In Slate, Jamelle Bouie gets tangled up in metaphorical and literal meanings of the ‘hood:
Down and Out
The single fact that powerfully explains why black Americans have such a hard time climbing the economic ladder.
By Jamelle Bouie
Even after you adjust for income and education, black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty.
“We didn’t run from where we grew up. We aren’t afraid to be associated with the people who came up with us.”
That’s Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks writing in defense of his friend, DeSean Jackson, who was cut from the Philadelphia Eagles amid reports of gang ties.
Jackson, a Pro Bowl wide receiver from Long Beach Poly HS and Cal, reported in January that his in-season home in Philadelphia was burglarized. The football player claimed $125,000 in jewelry and $250,000 in cash (?) was stolen. (Were safe deposit boxes disinvented in Philadelphia? Or is this supposed to be Jackson’s White Bronco heading for the Mexican border money?)
Recent rumors have suggested that the Eagles came to believe that not much was actually removed from Jackson’s home, other than, perhaps, a gun. Post-Aaron Hernandez, that’s not the kind of thing NFL teams like hearing.
Sherman isn’t trying to litigate the allegations or exonerate Jackson—he doesn’t know the details. But he doesn’t think it’s wrong for Jackson to associate with the men from his childhood.
And why would it be? Yes, some of them have criminal records—and for some, that includes gang activity—but leaving home is hard, and the social distance of wealth makes it even harder.
I don’t know what “the social distance of wealth” means. Wouldn’t it be simpler to say Jackson probably has a lot of his lowlife buddies from the old neighborhood sponging off him?
As Sherman writes, “In desperate times for people who come from desperate communities, your friends become your family. I wouldn’t expect DeSean to ‘distance himself’ from anybody, as so many people suggest pro athletes ought to do despite having no understanding of what that means.”
I don’t know if Sherman sees it or not—my hunch is that he does—but in a few sentences, he’s put his finger on the pulse of something overlooked in our discussions of poverty and economic mobility as they relate to black Americans: neighborhood. Sherman’s experience of being pulled back to a poor neighborhood, even as he accumulates wealth, is common among blacks.
Here are photos of the offseason home DeSean Jackson bought in Tarzana in the San Fernando Valley, which isn’t in the ‘hood. (Yes, Tarzana is named after Tarzan.) Jackson doesn’t have any problem geographically escaping the hood; instead, the problem is that he brings the hood with him wherever he goes.
Actually, I think high-potential Mexican-Americans tend to be more loyal to their working class neighborhoods than African-Americans, who have far more celebrity role models, who almost always live in expensive cribs in fashionable neighborhoods. There aren’t very many famous Mexican-Americans, but there are no shortages of celebrity African-Americans.
The difference for ordinary black Americans, as opposed to NFL stars, is that this has been a powerful driver of downward mobility. Just a quick comparison of black and white neighborhoods is enough to illustrate the particular challenges that face black families as they reach for middle class, or try to keep their position.
The key fact is this: Even after you adjust for income and education, black Americans are more likely than any other group to live in neighborhoods with substantial pockets of poverty.
As sociologist Patrick Sharkey shows in his book Stuck in Place, 62 percent of black adults born between 1955 and 1970 lived in neighborhoods that were at least 20 percent poor, a fact that’s true of their children as well. An astounding 66 percent of blacks born between 1985 and 2000 live in neighborhoods as poor or poorer as those of their parents.
Bouie seems to be picking numbers fairly at random without understanding them well enough to provide us with any context for why we should find them “astounding,” but I presume he means that blacks on average haven’t been getting relatively richer since about 1970.
Why do blacks have a hard time leaving impoverished neighborhoods? …
“When white families advance in economic status,” writes Sharkey, “they are able to translate this economic advantage into spatial advantage by buying into communities that provide quality schools and healthy environments for children.” The same isn’t true for black Americans, and some of the answer has to include present and ongoing housing discrimination. For example, in one study—conducted by the Department of Housing and the Urban Institute—black renters learned about fewer rental units and fewer homes than their white counterparts. …
Whereas all the data in this article says that behavior on the part of landlords is irrational and delusional. Oh, wait, it doesn’t…
In short, if you took two children—one white, one black—and gave them parents with similar jobs, similar educations, and similar values, the black child would be much more likely to grow up in a neighborhood with higher poverty, worse schools, and more violence. …
But, when we say middle-class black kids are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods, what we’re also saying is that they’re less likely to have social networks with professionals, and more likely to be exposed to violence and crime.
This can have serious consequences. Youthful experimentation for a white teenager in a suburb might be smoking a joint in a friend’s attic. Youthful experimentation for a black teenager might be hanging out with gang members.
… DeSean Jackson is still an NFL player, and—as a player for Washington, D.C.’s professional football team—will make a tremendous amount of money. He can keep his connections to his friends, he can live in the same neighborhood, if he wants, and downward mobility won’t be a pressing concern.
DeSean Jackson will become downwardly mobile about 30 seconds after he cashes his last NFL check.
For millions of more ordinary black Americans, however, the opposite is true. Even with more income and more education, they’re stuck in segregated neighborhoods.
They’re less stuck in segregated neighborhoods than they tend to create segregated neighborhoods by driving out people with options.
High achieving blacks suffer in their family lives from Galton’s regression toward the mean. A black with a 115 IQ will, on average, have more relatives with IQs below 100 or even 85 than a white with the same 115 IQ. That’s because the mean IQ for blacks is about 85 versus about 100 for whites.
Similarly, the mean crime rate is far higher for blacks than for whites (about 7 or 8x for homicides according to the Obama administration), so law-abiding blacks are more likely to have relatives who are criminals than are law-abiding whites.
The concept of regression toward the mean helps you understand the problems above-average blacks have in isolating themselves from black dysfunction. Do you cut yourself off from your loved ones? Do you take in your nephew who is getting in trouble on the playground (see “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” for an optimistic take on this). What if he brings thuggish friends with him to your nice neighborhood?
What if your own child is much lower in IQ and higher in criminality than you are? That’s not uncommon among high achieving African Americans.
These are difficult, indeed tragic issues. Blaming them on white racism won’t make them go away.