Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton “Segregation and the Making of the Underclass”

The word segregation has virtually disappeared from America’s lexicon, but is ever apparent in the landscape of America’s urban cities. Many Americans fail to see the vastness of segregation and those that do rationalize it as an ongoing process that is improving or the desegregation haven’t fully fixed the problem yet. Some even rationalize continued segregation among blacks as no different from other segregated ethnic enclaves such Little Italy of Manhattan or Polish Downtown in Chicago. This, however, is not the same as what is experienced by segregated black populations in the urban environment. We should not envision a desirable ethnic community that thrives on its cohesiveness and cultural heritage. Segregated black neighborhoods are actually places of poverty, social isolation and disorganization, and if something doesn’t change, the life outcomes of blacks will further deteriorate creating a much larger population of poor minorities concentrated in cities.

The effects of concentrated poverty are vastly pervasive. Due to the high employment rates in segregated black communities, the prevalence of families and individuals living in poverty is high. Massey and Denton argue that these areas of concentrated poverty “build a set of mutually reinforcing and self-feeding spirals of decline.” These impoverished groups, or the underclass, become isolated and dislocated from social and economic structures that typically would help them succeed. These highly degraded areas have not always existed. In fact, Denton and Massey state that areas of concentrated poverty can be traced to institutional practices and policies implemented early in the 20th century, and by 1970, these highly segregated cities were commonplace. This pattern of extreme segregation, termed “hypersegregation” greatly impacts the lives of residents, including social mobility.

The authors searched for reasons for this, hypersegregation. They were able to conclude that economic differences do not build this level of segregation; in other words, income levels among blacks alone do not create this phenomena. They found that whites do not want live near blacks so as blacks move into a white community, white residents move out, leaving that area segregated, a resegregation if you will. In some instances, whites don’t want to leave, so they just erect barriers preventing blanks from moving into the white community. Black renters and homebuyers are continually discriminated against by rentiers and the real estate sector, relegating minorities to hypersegregated areas with less spatial capital.

The stigma of area decline is hard to rectify. For years, whites have attributed the decline of the urban environment to the black population alone. This stereotype persists out of ignorance and denial that socially constructed barriers perpetuate and systematize hypersegregated areas, restricting access to social and economic capital, and subsequently impacting well being. I agree withe the authors in that focus should be placed on improving access to jobs and quality education for urban minorities. By doing this, we can begin to improve the quality of life in America’s cities. As Douglas Massey discusses in the video below, it can be done!

One thought on “Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton “Segregation and the Making of the Underclass”

  • October 18, 2015 at 4:40 pm
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    Good job!
    In the editor’s introduction they discuss the “dark ghetto” and all of its aliments (joblessness, unwed mothers, crime, etc) experienced by those in a predominantly black community. Kenneth Clark wrote a book entitled “Dark Ghetto” in, which he examined the continued issues within the black community and did a case study on a segregated black community. While many sociologist utilize the “social pathology” approach while studying/writing/discussing the black family/community others use the “strength approach” to justify the behavior we do see in lower income black communities. I highly recommend you read an excerpt from Clark’s book as it is very informative.
    Massey and Denton note as you did that many whites do not want to live in an area with many blacks, some believe the presence of black folks brings property values down hence why they (many whites) move out of an area they feel has been invaded by blacks.
    Also, as you stated residential segregation is not natural and while some groups opt to live in ethnic enclaves this is not the case for black Americans as they tend to be pigeon held into certain areas. Also, we see the SES may not necessarily matter for blacks either as many middle class blacks only live one zone outside of the “ghetto.”

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