Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Sprawl, and Car Culture

Atlantic Senior Editor Ta-Nehisi Coates was in Cleveland last week talking about his acclaimed long-form article, “The Case for Reparations,” which reviews the history of economic and social oppression of African Americans.

I got to attend the talk, and late in his speech Coates made a few points that touch on the subjects we cover at Streetsblog, drawing a direct connection between racism, sprawl, global warming, and the array of social problems faced by cities like Cleveland. You can watch that part in the clip above, and here’s the whole speech.

Below is a look at how wealth is dispersed in the Cleveland area — essentially the farther from the central city you go, the richer residents are. Why does that pattern persist, even as other cities have seen a reversal? What are the outcomes for Cleveland’s large African American population, concentrated in the central and east-central parts of the region? Why isn’t the relationship between sprawl and segregation discussed more often, with more frankness?

The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image: census.gov
The light portion in the center of this map is Cleveland. Image: census.gov

7 thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates on Race, Sprawl, and Car Culture

  1. Tax policy that sends jobs overseas and then gives investors tax benefits on their capital gains and dividends derived from overseas operations = poor job prospects and loss of jobs in the inner cities.

  2. That could be a map of Buffalo, Toledo, Detroit, Chicago, or Milwaukee, same for almost every other American city. It’s a result of hate and fear, but considered normal.

    So black folks are confined to the “slave quarters” far away from the big house, or caged or shackled in a prison-for-profit facility. God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world.

  3. Here’s what folks should be focusing on with respect to that map: if you draw lines around the “Excellent” school districts, as rated by the State, and all of the other schools districts, the two categories of school districts are clearly distinguished by race. Some might not view that as a big deal, but Ohio purportedly has a constitutional “common school[]” system, which some might view as separate but unequal. Another consequence of sprawl.

  4. I think the school segregation is a cause of sprawl, not a consequence. The court rulings allowing municipal areas to sidestep integration by integrating within districts but keeping city and suburban districts separate encouraged White flight. After rich, educated families left, city district test scores got worse. Because of the bad test scores, the White flight was followed by middle class family flight regardless of race. A few cities have turned their urban districts around, but in many U.S. cities, anyone with kids who can afford it moves out to the suburbs to the best school district they can afford.

  5. Cause or consequence; it really doesn’t matter. But there’s some legal nuance to focus on here. In Ohio (like some other states), there is a state constitutional requirement that the state operate a system of “common schools.” The state created school districts to carry out that requirement. Now, it just so happens that whether those school districts are “Excellent” or something lesser seems to coincide with the school districts’ racial make-ups.

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