suburbs and not allowing their children to go to integrated schools. This active avoidance and indifference "sustain[s] a system of inequality that restricts opportunities for many ethnoracial minorities." This indifference is not a traditional racist attitude or even a self-conscious white identity, rather "they belong to a passive social collective or series, in which members are a similar location within the racial structure -- a location that has material implications." The racial composition of, for example, census tract #66 (over 90% white; south of East Capitol, north of Pennsylvania, between Capitol and 8th St SE), is probably not an accident "but a result of Whites' status as members of a social collectivity whose lives are at least in part shaped by the racialized social system in which they live and operate."

While Forman and Lewis made many other findings, I want to point out that the authors did talk with those who have worked actively against racial apathy. These people had consistent, meaningful contact with racial minorities and have avoided racial apathy, which "prevents many Whites and some ethnoracial minorities from recognizing or taking action to redress persistent racial inequality."

Martin Luther King, Jr., remarked in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" that "we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people." In Ward 6, do you find apathy to inequality? Is racial apathy correlated with avoidance of certain races in social life? Is racial apathy overcome by walking by each other on the street or taking the Metro in the same car? Or does it require something more, like dependence on each other to realize some substantive project or outcome?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Redistricting and Ward 6

Grading is finally over. Summer is the time when professors do their intensive research and writing projects, often traveling around the world to conduct research and teach. (This summer I will be teaching a short course in Budapest, Hungary and conducting research in DC). As I am putting together a new post, I wanted to share this comment from someone in Ward 7 (from the Greater Greater Washington blog post about the proposed redistricting of parts of Ward 6 to Ward 7):
As a Ward 7 resident, I'd like to offer a different perspective. I live in Hillcrest/Fairfax Village. I have a great community with my neighbors. We've fought to get drug dealers off our streets, we have community clean-ups, we fight for our schools (Beers and Winston), and we work hard to improve our quality of life. In addition we work with our neighbors in the north (Deanwood, Capitol View, etc) to create community connections between neighborhoods. We have monthly community dinners at Thai Orchid Kitchen to support a business owned by a Ward 7 residents and to break bread over a meal. We have progressive voices that fight for better bus service and bike infrastructure.

We are not part of your "established singular identity" as Ro points out. However, we have the same concerns about quality of life and we fight like heck for what we believe in.

I don't see it as splitting your neighborhood up. I see it as an opportunity to forge new bonds (while maintaining existing bonds) with the progressive voices in Ward 7. I welcome you with open arms and would love to have new voices in Ward 7's future.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on May 25, 2011 12:17 pm

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Census and Parenting

From the wildly famous work by sociologist Annette Lareau, we know that middle-class parents adopt "concerted cultivation" to intensely develop their children's skills/talents, as well as communication and negotiating skills, through hectic schedules of formal activities, while working-class and poor parents use a "natural growth" strategy, which leaves children to play on their own and develop their skills spontaneously and often among extended family. There are benefits and costs to each one. Please see Lareau's book for a more detailed discussion of her research findings, which is also easy to read. From this review (since I am still at Census training and not at home near my books), "according to Lareau, middle-class children are more likely to be argumentative, complain of boredom, demand attention, and have weak ties with siblings and other relatives." The natural growth strategy also has costs because society, especially schools, values the skills learned through concerted cultivation. Concerted cultivation is a new strategy (since I think the late 1960s), which has become a response by parents to deal with the ever increasingly competitive educational and career markets.

The Census data reveals some surprising trends in parenting. I would highly recommend the Census' child well-being report and the even more fascinating tables. For example, see Table D8: Daily Contact: Mealtimes with Child, Characteristics of Families. Overall, 56.5% of parents have dinner daily with their teenagers. Those with lower incomes and especially the lowest incomes are more likely (67.9%) to have dinner daily with their teenagers than those with higher and especially the highest incomes (48.7%). Let me know any other interesting trends you find.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Census and DC

I'm in the midst of the three-day Federal Statistics Training, which is *free* and open to everyone. I cannot recommend it enough. The training provides an overview of all the statistics collected by the Census and their statistical tools. (For academics, it might not be ideal because the training focuses on tables and maps, rather than on obtaining large datasets). Here are a few interesting, ad hoc areas in which DC is #1 (or tied for #1):

  • Percentage of workers who travel to work by public transportation (37.1%).
  • Percentage of children in poverty (29.4%), tied with Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and New Mexico.
  • Percentage of those over 65 living in poverty (14.6%), tied with Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
  • Percentage of those over 25 who have an advanced degree (28%)
Other interesting rankings:
  • DC is #49 in the percentage of children without insurance (2.8%), only Massachusetts is statistically lower on the list (1.4%).
  • DC is #2 (behind Hawaii) in the median value of owner-occupied homes ($443,700).
You can find many more rankings here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Potomac Gardens, the Fence, and Power

This quotation from famous sociologist George Lipsitz in his brand new book How Racism Takes Place made me think of the tense discussions about the fence at Potomac Gardens public housing in Ward 6 (@ 13th and Penn. SE):
People of color do not use drugs with greater frequency than whites, but they are much more likely than whites to be arrested and incarcerated for drug use. Drug enforcement efforts target minority neighborhoods because the lack of political and economic power of people in these neighborhoods means that drug dealers find it easier to serve their diverse clientele who come from areas throughout the region by setting up shop on the street in minority neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are forced to tolerate drug dealing in the same ways that they have to endure toxic hazards, polluting businesses, and other criminal enterprises that wealthier and whiter neighborhoods would find intolerable. The selective policing that allows illegal activities to be shifted to interzones and ghettos inhabited by people of color extends to the policing of individual drug users.
At the recent fence meeting, there were discussions of a "drug market" on one side of the Potomac Gardens and how DC housing authority police had jurisdiction over Potomac Gardens thus creating an interzone between police jurisdictions. At the meeting, one Potomac Gardens resident said that she was just like everyone else in the room; she went to work and put her sons through college; she just didn't have enough money to afford non-public housing. Did she also not have enough political and economic power to get drug dealers out of her housing complex?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Taxes and Opportunity Hoarding

Just wanted to clarify something: DC has the highest level of income inequality nationwide. DC has levels of income inequality on par with the most unequal nations worldwide, like Brazil and Papua New Guinea.
  • According to the Census, DC now has the highest Gini index in the US and thus the highest level of income inequality nationwide (.532). The standard measure of income inequality is the Gini index, which varies from 0 to 1, 0 indicating perfect equality where there is a proportional distribution of income; 1 indicates perfect inequality where one person has all the income and no one else has any.
  • DC also has the most households in the nation making over $200,000 (8.4% of households or 21,194 households).
  • According to the Census, in DC at least in 2006, the share of income going to the poorest 20% of the population was by far the lowest in the country (1.9% as opposed to the national 3.4%) and by far the highest for the wealthiest 20% (56.3% as opposed to 49.9%).
  • For DC, the Gini index increased from 1979 (.450), to 1989 (.492), to 1999 (.549), which meant more inequality. We see a slight decrease from 1999, but the current Gini index of .532 is still well above its pre-1990 level.
  • From the UN data, it seems that this Gini index level is on par with Brazil, Honduras, and Papua New Guinea, countries with the highest levels of inequality in the world.
  • The majority of countries in the world have lower levels than DC.
Why does DC have the worst income inequality in the nation? We do know that taxes can redistribute income. Taxes to fund public schools, emergency rental assistance, housing vouchers, scholarships, and other forms of income assistance help to diminish income inequality and the effects of income inequality. DC tax rates remain the lowest in the region (see DC FPI chart to the right). Now, those making less than $10,000 are taxed 4% (more than other states). The top tax bracket is $40,001, which is at 8.5% (much lower than it was in the 1970s and 1980s). How might this tax structure be a form of opportunity hoarding? What can be done?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Homeless Services in Ward 6

Here is an attempt at a homeless services map. Let me know other homeless services that you know. Thanks!

View Homeless Services: DC Ward 6 in a larger map