Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC
Integrated kids become integrated adults. Photo via Scripps National Spelling Bee, Flickr CC.

Nearly 20 years have passed since Beverly Daniel Tatum released her groundbreaking book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations about Race. In it, she examines how and why black youth often segregate themselves in middle and high school, arguing that engagement in meaningful conversations about race can help deconstruct such racial barriers. While many may have lost hope in the Civil Rights-era dream of school integration, today, new sociological research demonstrates the importance of integration and the positive long-term effects it provides for working adults. A recent article in The Atlantic reveals that students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to work in diverse employment settings.

Adam Gamoran, Sarah Barfels, and Ana Cristina Collares tracked over 10,000 black and white high school students during the 1980s and 1990s, then recorded the racial make-up of their current work environment. White and black students who attended predominantly white schools were more likely to work in predominantly white work settings. Regardless of the various methods behind the integration (including busing and neighborhood development), the students from racially diverse high schools were more likely to work today with a diverse group of coworkers. The authors suggest that “Interactions with a diverse student body may mean that individuals are more likely to live in communities that are more diverse, or [are] more willing and comfortable in racially diverse settings later in life.” While they are reluctant to conclude that attending a diverse high school or working with diverse coworkers will eradicate the economic and social disparities of life in the U.S., it is safe to say that both provide a strong step in the right direction.

The racial integration of West Hollywood, mapped by Eric Fischer (flickr CC), inspired by Bill Rankin.
The racial integration of West Hollywood, mapped by Eric Fischer (flickr CC), inspired by Bill Rankin.

In an era of “post­-racial” rhetoric, whites may not openly declare their prejudices and biases toward blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities, yet sociological research illustrates how whites may both consciously and unconsciously maintain and reproduce racial segregation in schools and neighborhoods. More subtle negative racial attitudes are persistent and pernicious. A recent article in The Atlantic showcases a few of sociologies most relevant studies on whites and racial segregation that challenge the myth of a post­-racial America.

The white family is essential for the transferring and maintaining of economic wealth. Sociologist Thomas Shapiro notes that middle­class white families use their financial resources to pay for kids’ college or housing payments, thus alleviating some of the financial burden from younger generations. Racial segregations is also reproduced in this process when whites invest in neighborhoods that provide access to majority white schools. Due to the wealth gap, most blacks do not hold the privilege of supporting younger generations with existing financial wealth. Instead, researchers report they are more likely to use more limited funds to support their own parents and additional extended family members.

The work of sociologists including Mary Pattillo, Douglas Massey, and Nancy Denton has further demonstrated that blacks are not geographically located in neighborhoods that provide access to well funded schools, even when black families are homeowners. Other researchers such as Deirdre Royster and Lauren Rivera discuss the importance of exclusive white networks that systematically neglect blacks when sharing vital information about education and careers in schools and workplaces.

Photo by WoodleyWonderworks,
Photo by WoodleyWonderworks,

School segregation has been the topic of social science research and public debate for decades. Still, the average person may think than in the post-Civil Rights era, when the law explicitly forbids racial discrimination, school segregation is an issue of the past. In fact, sociologists of education point to changes in demographics, living arrangements, and school funding that have lead to unforeseen issues increases in school segregation. One city in particular, San Francisco, is seeing a resurgence; the number of schools considered “racially isolated,” or over-representative of one race, has climbed there in the last few years.

A recent article in the San Francisco Public Press describes new practices that determine where students get placed and how such mechanisms can undermine diversity. Parents can apply for placement across San Francisco’s public schools, meaning that many students don’t go to school in the area they live. This enrollment fluidity may seem helpful for increasing diversity, but the ability to make informed and effective choices within school system application is nuanced and heavily influenced by who you know, what you know, and what matters to you. Parent choices, especially within particular racial or ethnic groups, can exacerbate school segregation.

The article quotes Prudence Carter, a Stanford sociologist who studies inequality and education and was involved in creating the San Francisco school-choice system (implemented in 2010). Carter uses Asian families as a case in point: “there’s a lot of pride in the Chinese community in having created educational enclaves.” For example, a Chinese family is more likely to send their children to a school with a certain reputation; replicated across a community, it can lead to a school with a disproportionate number of Chinese students. Similarly, disproportionate concentration of students from certain income backgrounds can lead to a racially segregated student body.

If parents want to be part of segregation solution, Carter advises, “You have to think grander, and beyond your own self-interest… So long as we live in an individualistic and self-interested country, we’re going to probably continue to have this problem.” In her view, policy makers will have to adapt legislation to account for the sociology of parent choice when trying to increase diversity in education.

1303_Cover_Race-227x300The lead article in the most recent Philadelphia Magazine, “Being White In Philly” by Robert Huber, has—to put it politely—spurred a lot of talk. Huber devotes his article to sharing the “true” voice of white people scared to speak their minds about the many struggles they face living among Philadelphia’s black residents. Since publication, Huber has been told in numerous venues that his piece ignores personal and institutional histories of racism, has an ugly, discriminatory core, and essentially perpetuates bigotry. Is Brotherly Love dead?

Charles Gallagher, chair of race and ethnic relations at LaSalle University, commented on Fox 29 News that indeed, everybody talks about race, whether privately or publicly. But, Gallagher says, Huber’s article only focuses on the opinions of white residents in a mixed neighborhood. What about people from minority groups? White residents across neighborhoods of varying segregation? Are there no “white voices” that enjoy living in a heterogeneous city? As a sociologist, Gallagher emphasizes that, beyond being offensive, Huber’s piece generalizes where it has no grounds to do so: there is no single voice of white Philadelphians.

Steve Volk, a colleague of Huber’s, crafted his response on one of The Philly Post’s blogs. In it, Volk dismantles the original piece to reach a refreshingly blatant conclusion:

[Huber] seems to miss the obvious here, which is that if white Philadelphians would like to be able to address race without being labeled “racist,” they should avoid saying racist things.

A memorial to the “Little Rock 9,” students who integrated the Little Rock schools in Arkansas on Sept. 23, 1957, following the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Photo by Steve Snodgrass via

After more than half a century, the U.S.’s efforts to end segregation are winding down. In the years after Brown v. Board of Education, 755 school districts were under desegregation orders. But, according to a new study conducted by Stanford’s Sean Reardon and his colleagues, that number had dropped to 268 by 2009.

So, did Brown v. Board succeed? According to The Atlantic’s Sarah Garland, yes and no. more...

Racism Moves Out,

Not only are we excited to spot Reynolds Farley’s Contexts article “The Waning of American Apartheid?” (Summer 2011) written up in the Emerging Ideas section of the Jan.-Feb. 2012 issue of the Utne Reader, we’re gratified to see the elegant treatment it’s received in this “Citings & Sightings” style piece. Further, the illustration (at left, by Peter Thomas Ryan, wittily gets at the heart of the matter. What more could an editorial team want?

In the piece, the author writes of Farley and his fellow researchers’ extensive longitudinal work:

The stats aren’t evidence of a racial utopia (50 percent of thse respondents hit the edge of their [neighborhood] comfort zone at a 50-50 split in racial composition), but from block to block, there does seem to be slow and steady progress toward a more racially integrated America.

To check out the original article, please visit