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'The Failures of Integration'

Georgetown University Law Professor and Author Sheryll Cashin.
Georgetown University Law Professor and Author Sheryll Cashin.

Fifty years after the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students were "inherently unequal" and a violation of the U.S. Constitution, America is certainly more diverse. In 1954, race was largely a black-white issue. Today, Latinos outnumber African Americans.

But while legal segregation is a thing of the past, racial separation persists in schools and in communities. That's the conclusion Sheryll Cashin, a Georgetown University law professor and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, drew after studying data on school enrollment and census tracts.

NPR's Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, talks with Cashin about her research and her new book, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream.

Read an excerpt from Cashin's book:

The Costs of Separatism to Whites

The favored quarter, like the black ghetto, represents an extreme of American separatism. It also represents the mythic American dream. But there is another dimension to the dream that is America: the shibboleth of all boats rising. Everyone who works hard and plays by the rules is supposed to be able to get ahead in this land of opportunity. American mythology has a powerful hold on us in part because there are real-life rags-to-riches stories. Those who are celebrated in American popular culture mirror this possibility for the masses. Likewise, our separate neighborhoods offer up the promise that one day, we too might be able to trade up to an ideal we wish for, even if we can't live with that ideal today. But this separated system comes with serious costs. The costs of separatism to whites are enormous, yet they are the ones who are likely to be least conscious of separatism's insidious effects. Currently, whites are also the segment of the population that is most apt to live a separated existence. Without an altered consciousness on the part of many more whites, I fear, our nation will never be able to transcend the separate an unequal society we have created.

Racial and economic separation creates both short- and long-term costs for white people. Admittedly, these costs fall differentially depending on the type of community one lives in. They are borne most heavily by the middle and working classes.

The first cost is cost. Separation is pricey. Whites typically pay an expensive premium for a white neighborhood. In the Detroit metropolitan area, for example, the average cost of a home for a white person is 43 percent more than that of a black person with the same income. David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and nationally recognized author on cities and suburbs, calls this gap between home values in majority-white and majority-black suburbs a "segregation tax" and points out that as segregation declines, so does the gap. Investigating recent bankruptcy trends, two researchers have concluded that the modern middle-class family is caught in an "income trap" because they typically must devote the entire salary of one parent to the mortgage payment. Middle class families with children are much more likely to face financial collapse -- bankruptcy -- than are childless households because parents feel they have no choice but to pay the expensive premium attached to a "good" neighborhood with "good" schools. The authors acknowledge, however, that parents' subjective beliefs that only certain neighborhoods offer good, safe schools are driven by parental worries rather than objective facts. ...

The struggle to achieve a middle-class white existence is really defined by the ethos and achievements of the white upper classes. Their neighborhoods and schools define a gold standard of quality that is difficult for others to attain. For the families attempting to gain entry into exclusive neighborhoods, it is likely that both parents must work. There are few single-parent households because the price of entry is so steep.

This phenomenon of overpriced or out-of-reach whiteness pervades real estate markets throughout the country. The problem seems magnified, however, in metropolitan areas where there is a "tale of two races," as in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago. Real estate markets in areas with large black populations seem to mirror white people's worst fears. Buying your way into a well-buffered, "premium" white neighborhood is the best defense against perceived crime and bad schools. My fear is that the feelings animating this phenomenon will grow even more intense as urban and suburban communities continue to rapidly diversify in the coming decades.

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