The Coming Integration

By Jay Readey, Publisher of RaceandPoverty.org

Chapter 1: From Ethical Demands to The Coming Integration

On December 27, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and delivered a sermon “The Ethical Demands of Integration,” outlining the spiritual and democratic reasons for integration’s rectitude.  The timing was perfect: he ushered in 1963, the year we remember as the iconic year of the Civil Rights Movement, the year of the firehoses and church bombing in Birmingham, the March on Washington, and King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.  By 1965, the riot in Watts, California would usher in a period of urban riots culminating in 1967, when nearly four dozen cities burned, and Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton would announce Black Power as an important strain of thinking in the African-American community.  Dr. King’s assassination in 1968 prompted a reprise of riots in major cities and opened the door to a decades-long white backlash epitomized by rapid suburbanization and the “Southern Strategy” of the Republican Party.  Between Black Power and white backlash, the ideals of integration faded from view and the term itself fell into near-total disuse in public discourse.

Now, 50 years later, subtle stirrings have brought integration back into polite discussion.  President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, and the multiracial coalition that enabled his victory, gave a glimmer of hope to a vision of America that imagined an egalitarian, multiracial future; then, regular politics and the challenge of governing in a time of recession brought the “movement” back down to earth.  In early 2012, Edward Glaeser and his colleague Jacob Vigdor published a Manhattan Institute study, “The End of the Segregated Century,” (hereafter, “Segregated Century”) detailing the fact that fewer than 3% of the census tracts in the entire country are white-only. A public debate raged between that study’s implied conclusion that we need not worry about continued segregation—and certainly not with race-conscious remedies—and critiques that posited, among other things, that class segregation is worsening, ghettoes are deepening, and schools are more race-stratified than ever.

But neither Segregated Century nor any of the critical responses fully appraises the social change about to be wrought in the coming decade.  Dramatic increases in residential integration are coming faster than anyone thinks.  Our radically increased racial-ethnic diversity is cause for much commentary, but virtually no one has spoken to the corollary, that dramatic diversity, coupled with egalitarian and democratic political ideals, must necessarily lead to one reality: integration.  

This article will lay out why integration is upon us, why so fast, and why now.  The word integration itself has been rarely used in recent years, and now we almost always use diversity or inclusion as shibboleths to hint at integration, which is a much more difficult concept for our dreams.  Certainly, no one is celebrating this coming integration.  As of today, it is totally unheralded, unanticipated, and unforeseen.  And yet the signs of its impending acceleration are right in front of us.  

Within the next ten years, integration will take root at levels only previously dreamed about.  One of the most common measures of residential segregation is the “dissimilarity index,” which is measured by the segregation between two groups—the proportion of one of the groups that would have to move in order to achieve a purely random geographic distribution.  For example, if the black-white dissimilarity index for a city were 65, it means that 65 out of every hundred African-Americans would have to move to achieve an even distribution between the groups in that city.

Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, who wrote the hugely influential book “American Apartheid,” coined the term “Hypersegregation” to describe communities with segregation of Blacks and Hispanics on four of the five different dimensions of segregation, including black-white dissimilarity indices higher than 60.  Chicago, which has held the dubious distinction as the most highly segregated major city in America for most of the past half-century, has stubbornly maintained hypersegregation, notwithstanding the conclusions of Dr. Glaeser and his colleagues in Segregated Century, as have the cities most notorious for either suffering from deindustrialization, being hit extremely hard by the foreclosure crisis, or both—places like Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, and St. Louis.  The dissimilarity index is usually even worse between cities and suburbs when the measuring map is the metropolitan area, based on patterns of suburbanization that have routinely created “chocolate cities” and “vanilla suburbs.” 

In the next ten years, from the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the sixtieth, black-white dissimilarity indices in America’s hundred most segregated metropolitan areas will all drop below 50.  That means we will achieve a level of residential integration unimagined by nearly any of our public prognosticators, who have commonly come to describe segregation as stubborn, persistent, and nearly fixed.  Also, the dissimilarity indices between whites and other racial groups are important, and persistent segregation among Latinos, Asians and especially Native Americans are features of our social landscape too important to be ignored.

The role of these groups will play a crucial function in the pattern of integration, but the measuring stick should always be the black-white dissimilarity index. Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres were right, race is like the miner’s canary: African-Americans and their fates in America’s social life are the litmus test for challenges that are always slowest to change and last to represent justice, equality and opportunity.  The case here is that even African-Americans will undergo dramatic integration in the coming decade, because, among other reasons, America’s need for black and brown folks to maintain a healthy economy and support baby boomers’ retirement will drive a necessary social, educational, and economic inclusion that will open doors to even African-Americans.  Black folks will be a crucial part of an economic and social mainstream in America, notwithstanding the categorical inequalities disfavoring African-Americans that America has structured into its collective unconscious.

I focus on residential integration because it is the true center, at the core of the ethical demands of integration.  When neighborhoods are integrated, schools will be integrated, lives will be integrated, and the integrationist ideal will make America a more just land of opportunity.  And neighborhoods will become integrated in large part because of the social and emotional changes that I detail here.  When neighborhoods are integrated, it will be the final sign that our lives, and our national soul, are integrated.

It is not growing enlightenment about social justice that will drive the coming integration.  Such a concept is too abstract and remote for a 315 million person public to embrace in order to turn social mores and policies that have been hundreds of years in the offing.  No.  The coming integration will be triggered by more immediate considerations, and people acting in their day-to-day self interests will initiate powerful social changes that will snowball to transform our residential landscapes.

Chicago, one of the nation’s most historically segregated metropolitan areas, will lead the way.  Violence, failing schools, and slower economic growth have forced a day of reckoning for Chicagoland communities and their leadership, and as the tipping points described below begin to tip, Chicago will be first in line and already in motion to do the most to realize their potential.  The reality of Chicago’s status as a global city (and the only North American city poised to newly attain “megacity” status in the next decade), combined with the mobility and dynamism of metropolitan populations, will enable this extraordinary transformation to take place. 

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