Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Is Nashville More Racially Segregated than New York or Chicago?

The New York Times reports on a decision of the Judicial Council for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow George C. Paine II, the chief judge on the federal bankruptcy court in Nashville, to retain his membership in the all-male, all-white Belle Meade Country Club. In an interview, Judge Gilbert Merritt, a liberal member of the Sixth Circuit and a dissenter in Judge Paine's case, made the following comment on Nashville:

Nashville may be liberal by Southern standards, Judge Merritt added, but it is still a Southern city. "It's not New York or Chicago, where full integration has taken place," he said. "Many people wish that it would. It's just the mores, and there is separation."

Nashville is my hometown. I love the place, but I would never deny the persistence of racial divides in the city. Still, Judge Merritt's comments on the comparative racial integration of Nashville, New York, and Chicago are ridiculous.

Nashville is one of the most racially integrated major cities in the country; New York and Chicago remain among the most segregated. Lois Quinn and John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, for example, report that (as of the 2000 Census) 29.4% of Nashville's residents live on a black-white integrated block. That is the third highest percentage among the 50 largest cities in the US behind Virginia Beach, VA (41.9%) and Charlotte, NC (31.9%). Chicago ranks 36th, with 5.7% of its residents living on black-white integrated blocks. New York is 38th, with just 4.1% of its residents living on integrated blocks.

I am sure that, by other measures, New York and Chicago are comparatively less segregated than they appear with this particular indicator. The fact remains, though, that it is ludicrous to call New York or Chicago "fully integrated," as any casual visitor to those cities would quickly gather. Likewise, it is unfair to single out Nashville as an especially segregated city.

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