Blue Cities, Blue Lives
July 13, 2020 4:13 PM   Subscribe

Betsy Hodges, former mayor of Minneapolis: "Democrats have largely led big and midsize cities for much of the past half-century. Yet the gaps in socioeconomic outcomes between white people and people of color are by several measures at their worst in the richest, bluest cities of the United States. How could this be?"

Hodges outlines the contradictions found within the intersections of whiteness, class power, and American liberal politics:
In Minneapolis, the white liberals I represented as a Council member and mayor were very supportive of summer jobs programs that benefited young people of color. I also saw them fight every proposal to fundamentally change how we provide education to those same young people. They applauded restoring funding for the rental assistance hotline. They also signed petitions and brought lawsuits against sweeping reform to zoning laws that would promote housing affordability and integration.

Nowhere is this dynamic of preserving white comfort at the expense of others more visible than in policing. Whether we know it or not, white liberal people in blue cities implicitly ask police officers to politely stand guard in predominantly white parts of town (where the downside of bad policing is usually inconvenience) and to aggressively patrol the parts of town where people of color live — where the consequences of bad policing are fear, violent abuse, mass incarceration and, far too often, death.
How Minneapolis, one of America’s most liberal cities, struggles with racism:
The Minneapolis City Council, made up of 12 Democrats and a member of the Green Party, includes two transgender members, both of whom are black. The city has for years held a popular community celebration and parade for Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery.

But there remains an extraordinary racial gap for Minnesotans when it comes to education outcomes and health care. Black families own their homes at far lower rates than white families, among the largest such disparity in the country. And the city’s predominantly white police force, which has been accused of racist practices for decades, rarely disciplines officers with troubled records.
Segregation has been the story of New York City’s schools for 50 years:
New York City is starkly different today than it was 50 years ago. It is politically more liberal, and far more racially diverse. Yet one aspect has barely changed: The city’s public schools remain among the most segregated in the nation.

The deep racial divide was highlighted last week, when eighth graders who had taken the specialized high school admission test received offers to attend New York’s highly selective public high schools. The statistics were striking: out of 895 slots in Stuyvesant High School’s freshman class, only seven were offered to black students.

Racial and socio-economic segregation is even more pronounced in some parts of the city now than it was a five decades ago, though research released in the intervening years has shown that integration benefits all children.

How did we get here? Why have schools remained so segregated for so long? And what can the city’s leaders do to change a fifty-year status quo?
The Jim Crow South? No, Long Island today:
White Americans have long found comfort believing that racial discrimination is a thing of the past.

Black Americans feel they know better, and a three-year investigation of Long Island real estate agents by the local newspaper Newsday provides the latest depressing evidence that they are right.

More than half a century after the great civil rights battles to end discrimination, the newspaper found that black home buyers are being steered to black neighborhoods and more closely scrutinized by brokers.

Newsday sent white investigators posing as buyers to meet with 93 real estate agents about 5,763 listings across Long Island. Then, they sent a second buyer — either black, Hispanic or Asian — to meet with the same agents. The practice is a gold-standard methodology known as “paired testing,” in which real estate agents are contacted by pairs of prospective clients with similar financial profiles.

Black testers were treated differently than white ones 49 percent of the time. Hispanic buyers encountered unequal treatment 39 percent of the time and Asian buyers 19 percent of the time.
What Nobody Says About Austin:
When I moved to Austin in the fall of 2008 to teach at the University of Texas, I was the envy of nearly everyone I knew. Wasn’t it the coolest city in the state? The country? Quite possibly the earth?! Yet still I was dragging my feet, which many Austinites found offensive (ever tried arguing with one about the superiority of any other place?). I’d lived previously in Brownsville, San Antonio, El Paso, and Houston, and I’d visited Austin countless times as a contributor to this magazine. But I’d always found it wanting in a way that was significant to me: it was the first place in my home state where I was frequently aware of my ethnic difference.

Those other Texas cities had their own racial and class problems, sure, but they all had vibrant Latino communities, and they were cities where I could experience myself as both a Tejana and a Texan, an American who was Latina. By contrast, sometimes when I had lunch with my editor in downtown Austin I noticed I was the only non-white patron in the restaurant. Things weren’t much better at UT, where the faculty was just 5.9 percent Latino (and just 3.7 percent African American). I had to ask myself, In a city where Hispanics made up over a third of the residents, why were they so hard to find?
White people say they want diversity — but their actions show it’s only of a certain kind:
White families are increasingly self-segregating themselves in new ways — and it's largely in the form of their moving decisions. Lichter's research shows white households are now moving to what sociologists call the "exurbs" — gated communities, unincorporated housing developments, and the countryside. This is why the only communities in the US that have seen significant white growth are places that were already predominantly white.

"You've got one group of white Americans who are comfortable with diversity and integrating with minorities, including blacks and Hispanics and Asians," he said, "and another America that is hunkering down in overwhelmingly white areas in overwhelmingly white places — and you see them moving further out."
posted by Ouverture (20 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Provocative post and a subject I've been trying to carve time to truly dive into - among all the agonizing reappraisals white America seems to finally be flirting with - if protests and book sales and streaming #s are indication - this reality of the liberal left's (and I am one) literal daily living and voting priorities and how those have formed policies and practices to meet the ends have too often proved legitimately suspect. As Dylan proclaimed, "it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard .... it's a hard rain a-gonna fall."
posted by thecincinnatikid at 4:38 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]

good post, thank you for putting it together.
posted by trappist system at 4:46 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]

Provocative post and a subject I've been trying to carve time to truly dive into - among all the agonizing reappraisals white America seems to finally be flirting with - if protests and book sales and streaming #s are indication - this reality of the liberal left's (and I am one) literal daily living and voting priorities and how those have formed policies and practices to meet the ends have too often proved legitimately suspect. As Dylan proclaimed, "it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard .... it's a hard rain a-gonna fall."

Yes, I think the last few decades of liberal leadership (and sometimes even progressive leadership!) in all these blue cities has credibly demonstrated the dire limitations of what is possible for marginalized people under liberal politics.

It has also clearly demonstrated the limitations of liberal politics and its pursuit to merely reform racial capitalism and subtly ameliorate the consequences of intergenerational material dispossession instead of forcefully and directly dismantling these horrors.
posted by Ouverture at 4:58 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]

How could this be?"

Because virtue signalling only benefits the signaler.
posted by 445supermag at 4:59 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]

I wish I could find a recent thing - maybe it was a Twitter thread, maybe an article? - that someone posted about their firsthand observation as an educator about how black students from the "wrong" neighbourhood were treated in their mostly pleasant, mostly white Minneapolis school. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, I'd be grateful.
posted by clawsoon at 5:18 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]

For a moment, there, I was taken aback. Usually, bots/trolls in the comments section of The Root are the only folks who I've seen claim to want to discuss this issue, but it's obvious that the invitation is being proffered in extremely bad faith, and specifically to slag the Democratic Party, but if a regular commenter does respond to them and brings up the "white"-ness that's the core issue, the trolls suddenly get very angry, indeed. I'll read all these links, for sure.

Black Americans feel they know better, and a three-year investigation of Long Island real estate agents by the local newspaper Newsday provides the latest depressing evidence that they are right.

One of my nieces, who usually acts in commercials, has volunteered many times as a housing discrimination tester in the city, Westchester, and out on Long Island for a non-profit, and she's told me that sort of discrimination is all over New York City, especially in areas like the Upper West Side, Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick, Brooklyn Heights, Tribeca, etc. Hell, I knew when I moved here in 1993 which neighborhoods weren't going to be open to rent for me. I got gawped at or an assumption was made that I was the cleaner or nanny in my own building in Brooklyn Heights for the first few months I started living there. That was in 2002. I'll bet all those white people thought that they were good liberals, too.
posted by droplet at 5:21 PM on July 13 [17 favorites]

I've noticed this to some degree here in Toronto in the Beaches neighbourhood. Last fall we visited a bunch of high schools that were options for my daughter to attend next year. Looking at past graduation pictures, the Beaches school appeared to have a "one Black friend" program for its white, liberal constituency - one or two Black kids in every graduating class. And in the school's open house presentation, they had this year's "one Black friend" speak... and he was from Nigeria. Despite being not being all that far from significant Black populations in Toronto, and despite high schools being open to a certain amount of inter-neighbourhood attendance ("optional attendance", as they call it) the white liberal parents of the Beaches have managed to create a high school with virtually no representation from Toronto's Black community.

I'm sure there are other areas in Toronto like this, but it's the one I'm familiar with.
posted by clawsoon at 5:37 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]

[A few comments deleted; official warning, don't come rushing into a post like this with nitpicking. It comes across as downplaying the reality of racism or the importance of pointing out when racism is happening in one place if it's happening worse somewhere else.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 5:56 PM on July 13 [10 favorites]

"How could this be?"

I dunno, but at a guess, and very briefly, and from some knowledge of the city where I live, I would say that part of the reason is that white people are competing amongst each other for well-paid technocratic jobs requiring university degrees, seeking to gain entry to city bureaucracies that are predominantly white, where the gatekeepers are also predominantly other white people. Then they cook up schemes to help poor people, without otherwise threatening their own comfort zone or the overall status quo. It's a bit like colonialism, or modern-day volunteers in NGOs.

The people I know who do this are all well off, and have zero experience of poverty or racism, and are pretty much incapable of making any type of policy decision from the point of view of the people who will actually be impacted by that policy.
posted by carter at 5:56 PM on July 13 [25 favorites]

this comment is an aside-- the provocative nature of the author's hook of liberal hypocrisy, while understandable, bugs me.

on one hand it is a very smart and useful question to ask why such awful racial and class disparities exist in big american cities run by people who claim to be progressive.

but it is not smart or useful to frame it in contradistinction to rural or republican areas as the author does, by saying the disparities are "greatest" in big cities.

big cities in america are where most of people who belong to racial minorities actually live, and historically have lived. it's also where most of the jobs are. it's also where terror groups like the klan had comparitively less influence and total control than they did in suburban or rural areas. so it is not really useful to imply that cities have this problem with race and class, whereas non-urban areas have figured some of these things out better. there is this problem in cities because that is where most people at the core of this question lead their lives. the problem should be framed that way.

anyway, one doesnt even need to claim liberal hypocrisy even if you wanted to hook the reader the way the author does. truth is, most of the dem leaders of cities at least through the late 20th century were openly racist.
posted by wibari at 6:13 PM on July 13 [20 favorites]

"This Tiebout model isn't good when you're talking about social equity. Then [people] wind up getting pushed or relegated to smaller municipalities that are poorer."
posted by clavdivs at 6:20 PM on July 13 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, perhaps wealth inequality is a pretty indirect way to measure how things are for various races. When it comes to quality of life for black women all of those locations perform pretty well.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:52 PM on July 13 [4 favorites]

Matthew Yglesias argues that residential segregation is the key issue, often enforced through local politics (like zoning rules). In particular, he cites Segregation by Design, by Jessica Trounstine.
The quality of public goods in the United States is highly variable. Some people have access to good schools, well-paved and plowed roads, sewers that rarely overflow, public parks with playgrounds and restrooms, adequately staffed police and fire forces, and clean water, while other people do not. So, why are some communities so well resourced and some cities not?

The answer, it turns out, is segregation. Segregation refers to the concentration of poor people and people of color in residential locations apart from wealthy, white residents. I find that it is segregation, shaped by local political processes, that permits unequal access to public goods and services to persist. Despite many demographic and economic transformations, the United States remains a profoundly segregated nation.
Trounstine's recommendation is to push for residential integration:
State and federal governments can compel desegregation on various fronts. But, they must be attentive to local institutions that allow cities to avoid integrated outcomes. Thus, desegregating neighborhoods and schools is likely to require stripping, to some degree, local control. At a minimum, going forward, states could analyze school district and municipality incorporation with an eye toward integration, limiting fragmentation and opportunities for segregation. Importantly, states can also require densification through the building of multifamily housing.
However, this isn't unanimous. Tommie Shelby:
Q: Some successful government programs, such as Moving to Opportunity, help move black families from poor and dangerous neighborhoods to wealthier, white areas. Yet you argue that residential integration and programs such as these are not a fair solution. Could you explain your reasoning?

A: I think first you have to distinguish integration from desegregation. The civil rights movement was very focused on desegregation, which had to do with ending the white privileges that went along with that regime.

What I find troubling is that in an attempt to deal with the problem of ghetto poverty, the government makes needed resources and services available only on condition that poor black people join predominantly white communities. I regard it as almost insulting to put the economic fate of the ghetto poor in the hands of more affluent whites, who then get to decide whether to allow blacks into their social networks and on what terms. Then you're sort of putting disadvantaged blacks in a supplicant position in relation to people who often have contempt for them and who often possess privileges and ill-gotten gains.

There's nothing wrong with black people wanting to live with people who share their interests and values and historical experiences. The solution becomes, how can they participate in privileges that some whites possess. It's important for people to have both economic justice and certain liberties, including the freedom to choose the communities that they want to live in.
posted by russilwvong at 7:38 PM on July 13 [16 favorites]

Then they cook up schemes to help poor people, without otherwise threatening their own comfort zone or the overall status quo

This is the one. White liberals love to virtue signal and come up with convoluted/means tested policies that help .05% of the people within the population they're targeting to help, but god forbid they or one of the well-off people in their social circle or one of the mega wealthy donors in their network has to actually give something up. Whether it's paying a little more taxes so that redoing the kitchen at the beach house might have to wait another year, or sending their kid to a segregated public school where they would be in the minority as a white student - they will talk and talk and talk about criminal justice reform and say Black Lives Matter but they absolutely will not give up anything that would make a material difference in their way of life.
posted by windbox at 7:46 PM on July 13 [7 favorites]

Thank you carter. I am from such parents who moved from Idaho to Seattle for all the good reasons, and I have watched them and their friends go about this process my whole life. While they held jobs in deep contact with the general public (doctor, teacher) and I have as well (fast food, house to house service) I'm often startled by the sort of, basic bourgeoisie-ness of their circles. Is this just what happens to white people?
posted by panhopticon at 8:48 PM on July 13

"What I find troubling is that in an attempt to deal with the problem of ghetto poverty, the government makes needed resources and services available only on condition that poor black people join predominantly white communities."

One of the insidious things about government assistance/project living is that it discourages working side hustles or home businesses. Anything you make just comes off the top, or possible makes you ineligible for benefits. You can live in a trailer park and possibly be in worse financial straights than an urban dweller, but say work on old cars or weld in your driveway and learn skills and possibly build a business. I've known several rural black acquaintances do just that, eventually being able to rent a shop and open a business.
posted by 445supermag at 8:53 PM on July 13 [6 favorites]

Is this just what happens to white people?

Yeah good question, and moving on to my own opinions now, and not what is necessarily in the articles, I see this as happening now as an ongoing consequence of previous generations/centuries of exploitation enforced through racial, economic, and cultural oppression, and state- and culturally-sanctioned violence. A kind of an internal colonialism that has transferred massive wealth in one direction.

This process can be framed ahistorically and abstractly as 'just somehow always' happening. But I don't think that this is a process by which they somehow have become bourgeoisie-fied against their will. They have always been so. It's not as if they took a gap year and then decided to go back.
posted by carter at 4:46 AM on July 14 [4 favorites]

"Liberal" and "leftist" are actually totally different things
posted by clockzero at 10:39 AM on July 14 [5 favorites]

Is this just what happens to white people?
Yes, I'm afraid so, because the white people most able to change it are the ones it benefits the most. They would be taking tangible financial, social, and political losses, and it's not real surprising they are unwilling to do so.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:05 PM on July 14

FiveThirtyEight has pulled together public opinion polling data on white and Black Democrats, specifically on:
  • Wealth tax
  • Reparations
  • School integration
  • Residential integration
  • Affirmative action in the workplace
posted by russilwvong at 12:51 PM on July 16

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