Books on Segregation in Review

April 25, 2022 Uncategorized 4 ★★★½

Books on Segregation in ReviewTitle: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Author: Richard Rothstein
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

One small problem I had with the beginning of this book was the framing. The author was inspired to write this book about the active role of the US government in promoting residential segregation because of a Supreme Court decision that denied this reality. He seems to think that if future Supreme Court justices just knew the truth, they’d make different decisions. While I do think we’d be better off with Justices who’d read his book, I also found it painfully naive to believe that our current Court majority is ignorant of the facts, not just ignoring them.

Another small, personal problem I had with this book is that it covered a lot of ground I was familiar with. It especially overlapped with Race for Profit, a book focused on predatory loans made to Black families. However, this book is much less academic and takes a broader view of government-driven residential segregation. This book also includes a lot of great anecdotes, while still sharing enough statistics and taking a broad enough view that I was convinced the anecdotes represented general problems. I felt the focus on anecdotes was a real strength. It’s difficult to prove cause-and-effect with simple statistics about segregation. An anecdote about white government officials lamenting the fact that racial segregation is illegal and they have to find other means to accomplish the same goal makes cause-and-effect much harder to deny.

Despite reading a lot about this topic, which sits at the intersection of my interests in racial justice and urban planning, I did learn some new information in this book. Mostly that things were worse than I thought more recently than I thought! For instance, there were more than 100 instances of move-in violence against Black families moving into majority white neighborhoods in 1989 alone. This book was also the best introduction I’ve found to this topic. It would definitely be my first recommendation to someone looking to learn more.

Books on Segregation in ReviewTitle: Segregation by Design
Author: Jessica Trounstine
Source: Library
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Although this was a more challenging and more academic book than either The Color of Law or even Race for Profit, I really liked it! It took some effort to read and it’s analytical enough that if you don’t understand linear regression or know what entropy is, you will get less out of this. Not much less though, since the author does a great job translating her modeling methods and the conclusions they support into prose. This book reminded me of why I love books by people who’ve devoted their life to studying a particular topic. It opens with a fascinating new framework for thinking about segregation, which the author shows used to happen between blocks, then between neighborhoods, and now primarily occurs between cities.

I thought this book did a great job explaining why it matters if segregation is driven by government actions. In particular, government-driven segregation means that people lack recourse; segregation becomes a systemic problem; and sustained action from individuals is no longer required to maintain segregation. The author also did an incredible job explaining her data set, her methods, her conclusions, and any limitations of her work. The use of footnotes meant the writing flowed well, while still being admirably thorough. I have to admit that this was a challenging read and I don’t think its one everyone will enjoy. I learned a lot though and I’m glad I put in the effort to read it!

4 Responses to “Books on Segregation in Review”

    • DoingDewey

      I’d heard good things about it too and I think it lived up to the hype. I didn’t love it, but I’d certainly never hesitate to recommend it.

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