Research

Death by Residential Segregation and the Post-Racial Myth

Federal policies like redlining and restrictive covenants as well as individual actions like discrimination have long increased the spatial separation of White and Black people in the U.S. Sociologists from Louisiana State University (LSU) examined residential segregation in the U.S. using the white racial frame and intersectionality:

We contend that the phenomenon we describe as death by residential segregation is no crisis. Death by residential segregation is no accident; rather, death by residential segregation is the consequence of a legacy of the perpetuation of the myth of white superiority and black and brown inferiority. 1

Public Policies, Individual Practices, and Racial Segregation

White flight into suburbs resulted in what some people describe as chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs. Most people couldn’t afford homes prior to the 1930s because it required a large down payment and little time to pay off the remaining balance. FHA created a rating system based on the racial composition of the area that assessed risk of investing financially into neighborhoods. Majority non-White neighborhoods, considered risky, got coded as red – a term known as redlining.

State, local, and federal government played different roles in residential segregation according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Local governments passed zoning ordinances that enabled block-by-block segregation. In 1917 the Supreme court declared racially discriminatory zoning illegal with Buchanan v. Warley. Restrictive covenants then followed.

Restrictive covenants required homebuyers to agree to certain conditions in regard to who could rent, see, or transfer the property. By 1940, over 75% of cities used restrictive covenants that barred black families from purchasing homes in certain neighborhoods. Supported by the formation of neighborhood associations (which still exist today), the practice remained legal until the _Shelley v. Kraemer _ruling of  1948. In 1973 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that the patterns of residence restrict covenants created still existed.

In addition to restrictive covenants, residents would use violence to reinforce the boundaries of the ghetto. For example, the Chicago race riots in 1919 resulted from tensions in regard to space and job competition as people perceived migrant Black people moving northward as competition:

Ken Armstrong (n.d.) of Chicago Tribune  explained the origins of the 1919 Chicago race riots. Armstrong observed blacks and whites were segregated in many ways. Blacks and whites in Chicago could not attend the same beaches. A black teenager by the name of Eugene Williams crossed the invisible boundary between the black and white beaches. Some whites responded by throwing stones. Williams drowned and the event set off days of rioting.2

The government responded by using official policy to contain Black Americans into the physical ghetto, claiming it would prevent crime and disorder.

The Civil Rights Movements: Legacy and Limitations

Post-slavery struggles include lynching, inability to vote, blocked out of union jobs and relegation to urban ghetto. Black people also kept out of various New Deals. Black people also fought to desegregate schools and protested the death of Emmett Till. Black people protested and boycotted, celebrating the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Another march on the Edmund Pettis Bridge resulted in Bloody Sunday, which would later pave the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The government would also later pass the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to curb discrimination in rentals and housing sales. Still, the civil rights movement managed to alter manifestations of racism but not the structure of it. Inequalities between Black and White people remain:

The backlash against the Civil Rights Movement and the co-opting of the language of the movement by Reagan Republicans led to the perpetuation of the myth of post-racialism, and the adoption of color-blind coded language into the contemporary American lexicon along with the divisions of space by race across the country allowed for the continued use of the law as a critical form of social control that has ensured the death of black and brown bodies in contemporary times and into the foreseeable future (Jones, 2014).3

The association of race with place continues to have negative impacts on Black and Brown lives leaving them in low-wage work, the underground economy, and correctional facilities.

White Racial Frame and Intersectionality

The White racial frame and intersectionality helps uncover nature of racial privilege and marginalization with respect to housing and how to move forward:

The white racial frame (Feagin 2010) is a three-tired framework for understanding whiteness with particular attention to the beliefs that white people have in their virtuousness and in their use of stereotypes, as well as the role narratives from within communities of color play in addressing the previously mentioned aspects.4

A white person leverages their resources to purchase suburban homes and gentrify urban settings according to the sociologists at LSU. They use their resources to live out the beliefs that they will not articulate. They also engage in negative stereotyping of people of color  shaped by implicit and explicit interactions with other White people.

They also have influence over the way communities frame white and black space (i.e. “bad schools).  Intersectionality useful for examining other features of inequality in relation to race like gender. This includes what the LSU sociologists call intersectional discrimination –  actions and behaviors that results in the advantaging or maltreatment of persons based on intersecting identities such as race and gender. It is a multi-level and multi-dimensional because it impacts individuals, groups, and society through rules, practices, and webs of ideas about race and gender. Further, it can serve multiple privileges.

“Residential Segregatory Realism”: Some Working Tenets

The scholars call for a realism about segregation across multiple sectors that conceptualizes and renegotiates the ways that reform is approached. The tenets of residential segregatory realism include:

  1. Recognize the mechanisms of segregation that reflect the desires of White people who maintain control over socioeconomic structures in the U.S.
  2. All evidence suggests White people only pursue reform when it benefits them. Thus despite Supreme Court rulings on segregation, the infrastructure of communities continues to serve White interests.
  3. White people benefit from the problems and dangers of society including through police forces, social workers, legal networks, and developers.
  4. The rise of killings by police officers suggest a disposability approach on the part of white communities as they are in the business of profiting from misery.
  5. The equality approach to resolving racism presumes proximity to whiteness is the pathway to resolving issues people of color live in. This approach never acknowledges the pain and misery dominant groups make.
  6. Equity includes the diversion and reinvestment of financial, emotional, and collective resources to counteract what has already taken place.

The authors conclude that we can enforce anti-discrimination laws and devote adequate resources to enforce them while addressing other predatory practices:

Where we live is symbolic of how we define, and how we defend, whiteness, and of the ways in which we dehumanize, criminalize, and engage in assaults on brown and black bodies, especially against brown and black male bodies.5

Therefore, we must reevaluate programs and policies that treat minority communities as danger zones while also having an open and honest dialogue about intersectionality.


Unless otherwise stated, conclusions arrived at this text are from the following source: Martin, L. L., Fasching-Verner, K., & Pulley, T. W. (2017). Death by Residential Segregation and the Post-Racial Myth. In Violence Against Black Bodies: An Intersectional Analysis of How Black Lives Continue to Matter (pp. 90–107). New York: Routledge.


  1. Martin, Fasching-Verner, & Pulley 2017: 90 
  2. Martin, Fasching-Verner, & Pulley 2017: 93 
  3. Martin, Fasching-Verner, & Pulley 2017: 96-7 
  4. Martin, Fasching-Verner, & Pulley 2017: 97 
  5. Martin, Fasching-Verner, & Pulley 2017: 103 

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