A Rising Tide Lifts All Yachts

Poverty Neighborhoods.jpg
So in our continuing run of posts, which The Horde has dubbed "The TNC Futility" series, we have a chart showing the relative poverty levels of the neighborhoods where blacks and whites in America have lived across two generations. One generation was born between 1955 and 1970. The other generation was born between 1985 and 2000. The data was compiled by Patrick Sharkey for his excellent book Stuck in Place. It is pulled from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a longitudinal study which began in the late 60s. I think I've used this chart before, but it bears another look.
 
As you can see, the majority of black people live in conditions that very few white people ever experience, and a significant number of black people live in conditions which virtually no white people experience. This has not changed. For the first generation 62 percent of black people, but only 4 percent of white people, lived in neighborhoods where 20 percent or more of the people were poor. In the second generations 66 percent of black people, and 6 percent of white people, lived in such conditions. In both generations a third of all black people lived in neighborhoods where 30 percent of the population was below the poverty line. Only one percent of all white people lived in such situations.
 
The vast majority of white people live in low poverty neighborhoods. The vast majority of black people live in moderate to high poverty neighborhoods, with the scale tipping toward the high end. Only 10 percent of all African-Americans experience the kind of neighborhood ecology that 61 percent of white people experience. It's interesting that the trend line--even for white neighborhoods--is pointing down. Canaries in the coal mine I guess.
 
It's important to understand that a direct line from neighborhood poverty to individual poverty can not necessarily be drawn. On the contrary, individual affluent African-Americans tend to live in neighborhoods that are a step below individual affluent whites. [A]lmost half (49 percent) of black children with family income in the top three quintiles lived in neighborhoods with at least 20 percent poverty," writes Sharkey. "Compared to only one percent of white children in those quintiles." The sociologist John Logan found that, over the past two decades, affluent blacks tended to live around more poverty, than poor whites.
 
So this is not simply a question of "the black poor" or even "the poor." Helping the poor is a noble goal on to itself. But it isn't the same as addressing the effects of a tradition of racist policy. The two are related--much like homophobia and misogyny are related. But just as same-sex marriage and abortion rights are not the same thing, neither is America's toleration of racism, and its toleration of inequality, color regardless.
 
About those baguettes: I forgot to close out my last post with some sort of notation on the culinary adventures of this particular black family which--for the first time ever--finds itself living in that black ten percent. I tried to teach my son some knife skills in the kitchen this weekend--I started cutting when I was about his age. This ended in bandages. Just a flesh wound, I assure you. But afterward the boy looked at me like I was Jesus walking and said, "If you weren't here, I would have been freaking out." Do not think I have forgotten the importance, and particular magic, of black fatherhood. I think I wanted to be a father not out of any sense of nobility but for that moment, right there. To feel needed. To be singularly important to someone.
 
After I bandaged him up he sat in the kitchen and watched me cut up a chicken, make a quick stock, and then some noodle soup. I then announced that we would, again, try our hand at a cake--but this time something basic and yellow. The boy went and watched a 20-minute video of Christopher Kimball baking a cake. He then returned and said, "I want to do it." And he did it. It was awesome--light and not overly sweet. The only help he got from me was getting the batter into the pan. 
 
It was then that I remembered that someday I would not be so needed, not so singularly important. Already he is coming home with notes from girls. One of them is going to sweep him away from me. And then it will just me and his mother again. And France. We'll be free and that will be nice. But we will never again be so terribly needed.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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