In rightly rejecting the right-wing fiction of free-standing market forces and autonomous residential choices, Massey and Denton end up dismissing the role of underlying market imperatives altogether. At one point, they explicitly reject the relevance of class as an analytic. But they do so by perpetuating the unproductive class and race dichotomy and operationalizing class in a static, quantitative way (namely, by equating it with household income). In doing so, they find that the upper-income black population still experiences high rates of segregation; ergo, race trumps class.This is true enough, but only as long as one accepts such a reductionist definition of class in the first place. That reductionist view also closes off the holistic analyses that might more fruitfully explore the relationship between political economy and racial attitudes and their spatial consequences.
Taking racial disparity as a starting point can subtly coerce a univariate view that precludes attention to many overarching class dynamics. One of these is intra-racial inequality. On residential segregation, a recent study by Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff shows that income segregation among blacks in the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas ‘grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, at a rate more than three times faster than the corresponding growth of white income segregation’, during the exact time span that is American Apartheid’s focus. This concurrent development does not invalidate American Apartheid’s overall findings, especially its authors’ emphasis that upwardly mobile blacks who move to suburbs still tend to end up in ones that are more segregated.But it does suggest that a bifurcated ‘two societies’ model tells us little about what goes on within the two nodes themselves. Strictly racial interpretation prevents careful consideration of other forces shaping social life.
That approach is necessary and undeniably useful for seeing general macro-level trends, but there are many micro-level trends that it cannot pick up, including urban redevelopment initiatives, suburban heterogeneity (however limited), and economic exploitation and gentrification (by both blacks and whites). Black-on-black gentrification, in particular, tends to occur in small corridors, and thus can easily be masked by these conventional quantitative analyses of segregation. Moreover, when cast in the language of racial disparity, such aggregate analysis takes the larger percentage of blacks who are residentially segregated as a marker of little black political and economic power altogether. But this birds’ eye view cannot capture the small but influential number of blacks who defy residential constraints, and in turn, play influential roles in the ‘black urban regimes’, the constellation of black elected officials, political appointees, and pro-growth business interests that exert an enormous impact on urban development. Just as a robust aggregate GDP figure (to take just one example) can mask the economic stress experienced by the bulk of the population, so too can the depressing aggregate figures on minority outcomes – like those in American Apartheid and much racial disparities research – mask the affluence of a handful. Considered this way, the thematic maps periodically trucked out to show pervasive segregation may in fact obscure more subtle trends. For this work and others, then, method and choice of data obscure as much as they illuminate.
— Adolph Reed Jr. and Merlin Chowkwanyun, “Race, Class, Crisis: The Discourse of Racial Disparity and its Analytical Discontents”