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1. Types of segregation
2. What is wrong with segregation?
3. Measuring segregation using the dissimilarity index
4. Residential segregation in the US
5. Employment segregation in the US
7. India’s caste system
Segregation comes in many forms: there can be segregation in schools, at work, in the places people live, in restaurants etc. In U.S. history, it has often been racial segregation, but there is also something like gender segregation, wealth segregation etc., and often these types overlap. Segregation can be the forced and legal separation of “different kinds of humans” into different groups and the illegality of interaction or contact. Jim Crow laws, laws regarding interracial marriage etc. have in the past enforced segregation. But even when segregation is illegal it can be maintained by way of prejudice, discrimination, selective rental behavior or employment decisions, vigilante violence (e.g. lynching), intimidation, ghettoization etc.
Below I give some examples of historical cases of segregation and the relevant numbers, but first a word about the harms caused by segregation and about the ways in which segregation is measured.
If people tend to live, work, eat or go to school together with other members of their group – race, gender etc. – then we shouldn’t automatically assume that this is caused by racism, discrimination, forced separation, restrictions on movement or choice of residence, or other kinds of human rights violations. It can be their free choice. However, if it’s not, then we usually call it segregation and we believe it’s a moral wrong that should be corrected. People have a right to live where they want, go to school where they want, and move freely about (with some restrictions necessary to protect the property rights and the freedom of association of others). If they are prohibited from doing so, either by law (e.g. Jim Crow) or by social pressure (e.g. discrimination by landlords or employers), then government policy and legislation should step in in order to better protect people’s rights. Forced desegregation is then an option, and this can take various forms, such as anti-discrimination legislation in employment and rent, forced integration of schools, busing, zoning laws, subsidized housing etc.
There’s also some room for intervention when segregation is not the result of conscious, unconscious, legal or social discrimination. For example, poor people tend to be segregated in poor districts, not because other people make it impossible for them to live elsewhere but because their poverty condemns them to certain residential areas. The same is true for schooling. In order to avoid poverty traps or membership poverty, it’s better to do something about that as well.
In all such cases, the solution should not necessarily be found in physical desegregation, i.e. forcibly moving people about. Perhaps the underlying causes of segregation, rather than segregation itself, should be tackled. For example, rather than moving poor children to better schools or poor families to better, subsidized housing, perhaps we should focus on their poverty directly.
An important thing to understand about segregation is that different kinds of segregation aggravate each other. If groups of people are residentially segregated, their schools will also be segregated. Their churches as well. Dating and marriage will tend to be limited to members of the group. This again reinforces residential segregation. Job opportunities will tend to be offered to members of the group, because people very rarely meet members of other groups. Job segregation in turn will lead to different income levels across groups, and this will again promote residential segregation which will in turn promote labor segregation etc. etc.
Here is more about what is wrong with segregation.
However, before deciding what to do about segregation, we have to know its extent. Is it a big problem, or a minor one? How does it evolve? Is it getting better? How segregated are residential areas, schools, workplaces etc.? And to what extent is this segregation involuntary? The latter question is a hard one, but the others can be answered. There are several methods for measuring different kinds of segregation. The most popular measure of segregation is undoubtedly the so-called index of dissimilarity, most often applied to residential segregation. If you have a city, for example, that is divide into N districts (or sections, census tracts or whatever), the dissimilarity index measures the percentage of a group’s population that would have to change districts for each district to have the same percentage of that group as the whole city. Formally:
Where bi is the number of blacks in district i, B is the number of blacks in the city as a whole, wi is the number of whites in district i, and W is the number of whites in the city as a whole. This formula gives you a number between 0 and 1, 0 for no segregation and 1 for complete segregation (similar to the Gini coefficient).
The dissimilarity index is not perfect, mainly because it depends on the sometimes arbitrary way in which cities are divided into districts or sections. Which means that modifying city partitions can influence levels of “segregation”, which is not something we want. Take this extreme example:
The image shows the same city twice, with two different partitions, A and B situation. No one has moved residency between situations A and B, but the district boundaries have been altered radically. In situation A with the districts drawn vertically, there is no segregation (dissimilarity index of 0). But in situation B, with the districts drawn horizontally, there is complete segregation (index = 1), although no one has physically moved. That’s why other, complementary measures are probably necessary for correct information about levels of segregation. Some of those measures are proposed here and here.
Here are some results using the dissimilarity index as a measure of residential segregation in the US (non-legally enforced residential segregation):
51 percent of the entire U.S. metropolitan black population still lives in 50 metropolitan areas where segregation is high, according to the dissimilarity index … (a score above 60 is considered high–and means that 60 percent of blacks would have to switch neighborhoods with whites to achieve balance). This is down from 86 percent of blacks in 1980, living in 194 metropolitan areas, but it means that most blacks still live in highly-segregated metropolitan areas, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. (source)
As of 1970, almost 80 percent of either whites or blacks would have had to move neighborhoods in order to achieve an even distribution of whites and blacks within the average metropolitan area. By 1990, that dissimilarity measure had dropped to 66 percent; it is 54 percent today. (source)
Some more numbers regarding non-legally enforced residential segregation in present-day U.S., not according to the dissimilarity index this time:
(source, click image to enlarge)
From 1890 to 1960, many blacks fled southern states, seeking a freer and more prosperous life in northern urban areas. As a result, many US cities, especially in the north, became increasingly segregated. White residents didn’t always appreciate the arrival of blacks. Many blacks self-segregated because that was the only way to find some measure of safety from white gang violence. Discrimination by northern landlords also played a part.
Although legally enforced segregation such as racial zoning ordinances restricting the areas where blacks could live have now been repealed, unofficial segregation still continues, albeit at decreasing levels – as is clear from the image above. In the hundred largest metropolitan areas, where most whites and blacks live,
the exposure of the average white person to black people has risen by two percentage points, from 5.5 percent in 1980 to 7.6 percent today.
The decline of isolation among African-Americans since 1980 has been overwhelmingly due to the growth of Latino populations in black neighborhoods. The presence of Latinos in black neighborhoods has doubled since 1980, from 8.2 to 16.4 percent. Similarly, the declining homogeneity of white neighborhoods does not reflect the long-sought residential integration of whites and blacks, but instead the influx of Latinos into white neighborhoods. In 1980 Latinos were 5.5 percent of residents in majority-white neighborhoods. Today they are 11.2 percent. (source)
These two maps show current residential segregation in New York and Chicago respectively:
(source/source/source/source, one dot equals 25 people and is color-coded based on race: White is red; Black is blue; Hispanic is orange, and Asian is green)
(source/source/source/source, one dot equals 25 people and is color-coded based on race: White is pink; Black is blue; Hispanic is orange, and Asian is green)
As you can see, the problem is still there.
Another approach to residential segregation is in the map below:
(source, read the source for the methodology)
Where people decide to live is obviously their free choice and I don’t think anybody seriously defends forced relocation as a solution to residential segregation. However, if residential segregation is the result, not of free choice but of racial poverty, conscious or unconscious discrimination by landlords or employers or any other type of racial bias, then it is a problem.
More data on segregation in the US are here.
The figure below, taken from the RSF book Documenting Desegregation, reports segregation levels and trends among white and black men for eleven industrial sectors between 1966 and 2005. In all sectors, there were strong declines in racial segregation beginning in 1966, shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Overall, transportation, communication, and utilities saw the steepest initial declines in employment segregation and the lowest levels in the present period. However, racial desegregation among men stalled in most sectors in the 1980s. (source)
Here’s a similar graph for women only:
Apartheid in South Africa was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, under which the rights of the majority non-white inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by white people was maintained. Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times, but apartheid as an official policy was introduced following the general election of 1948. New legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (“black”, “white”, “colored”, and “Indian”), and residential areas were segregated, sometimes by means of forced removals. From 1958, black people were deprived of their citizenship, legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands called bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states. The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of white people.
Apartheid sparked significant internal resistance and violence as well as a long trade embargo against South Africa. A series of popular uprisings and protests were met with the banning of opposition and imprisoning of anti-apartheid leaders. As unrest spread and became more violent, state organizations responded with increasing repression and state-sponsored violence.
Reforms to apartheid in the 1980s failed to quell the mounting opposition, and in 1990 President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid, culminating in multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, which were won by the African National Congress underNelson Mandela.
(source, click image to enlarge)
(source, click image to enlarge)
India’s caste system segregates social classes in different ways: professionally, politically, residentially etc. In India, a caste is a hereditary group in a traditionally and rigidly stratified society. People belong to a caste because they are born into one, because their parents belong to one. Mobility is minimal.
The different castes each have a ranking in a social hierarchy, or a social status, and people from lower ranked castes are generally perceived to be inferior and are often the object of discrimination. One of the reasons of this discrimination is the fact that lower castes are often associated with certain degrading professions, such as disposal of the dead… Especially the Dalits or “untouchables” (literally “the downtrodden”) worked or still work in unhealthy, unpleasant or polluting jobs. Physical contact with them requires bathing and other purification rituals. Lower ranked castes also suffer more poverty.
The caste system is generally identified with Hinduism (the “varna” or class system in Hinduism assigns people to different hereditary classes according to their profession). However, some Hindu scholars reject the religious basis of the system and point to evidence that the origins of the system are probably more closely related to:
- Early migration flows
- Social or economic practice and
- British rule, which linked the existing caste system to British class society and solidified and integrated it into the imperial system of rule (for example through enumeration, codification and census).
The system is similar to segregation, Jim Crow and apartheid, but not identical. The caste system is not state-sponsored, and it cannot be racism since there is no discernible difference in the racial characteristics between castes. The law in India makes caste-based discrimination illegal, though especially in rural areas it still exists and in many villages even a Dalit’s shadow is believed to pollute the upper classes. Dalits are often not allowed to drink water from the same source as others, or to worship in the same temples. In smaller societies, it is relatively easy to track the caste lineage of individuals and discriminate accordingly.
Although historically the system may have had some advantages (division of labor, order and security through interdependence, belonging, identity), it is an anachronistic and gross violation of human rights. The Indian government tries to remedy the situation through diverse measures, including positive discrimination through quotas in education and jobs. The situation has improved dramatically during the last decades (inter-caste marriages, for example, are now relatively common), but the system remains deeply entrenched in Hindu culture.
It’s also possible to give a Marxist reading of the system:
Some observers felt that the caste system must be viewed as a system of exploitation of poor low-ranking groups by more prosperous high-ranking groups. In many parts of India, land is largely held by high-ranking property owners of the dominant castes that economically exploit low-ranking landless labourers and poor artisans, all the while degrading them with ritual emphases on their so-called god-given inferior status. (source)