The World: Adjoining; Rethinking Segregation Beyond Black and White

THE waves of immigration to the United States over the last 20 years — the largest two-decade influx in the nation’s history — have produced new forms of segregation and integration that challenge the traditional meaning of those words. The 2000 census reveals that the issue of black-white segregation has been complicated by new forms of Latino and Asian separateness and mixing.

While the census makes clear that the segregation of blacks from whites remains stubbornly high, Latinos and Asians have integrated places once largely black or largely white. Yet they have also formed racial and ethnic enclaves that upend long-held assumptions about segregation’s causes and costs.

These enclaves are the result of forces far more complex than those that produced black-white segregation in the past — forces that include not only discrimination but also varying degrees of necessity, personal preference and the immigration process itself.

Among Asian groups, for example, it is sometimes those with higher incomes and a greater range of choices who opt to cluster. So the enclave is a springboard for some, a destination for others. And while some Latinos assimilate quickly, others become segregated in places that resemble traditional ghettos.

”The conventional notions of integration and segregation need rethinking,” said George Galster, a professor of urban affairs at Wayne State University in Detroit. ”We are starting to see many more multiracial and ethnic neighborhoods. And the dynamics of how and why those neighborhoods change are relatively unknown to social scientists, compared to the dynamics of the traditional white-black transitions.”

John R. Logan, a sociologist at the State University at Albany who has long studied black-white segregation, said he shifted after 1990 to include Asians and Latinos. He has gone from thinking of segregation as ”almost entirely imposed on minorities” to believing there is ”more variation and complexity among different groups, and even different social classes among groups.”

EXTERNAL barriers, like housing discrimination based on race, are still viewed as the main cause of black-white segregation. But among Asians, preference plays a larger part. Latinos fall in between. Like blacks, they face discrimination in the real estate market, though they can also benefit from the ethnic economies found in Hispanic enclaves. Many, better educated and better off, move on; others do not. Language ability is a key factor.

Professor Logan said Latino children tend to remain bilingual at home even in the third generation, particularly when they live in concentrated enclaves. But most Asian children in the third generation, he said, live in entirely English-speaking environments.

”The complexity of segregation is brought home to us when we see how differently it is working out for different groups,” he said.

To many, the term segregation connotes black isolation from whites. And black-white segregation remains the most extreme. As Edward L. Glaeser, a Harvard economist who studies segregation, puts it, blacks, more than any group except perhaps Native Americans, have been subjected to an unusually severe set of external segregating forces — from violence to restrictive covenants to racial steering by real estate agents.

”One of the striking things about black-white segregation over the years is that it has been and remains so much higher than other kinds,” said John M. Yinger, a professor of public administration and economics at Syracuse University. ”It is, in some ways at least, a different phenomenon.”

BY contrast, Latino and Asian segregation is often a transitory product of immigration: a Korean immigrant moves into an Asian neighborhood not because of housing discrimination but because a Korean friend finds her an apartment. In that way, researchers say, Latinos and Asians resemble earlier European immigrants, who faced discrimination but also congregated voluntarily.

”There’s probably some discrimination against Latinos and Asians in the housing markets,” said Reynolds Farley, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, ”but most immigrant groups have, to some degree, clustered when they arrived. As they move up the economic ladder, their clustering goes down.”

Not everyone, however, moves on. Some Latino groups are isolated in inner-city areas just as disadvantaged as some African-American ghettos, Professor Logan said. While Latinos who achieve higher income and educational levels have assimilated after the first generation, many have not — even in the third generation.

”There are many places now where Mexicans or Guatemalans or Dominicans or Puerto Ricans have greater disadvantage and perhaps not better prospects in the next 20 years than African-Americans,” he said. ”There’s a social process in place that makes assimilation possible for them in a way that African-Americans do not experience. But, particularly among Hispanics, only a relatively small share get the benefit of that.”

Another difference between the segregation of blacks and other groups has been the intensity of concentration. Philip Kasinitz, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and a specialist in immigration, said it is unusual for people who voluntarily cluster to become as highly concentrated as African-Americans. For Europeans who came in the early 20th century, as for more recent Latino and Asian arrivals, high concentrations occur only rarely, in so-called neighborhoods of first settlement.

Second-generation neighborhoods are far more mixed. The dominant ethnic group in places that used to be called, say, Little Italy rarely topped 50 percent, Professor Kasinitz said. Then middle- and upper-middle-class members of the immigrant group moved on, leaving the working class behind — a pattern he suspects is being repeated by Asians and Latinos.

Black segregation is different. Concentrations of 80 or 90 percent occur almost exclusively in black neighborhoods, Professor Kasinitz said, because only in the case of blacks do all whites flee. There are neighborhoods in the Bronx, he said, where the older population is Italian and the younger population Latino, that will remain integrated for a long time.

Other scholars make the point that ”voluntary” segregation is rarely clear-cut. The last national study of housing discrimination, in 1989, found discrimination in the sales market was as high on most measures for Latinos as for blacks. Another national audit, which for the first time included Asians, was done in 2000; the results are due this year.

”It’s very hard when you see a clustering of any type of racial or ethnic minority group,” Professor Galster said, ”to know the degree to which their expressed preferences are a function of positive desires to be with their own kind as opposed to fears of being with a different group.”

The census shows a mixed picture. Nationally, there has been a slight drop in black-white segregation, measured by indexes sociologists use. Much of the improvement seems limited to the black middle and upper-middle class; new and growing metropolitan areas in the South and West; and suburbs. Older cities remain highly segregated.

Segregation between blacks and Latinos dropped in some areas, as lower-income Hispanic immigrants moved into black neighborhoods that some blacks left behind, Professor Logan found. But segregation between whites and Latinos changed little in cities with the largest Hispanic populations, where many immigrants have settled in Hispanic neighborhoods; it dropped more where Latinos had been a small fraction of the population.

The pattern is similar for Asians. Asian-white segregation was unchanged in metropolitan areas with the largest Asian populations, which also saw heavy Asian immigration. It dropped where Asians made up 2 to 4 percent of the population.

”In some ways, we have become a far more mixed, multicultural community,” Professor Kasinitz said of New York. He pointed out that the number of places that whites share with Asians and that blacks share with Latinos increased. ”But the old, core segregation problem in the United States, the distance between blacks and whites, hasn’t changed.”

Researchers have drawn divergent conclusions. Professor Logan, who calculated rates of segregation between all four groups, found little change. Despite the small drop in segregation between blacks and whites, he said he was struck more by its persistence, and its persistence between whites and the other groups.

In contrast, Professor Glaeser, who is studying segregation between blacks and all nonblacks since 1890, concluded that the level had ”declined dramatically” for the third straight decade. He said the drop appeared greater if one looked at black-nonblack segregation, instead of black-white, but it was significant either way.

Professor Galster of Wayne State said: ”The data are just very complicated. There are all sorts of trends happening that suggest certain things that are positive and other things that are not. It becomes just a matter of judgment and ideological position whether one sees the glass as half empty or half full at this point.”