Thursday, August 16, 2007

Safe Neighborhoods vs. Resegregation

(This is the beginning of a good idea. Maybe I will back it up and write a famous article someday. Here is my first cut.)

Part of the hidden work of protecting their families that dads do is to move their families to safer neighborhoods. Couple-headed families usually have more than twice the income of single-mom families, and can afford better neighborhoods. Fathers provide direct protection for their own households. Fathers also usually contribute to everyone's safety in their own neighborhoods in a way that families in fatherless neighborhoods rarely do.

Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton won the big sociology prize a few years ago for American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. They argued that American cities were resegregating, especially by separating African-Americans from other Americans in neighborhoods that were increasingly black. Massey and Denton attribute this to racism.

One of the ways that African-American families are distinctive from other racial-ethnic groups in this country is that black children are much less likely to grow up with their married father in their home.

Putting these two ideas together:

Fatherless families tend to end up concentrated in the least expensive neighborhoods; and

Fatherless neighborhoods tend to become the most violent; and

African-American families are the most likely to be fatherless and live in fatherless neighborhoods; so

One of the main underlying factors in the increased racial concentration of African-Americans is really an increased fatherless concentration of African-Americans.


Stuart Gordon said...

Gutsy move, Gruntled.
Plausible, too.
Do you think you'll be able to make the case?

Michael Kruse said...

I think you're on to something.

Gruntled said...

I think I could back this up, but I might have to collect my own data.

R.K. said...

"Part of the hidden work of protecting their families that dads do is to move their families to safer neighborhoods."

I think you have a point here, but I would argue that part of the work of dads is also to help keep the neighborhoods where they live safe, or to try and make them safer, something which may need to be (and in the past often was) accomplished in concert with other fathers from the neighborhood. That so many fathers now feel they can only move away indicates a failure of their first part in trying to keep the neighborhood safe in the first place.

And this, in turn, can be attributed to several causes, 1) a loss of a sense of responsibility to the neighborhood, 2) a loss of the sense of pride and personal stake in the home itself (which may be an effect of the fact that few build their own homes today), 3) suspicion of neighbors with a resulting reduction of neighborhood bonding , 4) a loss of the sense of neighborhood protection as part of a father's role.

All of which occurred with the cultural diminishing of the role of fathers after WWII, when the strong father who protected his home and neighborhood was replaced in popular consciousness with the image of the nice inoffensive suburban dad, who went far away to work in the morning (thus making little neighbor contact), returned home at night, read the newspaper, had supper, and went to bed. That fathers raised on this image would feel that the solution to neighborhood problems is simply to move away is understandable.

But is it any wonder that this image of the ideal suburban dad was never admired or idolized by the boys growing up under it? Hence, they grew up unsure of just what the role of an ideal strong father was, but one thing they instinctively felt was that it was not THAT. Hence, so many boys growing up went off in the wrong directions, desperately trying to maintain a sense of manhood to go with the now culturally demasculinized sense of fatherhood, and in too many instances sacrificing the latter for the former, not realizing that they did not have to sacrifice either.

Somehow, we have to culturally bring back some sense of the strong father who protects not only his family but as an extension his proud home and neighborhood as well, and does not just abandon his proud old neighborhood to the worst elements and move to that brand new sweetsie-neatsy tangled-vine-streeted subdivision when things get hard. This image has damaged fatherhood perhaps more than anything else over recent decades.

paul said...

I think RK makes some very interesting and relevant points. I am a believer in both strong neighborhoods and strong fathers; I never really connected the two in my mind in terms of causation, but upon consideration it does make sense.

I can see why subsequent generations would move further and further in to the suburbs, having been taught as much by the previous generation, but why did that initial generation leave their neighborhood I wonder. This neighborhood which they did have pride in, and their family had roots in, and they had a sense of community, and they had put in effort to make it safe. Why did that first generation leave? I would assume that white flight had something to do with it, but that can't be the only reason, can it?

Gruntled said...

I absolutely agree that part of the job of fathers is to protect the whole neighborhood. The strongest neighborhoods are the ones in which all the adults protect all the kids, including from the kids' own inclinations. This is true at all income levels. And white flight is, no doubt, part of why city neighborhoods declined. But married black families largely fled the more dangerous black neighborhoods, too, as soon as they could. Married families seek married family neighborhoods for a host of reasons, and these tend to be much safer.