Sunday, September 23, 2012

Segregation & Discrimination

I just finished a draft of a paper trying to get at the question of whether you're more likely to experience discrimination in a highly segregated city than a less highly segregated one.
And the results have me a bit confused.

The biggest problem in trying to answer that question is that the right dataset doesn't yet exist. Ideally, you'd want to know what people, in particular racial/ethnic minorities, experience in different cities.
There are a lot of studies now that have asked people about their experiences with racial discrimination, but they are almost all done within one city, or at least they are not a random sample across multiple cities. And as far as I can tell, nobody has yet done that kind of survey work. The closest I've been able to get to the the BRFSS, which has asked a consistent set of questions about experiences of racial discrimination in about a third of the states over the last decade.

But at least one half of the equation is pretty well mapped out.
Detroit is one of the most segregated cities in the country - can you tell where 8 Mile Road is in the map?
So is Chicago, which has a different pattern - Blacks and Hispanics radiating out in slices, surrounded by starkly White neighborhoods, with the North Shore also predominantly White.

For a less highly segregated city, check out Plano, Texas (no city in the US is close to what one might call integrated). Blacks and Whites live together downtown, and Whites and Hispanics are pretty well mixed throughout the city.

At any rate, when I pulled together the best data I could from BRFSS, it appears as though Blacks aren't really much more likely to report being discriminated against in very highly segregated cities compared to less highly segregated cities. But Hispanics and Asians are more likely to report various forms of racial discrimination if they live in very highly segregated cities than in less highly segregated cities. Any theories?

Another complicating factor is that a lot of people who do experience racial discrimination either aren't aware of it, or don't report it in these surveys. For instance, Blacks with very low levels of education are much less likely to report being discriminated against, while those with college degrees are the most likely to.
So it is possible that the reason I'm not seeing much (if any) increase in highly segregated cities among Blacks is that Blacks in very highly segregated settings may be less likely to perceive unfair treatment as out of the ordinary or worth noting.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. And sorry I can't share the numbers yet...


  1. I'd suggest strength of local community as a mediating factor. It can be a somewhat paradoxical result of segregation - strong in-group identification and dense networks of 'bonding' ties. You might be aware of hostile attitudes towards your group, but their impact on you is attenuated by the fact they come from an out-group. That's harder to maintain if you're in a smaller group or more interspersed, as it may be for Hispanics and Asians.

    However... discrimination is not a single unitary phenomenon; it has cultural content. The prejudice against Asians is that they 'keep to themselves and don't assimilate', so the strong in-group factor that is naturalised in black/white segregation counts *against* Asians. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl in 'The Anatomy of Prejudices' is good on these differences.

    1. Great ideas, I think you're on to an important explanation there - I wish I could get at neighborhood context in this dataset, but privacy concerns prevent location identifiers below the county level. I'll look up Young-Bruehl in the meantime...