What Is the Most Racist City in America?

On one level, quantifying racism doesn’t make much sense. From the standpoint of individual experience, two people who suffer discrimination based on their ethnic status might feel equally violated even if the incident differs. Who can say one experienced “more racism” if both feel hurt?

But let’s consider the question at the macro level. Specifically, what is the most racist town/city in America?

I thought of this question a long time ago when I lived in Boston. The city puzzled me. I knew about the strong liberal sentiment among the populace, but I didn’t have to look far to see that racism was part of its historical core. For example, school integration was violently resisted by many of its white ethnic residents. In sports, the city has been home to some of the most extreme forms of racism — check out Howard Bryant‘s terrific book, Shut Out, in which he explores the longstanding bigotry in the Red Sox baseball organization. And I was surprised how openly some of the city’s African-American residents talked about experiencing racism at work, in bars, and on the streets.

Does it make sense to classify Boston on a racism index? Is it any different than other cities?

Before I share some social science thinking on the subject early next week, I turn this over to Freakonomics readers: In your opinion, what is the most racist city in America, and why?

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  1. Axel Molotov says:

    Surprisingly enough, at least for me, it’s Chicago. No other city in my experience has such a stark divide between the predominately white areas and the predominately minority areas as the South Side, where news of daily violence is commonplace, and the North Side, with its million dollar homes near the lake and recent college grads galore. The police here are notorious for brutality against minorities, and the city government has done its fair share to cover it up.

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    • Boston Victim says:

      I spent some time in Chicago and I find it very similar to New York (where I currently live). The neighborhoods are segregated among the different ethnic groups but racism is hardly a big issue. Boston on the other hand (where I work) has a shocking level of racism that I still can’t believe exists in modern day America. A lot of it is subtle but very obvious to its victim nonetheless. The whites in Boston have this inherent attitude of superiority towards blacks. They seem to be more racist towards blacks than any other ethnic group. It’s supposedly a liberal city in a blue state but the level of racism there is surprisingly strong. It can be an awful place to live if you are black.

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  2. Travis says:

    I would have to say Milwaukee, WI, is the most racist city in America. The reason I say this is because it is the most segregated city in the U.S. More simply, you know what areas/neighborhoods you can/can’t enter/exit based on your ethnicity.

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    • imiyah says:

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Really?!? That idea makes no sense…Milwaukee is segregated because of history, mainly the history of immigration to Milwaukee…I can’t say it doesn’t exist in Milwaukee but my far we are not the most racist. My family immigrated from Germany to Oak Creek in 1882…Do you know who all of their neighbors were? Germans! with a few Polish immigrants mixed in. You think then, say thirty years later you’re Italian and immigrating to Milwaukee…Would you live in a neighborhood where every sign is in German, you’re neighbors and the churches are mainly Lutheran(when you’re most likely Catholic), where cabbage for making sauerkraut is readily available but oregano is no where to be found? or in the Third Ward where you find a cousin, Italian store’s and community events are similar to your experiences before immigrating? Obviously there is an issue in Milwaukee with the segregated neighborhoods, but this has to do with unavailable resources and/or the knowledge on how to obtain these resources as well as what needs to be observed. many citizens are reluctant to move. Neighborhood pride is high in many areas of the city, it can even be just one block of individuals. A neighborhood can become a family when the typical dynamics of a family do not exit for many of the children in that neighborhood due to that lack of resources. Milwaukee is NOT the most racist city but rather pride remains high among it’s citizens, pride for themselves and their “reference group” As long as an individual adapts to the groups values and standards, ethnic heritage most often is not a factor. However since history has provided Milwaukee with this segregation most citizens remain in the neighborhoods and areas they grew up and adapted similar norms with other citizens in the area! So PLEASE first get a proper education or better yet open your eyes to the obvious before making a statement that has no value!

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      • retunh izan says:

        Here is an excerpt from a Wisconsin new article on the subject.

        MILWAUKEE (CN) – A Wisconsin city in the most segregated region in the nation buckled to racist pressure and shut down an affordable housing project, federal prosecutors say. New Berlin has no affordable housing for general occupancy or families – just for seniors – and truckled to fears that affordable housing would draw minorities to the city, which is 95 percent white, according to a Fair Housing complaint.
        ….
        New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero initially supported the project, but was worn down by being called a “nigger lover,” having his property vandalized and a failed recall effort against him. The pressures upon Chiovatero were revealed in an email he sent to a friend, indicating that he condemned racism, but found himself surrounded by it.

        http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/06/27/37691.htm

        Also it is interesting that Wisconsin is the head quarters of the American Nazi Party (renamed the New Order) according to Wikipedia.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Order_(Nazism)

        And Oak Creek was the home of one of the worst Hate Killings in the history of the US.

        http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/item/12347-gunman-who-killed-six-in-sikh-temple-attack-described-as-%E2%80%9Cneo-nazi%E2%80%9D

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      • Milwaukee and WI are Racist says:

        So PLEASE first get a proper education or better yet open your eyes to the obvious before making a statement that has no value!

        Exactly-I hope you intended these words to be heard and followed by the person writing them-You…the author! Apparently you have not been on the receiving end of racism. Milwaukee is not racist because of history. You were partly correct though-a better education by people like you who are blind to the racism that is present do need to be educated. Especially for a mixed-race family that developed from a single white suburban girl who learned very quickly where her family was and was not welcome in this extremely racist city and state (the further north you go the worse it gets!)

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  3. Murdock says:

    I have limited experience with lengthy stays in cities, but from what experience I do have I’d say St. Louis. There are several divides between the “black” areas and the “white” areas, East St. Louis is notorious for violence, etc. I was taken aback when I arrived there by how racist the people I met really were. I incorrectly assumed that those people living in a more diverse populace (I came from Wyoming) would be more tolerant of others. I found the opposite to be true.

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  4. Mia says:

    Detroit has not improved since the White Flight of the ’60s. Although there is no longer a wall on 8 mile, you can catalogue each of the suburbs by race. There was only one African-American kid in my hs and no hispanic influences for miles. The racism was so deeply integrated that it’s difficult to tell unless you are living there.

    But final cherry: Michigan residence voting to ban affirmative action at the public university.

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  5. Tim Walker says:

    I’m a long way from qualified to answer this question, but here’s a question in turn: how might the answer to this be quantified?

    Suggestions:
    –Prosecutions for racial hate crimes?
    –Civil-rights-related lawsuits?
    –Regulatory/legal actions against bank “redlining”?
    –Census data on ethnic concentrations by neighborhood?

    Who knows if any of this would hold up under hard quantitative analysis, but it might be interesting to pursue. And now that I think of it, surely someone (legal scholar? sociologist?) has done research along these lines.

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  6. Writer's Coin says:

    I lived in Boston and now live in Chicago. I understand the previous commenter’s point about ChiTown, but Boston is way more racist. Chicago may be segregated, but it doesn’t have the type of inherent racism that Boston has.

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    • Boston Victim says:

      I have to agree with you. I have been the victim of racism several times in Boston. I live in New York but happen to work in Boston. The neighborhoods in New York are segregated like in Chicago and there is some racism but it is hardly noticeable. Boston on the other hand has an entrenched system of both subtle and obvious racism. I’ve seen signs of racism from every age group in Boston from young to old. It is a horrible place to live if you are black. If it wasn’t for my job, I would have nothing to do with that disgusting place.

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  7. MPD says:

    Whenever this conversation comes up about Boston, the racism of the Tom Yawkey Red Sox is always mentioned, but the exceptionally progressive racial attitude of Red Auerbach’s Celtics goes unmentioned. The behavior of the two teams reflects more on the ownership than the town and its fans.

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    • Boston Victim says:

      Give me a break. I have seen it for myself. Boston can be extremely racist… especially towards blacks.

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    • Drizzl says:

      Also, Tom Yawkey wasn’t a Bostonian. Legendary racist yes, but he was from Detroit.

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  8. doug says:

    The eastern elite are very covert in their racism.

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    • so true says:

      Their body language reveals it all. It is one of the most vicious types of racism.

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      • anothervictim says:

        yes, i have been victim of racism in Boston. I have lived in several cities, but Boston is the most racist city of all.

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