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?


Lethological Gourmet

I grew up in Boston and went to school in St Louis. As I'm white, I haven't experienced racism, so this is just from my impressions and what I've seen.

I feel like there's racism everywhere. But I never hear it in Boston. Granted, I'm not a minority. But I have several friends who are, and I've never heard them mention anything about verbal discrimination (I can't speak to how people act towards them in the workplace or out on the town). I'm a little mystified by the commenters talking about how segregated Boston is as a city. It's true that there are many suburbs that are segregated. But in the South End (where I grew up) there were plenty of minorities (both African American and Hispanic). Downtown there are many minorities walking around, and many different languages spoken and cultures expressed. Allston, as previously mentioned, is immensely diverse. Cambridge/Somerville less so, but still very much more diverse than people are making out. But you can't really judge racism based on segregation, as already mentioned.

And a previous poster who mentioned that African Americans have very little political power in Boston isn't entirely accurate any more, considering we have an African American governor. That doesn't make it all equal, but it's a start.

The only time in my life I've ever run into blatant racism was in St Louis. I was in a car accident where the truck in front of me stopped short to avoid hitting a boy on a bicycle (who happened to be African American), and my car rear-ended him. He kept ranting about the boy in very racist terms and trying to get us to agree with what he was saying (we didn't).

And I second the poster who mentioned that there's no way to judge this unless you've lived in every city in the US. There's just no way to objectively judge it, especially if you're not a minority yourself.

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Florida Cracker

I would say Immokalee. It is like going to the third world within the US. I think it has to do with agriculture and labor in the fields. Does not seem like living the Unites States.

Joe G

Interesting how most commentors assume only whites are racist. This blog begs the question, is it irrational for whites to want their own communities? Whites that want their own neighborhoods are called "racist". Sane whites want to keep their neighborhoods white. Look at how whites are treated in majority black or hispanic neighborhoods, or how white kids are treated by black kids in majority black schools. Also notice the crime rates in mostly black or hispanic areas, compared to mostly white areas to figure out that white "racism" is logical and justified.

Joanna

Solution? In YOUR city, BE KIND!!!!!

It may not FIX every problem, but instead of just COMPLAINING about it, atleast you're DOING something. lol!

Rick

Atlanta.
1. The Metro Area is segregated and boundaries such as interstates, rail lines, the Chattahoochee River..
2. North Suburbs a KKK stronghold. Forsyth county banished all blacks some years ago.
3. Home of MLK and considered the Black Mecca.
4. Cobb and Gwinnett counties still refuse to allow subway/rail to enter despite horrendous commutes. At least one reason is racial.

Lalo

I agree with Golden Child on this racism is in every part of the city. I live in Chicago, and there are a lot of different ethnic neighborhoods, such as Pilsen, Greektown, Chinatown, Polish/Ukraine community, etc etc. Yes, there are those angry prejudiced people and prejudice and racial slurs come from all ethnicities the movie Crash touches subjects well on all different races. But I have to say I have gotten along with all the diffent ethnicities in Chicago, it has communities that are mostly Chinese, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Greek and from those communities stems their rich heritage roots with restaurants, art galleries and history. A lot of the Puerto Rican and Mexican areas are sadly facing gentrification, but they aren't letting go without a fight so I applaud them for their efforts and determination. We do have a high polie brutality rate that can't be denied even though the mayor, police and commisioners try to hide it news still gets leeked out through street sources and radical political movements. In Chicago it's not your race that makes you sheltered and privelaged it's where you came from whether it be the burbs, the rurals, the sketchy parts, the high class snob elite parts, the war zone parts. But as a white person who came from areas in other parts of the state that were rich Mexican ethnicity and had a few gang issues I'd have to say I have gotten along with blacks and Latinos from the sketchy parts of the city and they and me realize we are just people that are living. I will say that they are more ostracized by stereotypical suburban people and are prime targets for police brutality than I am because I am white.

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Joe

Mia mentioned Michigan being racist because it eliminated affirmitive action. Funny, I thought that was a step toward punishing one race only because of skin color.

Strictly anonymous

Definitely Cleveland is the most racist city I've been to! And I've lived in lots (Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Buffalo, Rochester, Philadelphia, you name it).
What an above poster said about Parma is more than definitely true. In Parma Heights, I'm like a prisoner in my own apartment. I haven't had any run ins with the cops yet (in Cleveland period!), but as soon as I go outside, folks start yelling racial epithets from their cars as they go by. It's happened to me in Cleveland, but happens alot more in Parma Heights (like every single time I go outside!).
I even swear I ran into some "other worldly folks" one night in the woods here, and they even spit on the ground and looked me in disgust! So much for the Aliens...
The other thing about Cleveland, is that I can't buy a Greyhound bus ticket for some reason. Every time I do, the Metro comes up and harasses me, indicating that I should leave. It gets worse each time, until the last time when they dragged me into a back office and strip searched me. The cops refused to do anything about it, saying that they said I fit a description or something.
Well, as soon as I get layed off (I'm trying to save up as much of that 17 bucks+ an hour as I can!), then I'm outta here!

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Joe

On July 12th, the Hazleton, Pennsylvania City Council voted to approve an Illegal Immigration Relief Act, creating one of the strictest anti-immigrant laws in the United States. This Relief Act will impose severe penalties on landlords who rent space to illegal immigrants, suspend the licenses of businesses that employ them and declared English the city's official language.

The law will require anyone seeking to rent in the city to apply for a residency license and submit to an investigation of citizenship status. Landlords found renting to people without licenses will be fined $1,000 a day. Business owners found hiring, renting property to or providing goods and services to illegal immigrants will lose their business permit for five years on a first offense and 10 years on a second.

The motivation behind this, according to Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, is "the loss of the quality of life." All pretenses have been cast off and the real reasons surrounding the immigration debate are out in the open. Now, maybe we can start to talk about the real issues that are behind what is driving this divisive discussion on immigration. We ask: What is really scaring white America?

Hazleton is a non-descript mining town in Pennsylvania that has seen better days. The Hispanic population has quickly grown to represent 30 percent of the city's population of 31,000 (up from a low of 23,000). Hispanics are pumping vitality back into this city. But the older white population feels threatened. They believe they are slowly losing their grip on power and are not able to keep up with the younger Hispanic population.

The mayor of Hazleton is using the oft-repeated polarizing imagery of a crime wave that he says is growing with the rising Hispanic population. This image has been used in San Diego since the days of then County Supervisor Susan Golding. But, much like Golding, Mayor Tarantino has no facts or figures to back up his claim. In fact, according to the Pennsylvania State Police there has been a reduction in the number of total arrests in the city. But the mayor wouldn't let the facts get in the way of a good political slogan.

What is happening in Hazleton is a microcosm of what is happening across our country: the white population is afraid to give up power to a growing Hispanic population.

The debate on the U.S.-Mexican border, in San Diego and other impacted border regions, is not so much about drugs, crime, or terrorism. It is about how they, the white community, can keep brown faces from coming into their neighborhoods. How can they keep control and power while the Hispanic community continues to grow?

On July 27, the New Jersey town of Riverside followed the lead of Hazleton, banning the hiring and housing of undocumented immigrants. The California town of Escondido is considering taking a similar action.

Hazleton is now being viewed as an example for other towns across the country that are trying to figure out how to maintain control and power in a city where white minorities are losing the population race. If they don't represent a significant part of the population, they forfeit any claim to rule.
By Daniel Munoz

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Browne Molyneux

To me racism has to include economics.

I think you could actually chart the most racist cities by looking at the minority population and it's income in comparison to the white population and it's income. The farther apart that is, the more racist a city is.

I have a hunch that the south probably isn't home to the most racist of cities. If I were a betting woman, I would bet it would be somewhere on the east coast or even the west coast.

Browne

Chris

So what's the answer? Did I miss the follow up post that he promised "next week"? I'm just interested to see what his method was.

lisa

I'm a clueless white chick being tutored in race issues by my brown skinned sons. I find that the one place I am least comfortable with my children is visiting my family back in my native Boston area. Even for someone as oblivious as me the racism is thick enough there to cut with a knife. It just creeps me out. We travel a fair amount and so far no place else comes close.

A PERSON from Chicago

i have been to boston and california but i live in chicago (the best place in the World lol) been a person of color i thank LA is the more racist because the more public with it !!!! I was shot at because of my race by a gang there which was weird to me !!! Im not saying chicago gangs dont shoot at innocent people but not because of race. Another reason LA is so violent in racist is because of the gangs. Most chicago gangs it really doensnt matter the race but in LA race determines what gang you can join. So iT STARTS OUT KILLING A ENEMY GANGMEMBER THAN GROWS TO KILLING THAT RACE

Julius Nyerere

First of all, growing up most of my life in DC, and later relocating in Prince George's County, among DC's suburban counties, I don't find DC to be a racist city at all. I do agree that the black majority of the population live with themselves as the white minority live in the upper northwest Washington, and some in Capitol Hill. But u also have to understand DC is a city owned by blacks. The mayor is black, and most of the board members are as well. Also, living in DC, I remember how we were entitled to so many things. We had so many rights in comparison to an African-American in another US City. After I moved to Maryland, everything changed. It took me almost a year for my Medicaid to be accepted. Mind u, I suffer from epilepsy. I also moved into a majority African-American county. So on that note, I'll have to say that DC is one of the most welcoming urban areas for blacks in the nation. I haven't seen that in any other city or suburb.

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Steve

I've only lived in the Boston area for a few months going to school, but I was suprised at how tense race relations seem to be.

So much for how the South is so racist. I grew up in Florida, people aren't jerks like in Boston.

mc

new york is still very very racist and very very segregated.

first off i go to a private college in new york city where my major, which has a thousand students, is 1% black. ive done the math counting in the auditorium. other majors are similar as are other colleges - public and private. new york also has the most segregated elementary schools of any major city.

you almost have to be a certain type, white or asian, to fit into the corporate cultures at the majority of places that pay enough for people to live in manhattan or live in nyc comfortably (safe neighborhood, decent access supermarkets, etc) at all. other places a college degree, not white skin, is a general requirement for these things

but, let's say you get the job though. apartments are extremely difficult to find if you're black regardless of your income. countless times i've shown up to available apartments, callling 10 minutes beforheand for directions, and when i got there they were rented or nobody would answer the door.

when i lived on west end avenue with my boyfriend (who was given the rent controlled apt by his white ex when she moved out) we were the ONLY black people in a building with 400 apts. i mentioned this to him and the fact the bldg manager always gave me dirty looks and he was like you're crazy. we must just not be seeing them. after five years of never seeing a black person in the bldg, he admitted i was right an mgmt was definitely discriminating.

it wasn't limited to my bldg either, because, i could walk down west send from the 90s to fairway in the 70s and not see a black face that wasn't pushing a white baby in a stroller or in a jumpsuit picking up trash in the street.

i don't measure mingling in public spaces where people have no choice - because it's crowded in manhattan as a measure of how unracist new york is. when i go out to eat a really nice restaurant esp above 40th street, i'm often the only black person and people turn to look at me like i'm at the iowa county fair.

when it comes to access to power - jobs and money EDUCATION and safety (decent housing) new york city is BY FAR the most racist.

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cherry

Wow, I've read a lot of your comments and strangely enough, I really want to go to Boston and some of these other cities that seem so "horribly racist." I can't name a specific city, honestly, but I wanted to contribute to the discussion anyway. It's weird, when people are prompted to talk about racism as it exists, they seem to have very strong, maybe even sensationalist, opinions about how racism is most certainly prevalent in their societies...however, in so many other instances, I never hear this kind of talk about how "incredibly racist" places, or people are.

I live in the Northwest, Seattle, Washington, and have pretty much grown up here and nearby suburbs. I can safely say that while the city is much more open-minded and diverse like the other stereotypically "liberal" cities, it's also very segregated--again, like other major cities. Someone early on thought finding out which city had the highest interracial coupling statistic would be a factor in determining which was least racist, and Seattle is the city with the highest interracial marriages. Definitely not the least racist, though. I could share my little anecdotes, but the reality is that it's not too bad at all here, even though we could put in more work to fix some stuff.

I agree with the person who quoted their grandfather in saying that there's two types of racism...brilliant. Personally, I'm more insulted by the already-mentioned type that includes covert, subtle, cowardly quiet racism than blatant (non-violent) racism. And though I agree that there is probably a lot of racism still in the South, I don't buy this blame game people like to hold against the region. I rather think that suburban areas, the midwest, urban areas (LA), the Northeast have more racism and/or hostility because on the one side, there isn't much interaction or contact in these areas with different groups--which doesn't allow people the chance to understand each other--or there is an overwhelmingly hyper interaction between various groups that may be too hard to handle.

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Dan

Wrong question! The question should have been "Which is the most integrated and non-racist city?" That might have raised the question "What are the contributing factors?' We already know many of the contributing factors involved in bigotry, racism, etc. Maybe it is time to find out what makes a an UNracist. unsegregated community. Maybe we can build on that.

Seadog

Honolulu has been mentioned, but Alaska has not been included, probably because many have not lived there. I've lived in Utah, LA, San Fran, Boston, & Seattle. My parents are inter-racial & inter-faith, but when it comes to unconscious, unapologetic hate, there is no place like Alaska, especially Anchorage. In the 1990s people were proud to have David Duke for President bumper stickers on their car, anti-semitic remarks & vernacular were common (the users were not even of AWARE of offensive content of the phrases & terms they were casually using), ethnic jokes were regularly told with abandon. But the real target of all the hate was not the African-American population (although they received a goodly portion) but instead Alaska Natives. If you peruse the comments section of the largest daily newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, the comments section is a running commentary on this persistent theme: Alaska Natives are drunks, on welfare, need to "grow up," need to get a job, need to give up their culture in order to join the mainstream U.S., move from their traditional village, give up their language, etc. Alaska Native women experience a violent crime rate that is 3-4 times the state-wide averages once they move to the "urban" environments of Anchorage & Fairbanks in particular - largely because of the widespread perception that they are "loose" and drunk. My mother is Alaska Native, I have 2 graduate degrees, but in broad daylight while walking from my car to a business meeting I had non-Native men in taxi cabs or their private vehicles hold up $100 bills to me to entice me into their rides for a "good time" due to this perception. I never felt safe at night and stayed home - there were Alaska Native women who were sober dragged into vehicles at shopping malls and movie theaters by non-Native men. A close acquaintance who was a criminal defense that attorney dismissed my concerns until she read the University of Alaska-Anchorage Institute of Social & Economic Research report that documented all of the above assertions I have made. Her only question: did I have a gun? By the way - I don't but I also don't live in Alaska anymore and I don't miss it.

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Terry

These comments are more proof that nothing riles Freakonomics readers (aka.. Americans?) like racism except maybe, perhaps, the science of insulting women. See http://freakonomics.com/2007/08/10/the-science-of-insulting-women/#comments.