Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Everyday, I go to work to fulfill the mission of our organization. That mission in a nutshell is to eliminate housing discrimination and segregation in the six-county Chicago region. As you might expect, this is not always an easy sell.

One of the common retorts sent my way is that people in protected classes -- especially minorities -- tend to self-segregate. In other words, people tend to "stick with their own kind." And, there is evidence that self-segregation does happen in places throughout the region. But, the term is a little misleading. While it might seem as though people are "self-segregating" in reality they are making choices based on perceptions of where they are and are not welcome.

In truth, self-segregation is an effect not a cause. The causes of self-segregation are primarily discriminatory techniques and attitudes and perpetuated perceptions of openness. Self-segregation is the effect.

Of course, people then say things like, "Latinos just seem more comfortable living in neighborhoods where the signs are in Spanish." or "We don't really get many African Americans looking for housing here." To which I ask, "Why? Why aren't there any signs in Spanish in your community? Why do you think African Americans tend to stay away from your town?" The problem isn't the homeseekers. To which I add, "You basically just stated a plan for how to attract more minorities to your community. If you were to provide services in Spanish and promote your community as tolerant and welcoming then you'd probably see more diversity."

The problem is that governments don't do enough to promote their communities as open and inclusive. The housing industry doesn't work hard enough to provide housing for minorities in white areas and vice versa. Nor, does the housing industry do enough to educate consumers on non-traditional choices. Community groups could also better promote their activities to minorities. In Chicago, this is situation is severe. Chicago is the fourth most segregated MSA in the country. Of course, it used to be #1 so there has been a little progress. (Or, others have gotten worse.) But, there are examples of diverse, welcoming, open, and inclusive communities. The shining example being Oak Park.

So to me, the argument that segregation is partially caused by self-segregating minorities is just plain wrong. And, those who use it are either ignorant or dishonest.

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