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?


Jopis

Jonathan wrote, "Boston has historically had a relatively small black population but one which has had many luminaries, etc. going back to the abolitionist tradition."

If Jonathan had done his homework he'd realize that about 25% of Boston is black, and it's always been that way. That's about the same percentage as NYC. Unfortunately people base their opinions of people/places on false stereotypes. Maybe Jonathan is thinking of an oak-lined bar room full of white people, i.e. Cheers, when he thinks of Boston. Live in Boston for some time and you'll get a much different impression. Trust me. I lived there for over five years. It's a very diverse town, just like most of the country's other big cities. And it has the same worts, just like NYC, Chicago, the deep South.

David

This is a vague question. Cities themselves can't be racist. Segregation, if it happens not by force, doesn't suggest racism.

Chicago, my home town, happens to be one of the most segregated towns in America and perhaps the world. It is truly a city of neighborhoods and many folks freely choose to live in neighborhoods that represent their heritage.

Ukranian Village needs no explanation! Little Italy! Chicago is like a quilt; many different patches coming together to make a beautiful whole.

Among the white folks, Bridgeport notwithstanding, I find very, very little overt racism. Among the black folks of the South Side, think the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr and his congregation, overt racism is rampant among all classes. The most openly racist people I have ever encountered anywhere live on the South Side of Chicago.

However, most Chicagoans are extremely color blind and there are great neighborhoods where the mosaic of humanity lives side by side. I was in an Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park and looked outside the window. Hasidic Jews, women in burqas, African-Americans, Hispanics, plain ole white folks walking down the street with nary a concern. Truly global, truly beautiful.

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Joe Unidos

"But in Boston, minorities wield little political power, and seem reluctant/afraid to make their voices heard."

Well, except for the black governor. Look, if you went to college in Boston that doesn't count as "living there' and you don't know anything about the area.

ken

the most racist cities are not the large cosmopolitan cities. some the most racist communities are those dominated by military bases. tacoma, washington, used to be the worst because koreans owned everything and mchord/ft lewis was heavily black and southern white.the korean kids in the old trans-ams were by far the toughest of all- by far. seattle won't even admit that tacoma exists. if you go to tacoma, which i did to help enlisted personnel with taxes, you don't mention it. if you come from tacoma to seattle- you don't mention it.

black in denver

Obviously no one made me read this ENTIRE blog. I did it to myself. None-the-less, it certainly was depressing. I'm from Denver. And with a small amount of black people in the entire state (relative to Ill, CA, MA, and anywhere in the south), you may think I don't qualify to speak. But @ almost 55 years of age, I do. I've been coast to coast more than a couple of times. Also from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.

We have to get a grip on this word RACISM. The liberal use of the word scares people to admit that they are indeed racist. Do we understand the word? Look it up.

But back to the question. The most racist city in the USA? Well, certainly, I have felt the most uncomfortable in the major ones talked about here. Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, & Chicago.

I could see racism, but did not feel it in New York City, and State College, PA.

What I'm really waiting for is a change in this blog. I'd like to know what people think is the LEAST racist city in America. Where do we feel most comfortable? And I'm talking about blacks and whites.

What do YOU think?

Black in Denver

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AC...

I am a black female, CA native, live in L.A. and have friends from various ethnic backgrounds.

Yes, you have your issues with people who have ignorant opinions based on their own perceptions & myths but I feel lucky to live in an area that is multi-ethnic, various age groups, neighbors genuinely smile at one another and no one is offended that our neighbors are gay. May sound very kumbaya but I am eternally grateful. Not every area in L.A. is like this, we definitely have polarized neighborhoods but I've been lucky to grow up with peers that don't spend every waking hour attacking one another over their melanin count, we'll leave that to our forefathers and a bunch of commenters here.

And while I can't quantify anyone's racism, from which ever ethnic background they're from, I just know it gets old and truly holds us back from progression. Yes, I'm stating the obvious but we can continue to concentrate on "most racist" or we could start putting more positive aspects out there like a previous commenter mentioned, most integrated and how we can help one another to be on an equal playing field vs. this group is trying to take this from us, we put this program in place before, everything is fair now, get over it, etc.

The reality of racism is out there every single day but focusing on ALL realities is necessary for the human condition if we ever plan on truly evolving.

*steps off soap box*

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Andrea

When I moved to San Francisco from London, I was taken aback by the segregation and racism in this supposedly liberal American city.

It's the little scowls that quite a few people give each other and the notable lack of smiles from residents of such a beautiful place.

I found it particularly amusing that the Chinese have their own eateries serving Italian food, run by the Chinese and patronised only by the Chinese. "I'm open minded enough to like your food, but I'd rather sit with my own kind, thanks." is one of the unfortunate messages that it sends, right?

KR

In the 70's, I would've said that Boston is the most racist city in the US. Today, I have a different opinion. After living in the north and the south, I would say that it's pretty much wherever you live. I've lived in Boston, NYC, Atlanta, and South Carolina. I've seen and experienced it in all of these places. In SC, I think it's more covert, even though I did see a guy in a truck with a 15' x 6' rebel flag attached to it, waving as he drove through town. In the north, IMO, I think it's a little more covert than other places. It's more institutionalized. The same could be said for Atlanta. It happens more covertly in the job place and retail establishments than "In-your-Face." If you look at this board, there are about a dozen or more cities posted here. That should tell you something.
The funny thing about Atlanta is, on the party scene, the nightclubs and bars are pretty much segregated. Most people stick to their own kind when they go out dancing and such. It's totally the opposite in Orlando, NYC, Miami, Boston, etc. Could it be the genre of music ? Not sure, but I've noticed this for a while. One radio station noticed it also, and decided to collaborate with another station to host a "Unity" party. Nice concept, but It didn't really change the party scene. This is just one aspect that wasn't discussed earlier on this board. Just thought I'd mention it.

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Stu Burton

for the answer check out my Word Cloud entitled "MostRacistCity" culled from the first 25 comments in this thread ...

http://wordle.net/gallery

Mason

First off, whoever says Washington D.C. is the most racist is off their rocker. There are plenty of "no-go" poor black neighborhoods, but for the most part D.C. is a very diverse and open-minded city that has lots of interracial dating, fraternal bonding between military officers and civil servants of different races, and mixed-race professional neighborhoods. Mayor Ray Nagin is half black (just like Obama), and his top officials are of various racial backgrounds. Overt racism is definitely NOT tolerated. However there is some bitterness from poor urban blacks about feeling marginalized, and there are white 20-somethings who come from virulently racist parts of the country but learn to mask their prejudices.

In Chicago, I have seen a lot of aggressive behavior by blacks against whites. My extended (white) family is from the Chicago suburbs and I never caught a whiff of racial animus from them or any of their social circle. My grandfather was proud to say that the few black kids in his high school were treated the same as anyone else. In my experience Chicago Poles seem more openly prejudiced than most other whites there.

North Carolina has some residual white-on-black racism (re: Jesse Helms) but in the past 20 years it's really transformed into white working-class loathing of Mexican immigrants.

I think a lot of people underestimate the racism, or more accurately xenophobia, in the northern Appalachians (WV, PA) and parts of the central Midwest. Back in the 1920s the KKK resurgence had its epicenter in Ohio and Indiana, and plenty of strength in PA. They don't have the slavery and Reconstruction legacy of the southern states, but the family backgrounds there are very similar to those in TN, NC, western VA, etc. -- lots of Scots-Irish Presbyterians. And forgetting the ethnic stereotype, these places tend to be working-class and poorly educated.

Purely on instinct and my sense of their attitudes, I'd second both Tallahassee (#269) and Cincinnati as among the worst cities. Many places have vicious sectarian beliefs but only in some are they widely prevalent and proudly held.

I also think that Asian racism is severely underestimated. The most blatant racism I have ever heard came not on right-wing radio, but on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" from Asian callers who wouldn't vote for Obama. Several callers with Asian accents implied that they wouldn't want a black man to be president, and one openly said that "they (i.e. blacks) are lazy and he will just give everything to them". Many first-generation Asian immigrants have a certain shamelessness about judging people solely by race or skin color.

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margalit

I've lived all over the country including 30+ years in Boston. The most racist city, by far, is San Francisco. There is absolutely NO DOUBT in my mind that this city, which prides itself on it's 'diversity' is the most intolerant city when it comes to differences. The large Asian population adds to the racism, of course, as they see the very tiny black population as beneath contempt. But the racism is not very subtle when it comes to being a white minority. Try being Jewish in San Francisco. Or hispanic. Or straight for that matter. Or a Christian with a capital C. Absolutely intolerant of any people like that. Besides neighborhoods that are separate, the Asian population has nothing to do with the white population. They do not allow their children to play together. They do not all their children to play, period.

Boston has come a very long way in the past 30 years. Spending 4 years in a college community certainly does not make you an expert. Live amongst the real folks in Hyde Park or Roslindale or Dorchester, a community that is mixed and seems to be doing as well as it can considering the fact that much of it's population is poor, underemployed, and in foreclosure.

You don't seem to know much about the history of Boston, the rich Black and Jewish culture, the proud hispanic neighborhoods, and the general willingness to get along. Sure, there are douchebags in every city, but try living in Denver or Raleigh NC or DesMoines Iowa and then get back to us about how racist Boston is.

You're just a kid. You really don't know.

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Heh


But in Boston, minorities wield little political power, and seem reluctant/afraid to make their voices heard. Whites did not hesitate to express racist sentiments. What's more, the minorities are so segregated and penned into their own enclaves that when I lived there, it was months before I even realized that what felt strange about the city was that I simply NEVER saw people of color wandering around downtown Boston. You have to look long and hard to see someone black just sitting and sunbathing on the Common or wandering down Newbury Street, or going to a Sox game. Despite their apparent liberalism, white Bostonians in general were some of the more insidiously racist that I'd encountered.

You're kidding right?

Maybe in your time, but times have drastically changed. Furthermore, neighborhoods are still somewhat segregated in Boston, but it's mostly along class/income lines, and not because of race.

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justin

regarding Boston, its worth starting by reading the Globe's series on the issue: http://www.boston.com/news/specials/how_we_live/. These days I think the problem comes down to the fact that there's not a sizable black population in Boston compared with most southern cities, and, more importantly, no significant black middle-class population as in Atlanta or Brooklyn. My best guess as to why this happened is that the Irish and Italians who were scrambling to get power (through civil service positions or organized crime) in the mid-century did their best to keep power over the city within their ethnic groups; Boston isn't balkanized anymore, and is progressive on social justice issues, but is still suffering the effects of this power struggle...

moe

Don't let the physical beauty of Chicago fool you. This IS the most racist city in the world. The city government purposely appoints city officials in certain positions because "they" believe it represents a certain group of individuals. Why wouldn't you appoint the most qualified? This trickles down from government into everyday life & business. I practice Real Estate for a living and I've worked for 3 brokerage firms throughout my career. Strangely enough all of the referrals handed to me from my brokers just happen to be Black people or in Black neighborhoods. This is because Chicago is so segregated that a person can figure out which neighborhood is which ethnicity just by boundaries. When I show a home in a wealthy White neighborhood, I'm always asked how safe is the neighborhood. These are mainly people that have relocated from surrounding small towns and cities. Chicago's racism is so deep that they aren't even aware of it. The Midwest and Northeast are still very racist regions.

I have to mention this as well. The Blacks are equally as bad if not worse than the Whites. And the Poles are probably the worst. America's fabric is woven with a thick racist yarn and it will never be changed.

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mj

I'm Asian, and I've lived in a tiny farm town in Missouri, the suburbs of Atlanta, Cambridge Massachusetts, San Francisco, Charlottesville, and Manhattan/Brooklyn.

What's weird is that out of all those places, the worst racism I've experienced is in San Francisco! While I've gotten lots of little racist comments here and there in each of the places where I've lived, San Francisco is the only place where I was actually made to cry. Once, someone accosted me in the street and called me abusive names, and another time, some Asian friends and I were on a bus and a man threw batteries at us (D!), along with some muttered comment.

Obviously SF is NOT the most racist city in America, not even close. But it was surprising.

Greg

Central Mississippi outside of Jackson. I've lived in Missouri, Atlanta Suburbs, New York City, and Florida and saw examples of racism in all those places.

Despite the seeing racism everywhere I've lived, I arrived in central MS completely unprepared for the overt racism I found there.

tw

I think the posts that talk about inter-racial marriages as a metric are intriguing.

The per capital measure of interracial marriage for a major metropolitan area would be an interesting survey.

One would have to back check the "irm" data to make sure how the data-takers define race. It might get tricky.

EL

Boston, where I was spit at, had beer cans thrown at me, and was burned out of my house for an interracial marriage.
Houston where I was attacked on the street by two white men for helping a Mexican who was having a seizure.
I have also lived in: Detroit, San Francisco, Silicon valley, Miami, Ft. Benning, GA, Ft. Jackson S.C. Albuquerque, Denver, Ann Arbor, Monterrey, Los Angeles, Tempe, and Tucson
EL

The L.A. kid

I've lived in L.A. all my life and traveled alot. Im not going to presume it is the worst but Los Angeles is very racist and progressive at the same time. The Latin vs Black beef is a major problem

Mole

Where Ben (#10) lives. "well-meaning whites". Clearly he loves the white devil. Keep the racism machine alive man.