Middle-Class Black Suburbs and the State of Integration: A Post-Integrationist Vision for Metropolitan America

62 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2000

Date Written: September 2000


This article reflects broadly on the state of residential integration, and hence race relations, in the United States. It surveys social science research on racial segregation, integration, and the emerging phenomenon of all-black, middle-class suburban enclaves and offers some surprising insights. Despite the illusion of integration, even affluent blacks are largely segregated in the United States. In those metropolitan regions where the majority of African-Americans live, the majority of middle-class blacks live in predominately black communities. And African-Americans, including affluent ones, are significantly more segregated than other racial and economic groups. While racial segregation has declined modestly since the 1960s, the pace of integration of black people has been glacial. The article concludes that full integration of African-Americans is unlikely to be achieved because, at least for blacks and whites, an "integrated neighborhood" is one in which their own group is in the majority.

The article also examines the normative debate about the merits, vel non, of voluntary black separation and about the modern relevance of residential integration in American society. While middle-class black suburbs are premised upon a confident separatism, residents of these communities are enduring significant costs for their separatist choice. Specifically, middle-class black communities tend to be characterized by more poverty, higher crime, worse schools, and fewer resources than predominately white middle-class communities. They also tend to be 180 degrees from the areas of highest economic growth. Thus, that article concludes that affluent and middle-class blacks, like poor blacks, are better off in integrated settings in terms of government services, local taxes and access to educational and economic opportunities.

Finally, the article offers an alternative, post-integrationist vision for the American metropolis. Accepting that full residential integration is unlikely, the article argues for a two-pronged strategy that is premised upon attacking the root causes of inequality, rather than achieving integration. First, it argues that law makers and law enforcers must be vigilant in attacking any form of discrimination that limits choice in housing, particularly for African-Americans. Second, it argues for a system of local governance that allows citizens to form localities based upon desired identities and preferences but that also offers strong regional entities that can mitigate the inequities that flow from the seemingly inevitable atomization of the metropolitan polity. A few metropolitan regions, most notably the Twin Cities, Minnesota, region, have pursued such a course, enacting regional tax base sharing and fair-share affordable housing, for example. But such a regionalist vision requires a majority of citizens of the metropolis to form broad coalitions that transcend local boundaries of race and class. While such coalitions currently are rare in the United States, the few examples that exist show that they are not impossible.

Suggested Citation

Cashin, Sheryll D., Middle-Class Black Suburbs and the State of Integration: A Post-Integrationist Vision for Metropolitan America (September 2000). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=241245 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.241245

Sheryll D. Cashin (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States
202-662-9053 (Phone)
202-662-9412 (Fax)

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