Chapter 1.4: Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders



List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
    Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
    Negro Pioneers and White Flight
    Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
    Symbolic History and Self
    Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
    The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
    Indians, Geology and Transportation
    Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
    Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

    Irish and Italian Catholics
    Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
    Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
    Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
    The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
    Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
    Attidues of Heirs
    Apartment Houses: The Big Change
    The Life of a Tenant and a Building
    Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
    Achievement and Residentia Movement
    The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
    The Community Paradigm
    Implications and Applications


Most of the problems created by the "normal" ecological approach to urban neighborhood study, which emphasizes demographic analysis, are the result of the view that social science should be as "naturalistic" as possible. Leon J. Goldstein states that a naturalistic social science is "...a social science which takes as its point of departure not the living experiences of members of a society, but, rather, the questions that the investigator thinks are worth answering" (1965:88). Because of the methodological and theoretical biases of those who take the naturalistic approach, the residential movements of lower status minority groups in American society are treated as though they were part of a natural process completely controlled by the severe limitations placed on their options for residential location. Naturalistic social scientists are especially interested in the macrological processes and events that are beyond the control and even the everyday experiences of ordinary people.

This approach makes absurd the suggestion that a researcher, such as myself, should ask people about the "why's" and "wherefore's" of their residential movements. I suggest on the contrary that much can be gained from such investigations. The undeniable fact of institutionalized housing discrimination in America obscures the differential degrees of housing options within minority populations, and between those groups who are universally discriminated against. One cannot seriously argue that light-skinned blacks have the same degree of difficulty being accepted by white neighbors as those of ebony complexion, for example, or that there is some measure of difference between the housing choices afforded to upper and lower income minority group members. One would assume that such naivete concerning racialism was demolished by John Dollard's study of Class and Caste in a Southern Town (1949) and other reports on the complexity of American racial, ethnic and religious bigotry.18

Middle- and upper-middle class minority group members, socialized well to hold American middle-class values, do attempt to locate themselves and their families in neighborhoods that reflect, or support, their claims of social respectability. We might even argue that for them the visible symbols of middle-class status are even more important than for middle-class whites who take their situation more for granted. Despite the fact that middle-class non-whites are a minority within a minority, the greater economic and social advantages of these "elites" increase the residential options available to them. This statement is not intended to over-gloss, or to downplay, the extreme problems of housing discrimination for American non-whites, but to differentiate the locational problems of higher status individuals from those of lower class minority group members. These class-related differences in housing location and lifestyle are apparent in the classic studies of white communities such as Whyte's Street Corner Society (1943) and the Lynds' Middletown (1929).19 Unfortunately, modern social scientists choose not to see differences within minority ethnic groups, perhaps for ideological reasons.

There are then, within and between racial and ethnic groups, relative degrees of selectability of neighborhood and type of dwelling accommodations. There are also central residential and housing values in American culture which are transmitted to all members of the society. These community values are a part of what may be termed a general (although not exactly universal) "culture of community" in America. Structurally, and naturalistically, all members of society are provided with various degrees of access to, and financial ability to attain, these housing and community goals. As with past white European invaders into occupied city neighborhoods, today's better-off non-white invaders will tend to occupy the best possible areas of restricted residential space. Even within this more "open" territory presented to them, such as deteriorating inner-city areas, they will locate in the most desirable sections of those areas, as compared to the less powerful and less advantaged members of the same ethnic group. When living in the same neighborhood with less advantaged cohorts, the elites will occupy the more valued and prestigious accommodations as noted by National Urban League studies.

Although all these social facts can be understood in normal ecological terms, the symbolic perspective offered in this work makes more understandable the processes involved in locating people in particular neighborhood community settings. It also helps explain why some locations and types of dwellings are more desirable than others, and leads one to consider the processes by which socially valued meanings, which can increase or decrease the attractiveness of neighborhoods, are learned, discovered, transmitted and used to evaluate one's community, and elatedly, one's social and psychological self. In the end, it is these processes which can also foster neighborhood stabilization or its unfortunate deterioration.

<< To Ch. 1.3 | To Ch. 1.5 >>

Notes to Chapter 1.4

18. See: Erbe (1975), Gossett (1963), Allport (1954), McCord et al. (1969), Myrdal (1944), Riemers (1972) and Sheatsley (1966).

19. Thomlinson notes: "Whether the minority be defined by religion, race or nationality; whether the city be in Asia, Europe, or the United States; or whether the group segregated be composed of complete 'pariahs' or merely 'social inferiors' some degree of physical separation is practiced more or less everywhere" (1969:13). He also notes, "Climbing into the upper brackets does not remove a Negro from the prospect of residential segregation, for high‑status Negroes often have their own "gilded ghettoes" (1969:14). For other works on ethnic, racial and economic segregation see: Molotsch (1969), Willie (1975) and Wolf et al. (1967).

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