Dr. Kfir Mordechay joins us to discuss gentrification and school segregation. In many places we are living together, but still not learning together. What are the impacts of that disconnect?
We're joined by Dr. Kfir Mordechay, Assistant Professor at Pepperdine University and a research fellow at the UCLA Civil Rights Project to talk about gentrification and school segregation. This kick of to season 5 is a return to our usual podcast format of casual conversations, and this is one we've been wanting to tackle for quite some time. Gentrification comes up in discussions of school segregation all the time and we are fortunate to have Dr. Mordechay to help us think about the possibilities and pitfalls.
Join our Patreon to support this work, and connect with us and other listeners to discuss these issues even further.
Dr. Mordechay in City Lab
Philly Federal Reserve Challenges the Conventional Wisdom on Gentrification
Ingrid Gould Ellen at NYU
Derek Hyra at American University
Maggie Hagerman - Episode 3
Let us know what you think of this episode, suggest future topics, or share your story with us - @integratedschls on twitter, IntegratedSchools on Facebook, or email us firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Integrated Schools Podcast is produced by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.
Audio editing and mixing by Andrew Lefkowits.
Music by Kevin Casey.
Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I’m Andrew, a white dad from Denver,
Courtney: And I’m Courtney, a white mom from Los Angeles.
Andrew: This is Gentrification and School Segregation. And we are back to our usual podcast format. The Between We and They series that we just finished was important to do — and has gotten a lot of traction. But we are also happy to share these more casual conversations with parents and thought leaders…
Courtney: so today, we’re going to be tackling Gentrification with Dr. Kfir Mordechay - we know that different topics and different formats are likely to reach different people in different points in their own journeys, so we are going to keep trying many things.
Andrew: Yes, one of the things we’re trying is Patreon. If you aren’t familiar, Patreon is a platform that allows you to support this podcast, while also engaging more directly with other listeners and us. If you haven’t checked it out yet - Patreon.com/integratedschools - any amount helps us continue to produce this podcast for free, and keeps us from having to sell you stuff in the middle of episodes.
Courtney: We’d much rather focus on school integration than selling you underwear. Although… To everyone who has already signed up, thank you! We’ll be scheduling our first Patreon zoom meeting happy hour soon.
Andrew:, in addition to new ways to engage with you, your support on Patreon will also allow us to upgrade some of our technology. I think today’s episode really highlights the need.
Courtney: Yeah, so our free recording software had some technical difficulties, and Dr. Mordechay and I couldn’t hear anything Andrew was saying, so you won’t hear him in this episode at all. You’ll have to suffer my voice only and I AM SO SORRY about that.
Andrew: it’s a great conversation that I wish I could have been a part of it, but it’s definitely one we have been meaning to do for awhile.,. But it’s also one that we still feel a little bit nervous about doing….
Courtney: Yes. Gentrification is kind of complicated and I KNOW that I don’t know nearly enough about any of it.
Andrew: For sure. But what we do know is that it is happening all across the country. Most every city has at least pockets of gentrification-- maybe in some places it’s the whole city. But one way or another, whiter and wealthier families are moving in to urban areas.
Courtney: Yeah. And, you know, one of the things I worry a lot with our work at Integrated Schools is that we are contributing to gentrification…Right? Like, by changing the ways we talk about schools, are we somehow effectively supporting displacement of families? I mean, I’m not trying to exaggerate our impact here or anything, but… yeah…
Andrew: Right. If we are simply encouraging people to consider schools that white//privileged parents previous thought of as “bad”, in what way does that make them more likely to move into gentrifying neighborhoods and then drive up home/rent prices, etc etc and displace families of color? In what ways is our impact problematic?
Courtney: Yeah. And, you know, maybe I find my way to getting to sleep (because it does actually keep me up at night, worrying about the impact) but… I think that gentrification is happening anyway…
Andrew: Uh, Courtney, I think that’s called rationalization.
Courtney: You’re mean. And probably right. But here’s the thing: So we are in a moment now that we’ve never seen -- at least in our lifetimes, right? We are thinking about race and white supremacy culture as a nation in ways that white people are finally participating in. We are starting to challenge some of the intensive parenting narratives (and we’ll get to that in our next episode) and we ARE actually living in more diverse neighborhoods. So, you know, if we can’t figure out how to make school integration work NOW, what hope do we have?
Andrew: Yeah. I guess 2 things… One, this is an historic opportunity. And two, like with everything we talk about here, it was never going to be easy. Right, we are talking about power, we are talking about privilege, we are talking about race, we are talking about class. We are talking about things we don’t have any track record of talking about in really helpful ways or working on in helpful ways. And three-- okay, i guess three things -- if we ARE living in more diverse, gentrifying communities, we have to think about the responsibilities we have when we get there. How we show up matters.
Courtney: Yeah. What does it mean to be a good neighbor. Exactly.
Andrew: So let’s listen to the conversation with Dr. Mordechay…
Dr. Mordechay: My name is Kfir Mordechay I am an Assistant Professor at Pepperdine University where I teach courses in public policy and quantitative research methods. And I'm also a researcher at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, a think tank that looks at opportunity structure basically in metropolitan areas across the United States
Courtney: Thank you so much for being here. I think to start, maybe it would be good if we got a little definition of gentrification?
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, Absolutely, So in the academic world there are many technical definitions, like if you were going to give it that label, there's definitely no consensus on what that is. But broadly speaking if you just look at neighborhoods that were at one point segregated mostly by racing class also by language, these are neighborhoods that transition and see basically large increases mainly in the white demographic but also in the demographic that has higher rates of educational attainment. And these are also areas that tend to see increases in rents and in the value of the local housing stock That's sort of the conventional way of how researchers have tended to look at gentrification. Of course some focus more on class based elements of neighborhood change while others focus on more racial elements of neighborhood change. Although of course race and class in American society tend to be two highly correlated variables
Courtney: What I think is so interesting about your research is that you are looking at kind of the confluence of gentrification and school segregation.
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah well it just seemed like one of those pieces that not a lot of people were talking about. If you look at the urban sociology literature, it was really framed as this idea of like, you know, there is this suburbanization of white folks in the post World War two era and our central cities as a result of this and as a result of discriminatory housing policies and restrictive covenants et cetera et cetera remained heavily segregated. And as a result our schools also remain heavily segregated. But just spending time in different cities, I started to notice that know if you go online for example and look at the interesting neighborhoods to explore, a lot of them tended to be located, you know, in these areas that traditionally had more dangerous or “stay-away-from” reputations. These neighborhoods are changing obviously people are drawn to these neighborhoods, but the question is what happens upon the arrival of children when the young, gentrifiers get to that age where they're either having families or are considering to have families. And I also started to think about how much cities have changed really since the 1990s just in terms of the safety of cities. If you look at the popular press and even if you look at the quantitative research on homicides in central cities that in many places peaked in the 1990s, we started to see pretty drastic declines at that point.
Courtney: So, there’s been a shift in perception and cultural pressures - it used to be unthinkable to imagine a white / wealthy person would live in the city, and now, hipsters are Pooh Pooh-ing the suburbs and the cities are “cool” again. Do you have a sense of why that happened? What drove that cultural shift?
Dr. Mordechay: You know I think a lot of things had to come in place for that to happen. I think the Great Recession had something to do with it, a suburban housing slump. I think the new geography of jobs that we've really seen emerge in the last 20 years where a lot of the high-tech professional jobs tend to be concentrated in coastal, larger metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago. I think the third piece might have something to do with declining crime -- a young person that is making a decision to live in these areas, it's not like there's a lot of risk that is saliently at least associated with living in these areas like there might have been in the past. And I think the other piece obviously has to do with municipal investments in a lot of central cities. You know places like New York City made conscious decisions to revitalize and to invest billions of dollars and to let private equity go into these neighborhoods where there previously weren't a lot of financial resources. And so I think all of these combined created these spaces. And then of course, these things become self-perpetuating and they build on one another, right? So where the jobs go, people tend to go, especially if people are not necessarily interested in long commutes. They're interested in walkability, right? Like all these things have happened around the last decade and a half or two, I think to create a sort of perfect storm for increases in gentrification which we see across many many of our central city neighborhoods and even some of our smaller cities.
Courtney: So this cultural shift is the backdrop to what is really the crux of your research, right? What is the impact that gentrification has on schools and school segregation? Can you describe your project?
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, so what we did in Washington DC and in New York is we first identified the neighborhoods that were fastest gentrifying since 2000. So we looked at 2000 and we compared neighborhoods in the year 2000 to neighborhoods in the year 2015 or 2016 and then we try to identify those that were most rapidly gentrifying between these two time points. And then at that point, we wanted to look at the changes at the school level - both the traditional public schools located in proximity to these neighborhoods, and the local charter schools located in proximity to these neighborhoods and to see if the demographic changes that are happening at the neighborhood level are corresponding to those happening at the school level. So we looked at school enrollment trends in these neighborhoods and what we did find was that school segregation, especially racial segregation, has declined slightly in these neighborhoods and that enrollments particularly amongst whites has increased in these schools. Yet the increases again does not obviously mirror the increase that we see happening at the neighborhood level.
Courtney: Our neighborhoods are desegregating, and our schools are as well, and it’s going much faster at the neighborhood level, and you’re not seeing it as quickly reflected in the schools... But, I guess this sort of making me think about what a “ideal” student population could look like. Because I think that’s super hard to pin down. So, Los Angeles has 11% white students, so if a school has 35% white kids, is that, you know, a push-back to segregation, or is that a concentration of privilege in Los Angeles?
Dr. Mordechay: I mean, in an ideal scenario I think you have schools being reflected in the demographics of their neighborhood. And obviously there's many different ways to parse that, right? Do you just look at the general demographic? Do you just look at the young people in the neighborhood? What is it that you're looking at? Obviously in places like LA where the predominant demographic overwhelmingly is Latino, you know, how does that look? Maybe there are other characteristics that you might have to consider when you desegregate. But, yeah that number of what actually constitutes a diverse school or what's an overrepresentation of let's just say gentrifier children or white children is, I mean, that's a question that not many people have really looked at or have been able to put their finger on in terms of like what is that appropriate number.
Courtney: Right and it also depends a lot on how you define your community boundaries. If we're talking all of Los Angeles or are we talking about the state of California? Or just one little neighborhood or one high school feeder pattern?
Dr. Mordechay: Right, right, exactly. And it's obvious also that neighborhoods don't perfectly correspond to school boundaries as well. And obviously you have choice schools like charter schools which also take kids outside of local catchment areas that further complicates it as well. But certainly those things can be used as tools to further diversify as well.
Courtney: Can we talk a little bit about the fact that gentrification is is really a bad word, right? And treated as a bad word and there is good reason for that...
Dr. Mordechay: It's certainly in a lot of circles seen as a bad word and I think the biggest narrative around why it's bad is that you have neighborhoods historically that have been predominantly black or a mixture of black and brown and then you start to see an influx of people that don't look like that -- of residents and households that don't look like that. As a result of that, there are enormous housing pressures and housing burdens that ensue in that neighborhood that is gentrifying. And because of that, displacement is caused. So people that historically had let's just say had a more stable housing arrangements now have more unstable housing arrangements, because they can no longer afford to live in that neighborhood. So you have neighborhoods that were close to 100% black and brown and all of a sudden you see that percentage decreasing and you see the percentage of mostly white people and some Asians increasing in that neighborhood. So It's seen as this sort of Colonial Project, you know, if you take the sort of extreme end of the anti-gentrification argument where white people come into these neighborhoods and they displaced these more vulnerable families of color. So that is kind of the backdrop for the negative perception of gentrification
Courtney: And you have push back to that...
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, I do have push back to that, You know, one of the issues if you just look at a neighborhood that at one point was segregated -- predominantly black and brown -- is that you don't necessarily see in the demographic data the residential turnover that tends to happen in the unstable housing arrangements that tend to exist within these neighborhoods. Because what tends to happen in poor and segregated communities is that a poor family will have unstable housing arrangements and they might have to leave the neighborhood and then they are sort of replaced with another poor family, right? So, that difference is not a salient as a poor family being replaced by a maybe more privileged family.
Courtney: Okay, so you’re saying that the research shows that housing turnover and displacement is actually equally likely regardless of whether the neighborhood is gentrifying?
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah. So one of the issues when people look at neighborhood turnover and turnovers and demographics as they don't really think about the counterfactual. That family that was displaced by gentrification or that family that had to leave as a result of gentrification, what would have happened to that family had there not been gentrification? And what we do know in general is that in poor segregated communities there tends to be very unstable housing arrangements to begin with. So, a lot of the research, the more robust work, and there was actually a really interesting piece that was just published by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve and a scholar at the University of Chicago and also Ellen Ingrid at NYU has done a lot of work on this… But what they suggest is that the displacement that happens as a result of gentrification is no more likely pretty much than the displacement that happens in neighborhoods that are poor but not gentrifying.
Courtney: Like the housing turnover and displacement is happening in communities with high concentrations of poverty no matter what? Displacement is a feature of concentrated poverty, then, and NOT gentrification?
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah. Perhaps it's just more salient when the transition happens in a neighborhood where you have a black family, let's just say for example, leaving their household and you have a white family entering into that that housing stock.
Courtney: Yeah, we just notice the displacement more when a white family with more wealth moves in, then? So then, is there any societal value in kind of pushing back on these concentrations of poverty? Like, is gentrification something that could help with that?
Dr. Mordechay: Just looking at the outcomes of children and families and households of neighborhoods that have heavy concentrations of poverty, there's pretty much a consensus in urban sociology and economics that it's associated with a plethora of social and health and economic ills... If there's some way to alleviate this isolation then, it's a good thing. And I think gentrification offers at least a possibility of doing that. But, of course, left to its own devices, it can also be a destructive force as well. And not to say everything about a segregated neighborhood is bad -- I mean, that's certainly not the argument.
Courtney: I think I'm worried here or I fear that you're sort of giving a free pass to white and privileged people, right? Like gentrification happens, don't feel bad about that. Don't feel bad about the impact that your moving into a neighborhood is having...
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah well, that's just more focused on the demographic piece. We know that especially when you look at some of the qualitative work on social dynamics that happens in these neighborhoods, we know that obviously they're far from ideal. A lot of the amenities that results as a result of gentrification tend to not trickle down residents that were there before. Derek Hydra has written a lot about this looking at places like Washington DC where you see stores that had been there for decades closing down and then you have the creation of a third wave coffee shop that obviously only one segment of the demographic in the neighborhood tends to have access to or can actually afford. So, I definitely wouldn't say gentrification is like this utopian scenario where you have people from different backgrounds living together as neighbors and becoming best friends and sharing social spaces. That's certainly not, not what we see happening.
Courtney: Right, the corner market gets shut down for an acai bowl...
Dr. Mordechay: Exactly, yeah exactly. I think so the question is, do you just take a reflexively critical stance and say ‘Okay, well gentrification is a really bad thing.’ Or do you take a stance saying ‘Well, look, gentrification on the one hand is solving one problem which has really concerned policymakers for well over half a century,’ right? The problem of residential and neighborhood segregation. Is it just left its own device is gonna fix everything? Absolutely not. It's probably going to cause other problems as well that we have to think about ways to deal with and solve.
Which is why I think going back to the schooling piece, the schooling piece is really critical here because, it's my opinion that schools tend to be the anchors of community. And until you have schools being integrated in these communities that -- at least in some context are showing some sort of residential integration -- until that happens, then the community is just it's going to be like sort of a pass-through diversity or a social wallpaper diversity where gentrifiers are gonna boast to their friends that they live in this really cool, hip neighborhood that's diverse and, how is it that you don't live in one of these neighborhoods? Yet, you see the actions that they take with with their children, oftentimes opting out of really investing in that neighborhood, then that's that obviously creates a lot of problems and is not ideal.
Courtney: I think we can talk a little bit about the the word “diversity: here, too, right? I appreciated you saying “social wallpaper diversity” and I want you to explain that just a little bit more because I think it's fantastic.
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah well, this notion of social wallpaper diversity comes from this whole idea of liberal parents sort of like virtue signaling to their friends that they engage in diverse activities, that their kid perhaps goes to a diverse school. They'll virtue signal by often times -- and I saw this quite a lot in my qualitative work in New York -- where they'll post on their social media, things like a picture of their kid and line at the school in Brooklyn and you know there's like there's like the black kids in front of him and, you know, like a couple of white kids in there and a couple of Latino kids and they'll post that on social media and say things like ‘Oh, this is what diversity looks like.’ And they get all these likes from their friends. But, yet when you pay close enough attention to how they actually navigate these contexts, it doesn't really seem to have a lot of weight behind it. I think this goes back to the challenges of being a part of a diverse school, in a gentrifying context really in any context. But that kind of comes with a responsibility. And part of that responsibility is having conversations that might be uncomfortable. Because a lot of this happens in spite of good intentions. You know, I spoke with a lot of these parents. They're nice people, they're genuinely interested in diversity, they weren't coerced into sending their kids into the school. They wanted to because diversity is something that they thought it would be a value that benefits their child.
Courtney: As if diversity is something that, you know, that one consumes or gets... as if it is not something that you have to work within, learn to become a part of… Like, it's a benefit to you rather than a way of being....
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah. That's frequently what we see happening in these situations. And one of the challenges with gentrification is that the inequality that you're gonna find in the school between the children of different families is going to be very stark. Like when I was in New York doing some of this research, one of the social workers at school that I was working in was basically telling me, you know, it's hard when you have kids that go to the Hamptons on the weekends and then you have other kids that live in and either the public housing projects or even a local homeless shelter. Creating social mixing within that environment is gonna take effort. And it is going to require a lot of conversations.
Courtney: Right, right. And ones that lots of us aren't well-equipped to have… Including some of us principals or staff. That's right.
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the leadership piece here is obviously a big one.
Courtney: But I'm thinking a lot about what it means to, to be a good neighbor, like as a gentrifier in a community.
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, I think there's certainly a lot of overlap with schools when it comes to this question, right? You go into these neighborhoods, and it's not about you imposing your worldview and your values onto these neighborhoods, right? It’s about a coming together of different values into these neighborhoods. And that's what makes them I think so compelling and so interesting to a lot of people. And when you talk to long-term residents -- and I did this in DC -- that's one of the things that they will frequently tell you. They're like ‘I don't like the fact that these new neighbors, these new white people moved in and now they're telling us to turn down our music all the time at the local barber shop that has been there for 30 or 40 years. Like why are you calling the police and telling them to come and to turn it down? This has been an institution of the neighborhood.’ So again, like it comes with that sort of responsibility. I think schools in a sense mirror that because when you go into the school, again it's not about you bringing in what you necessarily think or know is best for the school, right? But it's kind of a space where people are going to bring their own cultural values into the school and their own unique histories to the school. And that's something that should be valued across the board. Because what tends to happen in these schools, is that they become reflections of the same sort of inequalities that we see in our society.
Courtney: Yes, Absolutely. We talked about this kind of stuff all the time. The ways that you're going to show up and try to remake the school in your image of what a good school should and shouldn't look like.
Dr. Mordechay: Right. And it's so easy to slide into a deficit framework, right? When you walk into a new situation where people do things differently than you, right, it's easy to just look at that and say ‘Oh hey, wow like this is not the right way of doing things. That's like bad parenting’ Or ‘those parents don't really have the same values as I do when it comes to my kid.’
Courtney: Yeah, and then if the school has lower test scores or the PTA isn't raising four hundred thousand dollars a year like, it is hard to look at that without, without thinking through a deficit mindset.
Dr. Mordechay: Oh yeah and I think a lot of parents don't go beyond test scores to just look at what a good school should be. I mean you really get a sense of that especially when people are on the market for homes. And you have conversations about them and they'll be like ‘okay, well like are you looking at the schools in the area? That place has a good school, that place has a bad school’ and literally they'll just look at a single digit score. The school is ranked either eight or nine or three or two and that their judgment of the school is not gonna go past that.
Courtney: So, you talk about the decreased sense of risk that's associated with living in urban centers. And that's what's allowed white and privileged families to move in or that's one of the pieces of that... But yet with the segregated schools, there is this perceived risk, right? We are not, maybe, worried about getting mugged as much as we are getting into Harvard -- the risk of not getting into Harvard.
Dr. Mordechay: As you said, there's this issue of perceived risk. One theory around this is that hyper-parenting or sort of aggressive involvement in one's children becomes sort of a strategy for an age of hyper-inequality where the stakes for success and for economic mobility are much higher today than they were in the past, especially in the United States where there's a lot of economic inequality and therefore education and schooling sort of becomes the tool to get on the winning end of the stick. So that obviously creates a whole other dynamic of how parents perceive schools and the educational opportunities and privileges of their own children.
Courtney: So, I want to ask you know, you say that the that the stakes are higher right for our kids...
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah there's a perception of that, certainly.
Courtney: Is that really real? And Is that real for white families in particular, or families who are middle class or upper middle class? And I know that there's a difference if you are a black middle class family than if you are a white middle-class family...
Dr. Mordechay: Right. I mean, it's certainly different, obviously, for different groups of people. But I think generally speaking, the work on intergenerational mobility does suggest that the cohorts that have come of age in the last few decades have tended to have lower mobility rates than their parents. I think economic inequality is a real thing. People also have a lot of anxiety about their own future prospects and certainly the future prospects of their children. And I think this is a very real anxiety in many ways and a lot of it is also very context specific. I think wealth is obviously very relative, right? You can see your own social positioning in the national context, and, you know, look at it on a distribution and be like ‘Okay, well my social positioning is obviously a very privileged one.’ But then within your own community or within your own neighborhood context, that same social positioning might lie on the, kind of, other end of the distribution, more on the bottom end, especially if you live within a particular type of community. So in that sense, yeah there is a lot of perception issues to this social position anxiety.
Courtney: Right, so the social anxiety the sense of perceived risk about our kids’ futures is something we certainly talk a lot about. And I think, I think, too, there are really good questions to ask around the actual impact of attending “elite” schools.
Dr. Mordechay: I mean the whole narrative of exclusivity in higher education and, you know, the actual value of what you're paying for is something that's obviously coming under extreme attack I think from all corners. So how long that narrative holds up, that narrative has been there for a while, is going to be interesting to see.
Courtney: Yeah. I’m thinking back to Thurgood Marshall's dissent in Milliken that -- I am going to misquote it here, but if we don't learn together will never learn to live together. And I think that you're saying that with gentrification we have learned to live together. Maybe together is in quotes right? But but we haven't really begun to learn together. But this Is really flipping the script in a lot of ways, right? We often hear people say that we can't really address school segregation until we address residential segregation. But, you know, here there’s these gentrifying communities where white and/or privileged families are moving into but NOT sending their kids to the schools. So, you know, we HAVE controlled for residential segregation and yet, still....
Dr. Mordechay: Right. I mean, you know, I wouldn't go so far as saying we've necessarily learned to live together. I think that the verdict is still out. I think that when you're talking about this widespread gentrification that we're seeing right now, that's a very recent phenomenon. Which is why I see sort of a symbiotic relationship between stabilizing these neighborhoods residentially and integrating them and desegregating them educationally. Because fundamentally I think that that is what will keep these neighborhoods diverse in the long term. I mean, the neighborhoods could in theory obviously turn in either direction. The neighborhoods could resegregate or they could become overwhelmingly, let's just say white, in a couple of decades. I mean in a society where your typical American leaves every 5 to 6 years, neighborhoods tend to change quite rapidly.
Courtney: Yeah, we look at neighborhoods in a static way, but that there are always shifting and moving. But how do you think about stabilizing a gentrifying neighborhood so that it doesn't completely flip?
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, I mean I think that there are a lot of things that can be done. I think that it depends on the neighborhood. In places like New York City where you have high concentrations of subsidized housing that frequently is not in the best condition, I think rehabilitating subsidized housing and public housing in gentrifying neighborhoods is really important. I think the other thing -- encouraging development where there's a lot of demand in terms of residents moving in. So I think a lot of building is important as well. And again not just blindly building but using tools that can at least ensure some level of integration - like inclusionary zoning. So again, having requirements for developers to have a certain amount of units within a given complex for low-income people and families. But of course that number, right, of how many units just for example should be designated to low income folks, that is going to be very locally dependent. A lot of that really depends on local land costs, sort of what the developer can muster in terms of the incentive for them to build. Because what we frequently find happening in a lot of places is that developers are not incentivized to build. Therefore supply just becomes further and further restricted. But these neighborhoods become sort of no less desirable. And economics 101 would suggest that is a perfect storm for just a very, very tight housing market which becomes inaccessible to a lot of folks.
Courtney: I'm always thinking about how does knowing these things help me be a better neighbor, right? Like, what kind of individual choices can I make as a white and privilege parent and in gentrifying community?
Dr. Mordechay: Yeah, I mean, I'd say for one, definitely think twice before you protest building in that community because you're concerned that it might change the character of the neighborhood and that whatever you're concerns might be maybe look at those assumptions a little bit more closely. Because frequently what happens at that point is it creates a lot more harm to the people that we might think we're protecting in the process. So that would be as far as the housing piece. And then, obviously, if you are a gentrifier and you're moving into one of these neighborhoods and you see yourself investing in this neighborhood in the long run, get to know your neighbors and understand and..
Courtney: And stop calling the cops for playing their music “too loud,”
Dr. Mordechay: Right. Stop calling the cops on them, yeah. Have your worldview grounded in a critical framework, and understand that we all have built in biases and it's very easy to slip into them. And it's a constant work-in-progress. And especially when you're talking about the school level where this is really in your face because you've essentially made a decision to share a very small space with others that come from completely different worlds than you do.
Courtney: Yeah, I feel like that was a really good ending. So I'm trying to come up with something better, but I think we might have just had it.
Dr. Mordechay: Trying to hit it with a high note, here.
Courtney: This was this was really great. I'm super grateful to you.
Dr. Mordechay: Absolutely. And thank you, Courtney. It's been great to get to know you And I’m definitely onto you guys on on social. So, keep up the good fight and keep up the good work.
Andrew: Nice job, Courtney. I am sorry I had to leave you on your own there.
Courtney: I have to say that one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about since we had this discussion with Dr. Mordechay is that neighborhoods are always changing, right,… and that displacement happens all the time in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. I think this is something that we don’t tend to hear about a lot in conversations around gentrification.
Andrew: Right, yeah. That it’s not as overtly noticeable when families are being displaced and then new families that look like them move in, but that it’s happening all the time.... But, yeah, I definitely worry that this sort of becomes a motivating narrative. Right, that it lets white/privileged parents off the hook for the impact of their arrival in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Courtney: Yeah, and we see that happening, right? That white and/or privileged families move in and we are not investing in the existing neighborhood community — and most, most specifically in schools.
Andrew: Dr. Mordechay’s work certainly shows that.... And our neighborhoods are becoming more diverse and they’re becoming more diverse more rapidly than our schools. It IS happening in schools but just not as quickly. And this speaks to me about the arguments we often hear that we can’t fix school segregation until we fix residential segregation. I mean, I think the two, the two are clearly linked....
Courtney: — but they also are distinct in many ways, too, right?
Andrew: Right, yes, right. Residential segregation is real. And it’s real in many areas but it’s not real everywhere..
Courtney: But then, when we DON”T have residential segregation, like in gentrifying communities, we are still seeing white &/or privileged families choosing not to send their kids to black and/or brown schools. This is why the we-have-to-fix-residential-segregation argument is so frustrating. It just feels to me like a pass-the-buck argument —- .
Andrew: Yeah, I mean, but there is plenty of work to do on residential segregation, right?
Courtney: Yeah. But for those of us living in gentrifying or diverse neighborhoods, are we there to appreciate “diversity” as, as kind of a commodity, and that’s a cool thing about us? Because it’s that wallpaper diversity that Dr. Mordechay was talking about. We like to have diversity almost as decoration but not as the substance of our lives...
Andrew:. And that goes for our schools as well, right? It’s not just sending our kids to the schools that are “diverse” but are actually the highest concentration of white kids in the district…. But it’s about making choices about school that push back on the concentration of poverty and privilege that work towards a goal of more integration, which means, clearly means different things in different places, as you said, right? The goal of more integration in suburban Oklahoma City can’t be the same numerically as it is in downtown LA. But being part of that work is what’s really important, you know, and that might mean being the only white and/or privileged kid in your school.
Courtney: Yeah, yeah, I mean, that’s right. And, you know, tying our fates together, being in community especially at school is a much different project than moving into a community for the fancy coffee and walkability, right? You know, if we do live in a gentrifying neighborhood and DONT send our kids to integrating schools in these neighborhoods, what would Dr. Hagerman have to say about what we are modeling as parents?
Andrew: Right. Throw back to Episode 3, right?… Our kids pay a whole lot more attention to what we DO than to what we say.
Courtney: Yeah, like last night: “Mom, you can’t be texting Andrew while we are at dinner!”
Andrew: That’s fair.
Courtney: But, as one of our listeners wrote a while back -- and, yes, we finally got to gentrification, Scott! -- in the inverse situation, if we live in a largely white community and send our kids to a school that is serving mostly black and/or brown kids, are we expecting our kids to do the “work” that we ourselves aren’t doing? And what does that mean?
Andrew: Right, yeah. But then, what, what’s the impact in those situations? That at least we aren’t driving up home prices and gentrifying neighborhoods ..? There’s not one way to be the perfect white person.
Courtney: I know we all want THE MANUAL and yet...
Andrew: It’s a lot to wrestle with here, individual choices, systemic systems, race, power, privilege… But I think, you know, we have to keep in mind that we white and privileged people have like a “privilege footprint,” right? So the question is how do we minimize how much of that footprint ends up stepping on other people...
Courtney: Yeah, and this is something of a side note, but I think it’s important to talk a minute about the framework of “supporting our local schools!”. We hear a lot from white ppl in gentrifying communities.
Andrew: Yeah - this is one of those things white people seem to either really love or not depending on whether it makes our schools more or less segregated. Right, like, in a white / affluent community, it’s the rallying cry against desegregation efforts, right? Like, but in gentrifying communities, it can often been the rallying cry for newly arrived white and privileged people to come and “take over” an existing school. Like - we don’t have to drive our kids to the private school on the other side of town, if we just all walk to the neighborhood school, we can “make it good”. We end up talking about walkability and not about integration . . .
Courtney: Yeah, so we are talking about desegregation, using “Neighborhood schools” in gentrifying communities, but this doesn’t really set us up for talking about meaningful integration. And if we aren’t talking about integration, we are just NOT talking about integration. And here’s another thing, and ot’s probably not the right time now to talk about this (and I really probably need to think through this a bit more), but I have been thinking a lot about how “diversity” feels like the new colorblindness… And maybe, we, we need to stop throwing the term “diversity” around so wantonly....
Andrew: Hm. That’s interesting. Like, if we, if we stop at “diversity,” we don’t get to inclusion or integration. And that is where — and that’s where Dr. Mordechay was saying, too, right? — gentrification can be really destructive if it’s just for the “diversity” and doesn’t actually get to the inclusion or integration. I think, you know, being a good neighbor is not just moving in and replicating our ideas of what a neighborhood or school should be.
Courtney: Right. So, desegregation is “being there” but integration is showing up in a way that puts the onus on us, white and/or privileged families, to do the work of building trust in a community.
Andrew: Being a good neighbor… yes. It’s a lot to wrestle with -- you know, it comes down to really being reflective about the impact of our choices for where we live and where we send our kids to school because it’s all related. But we can dig in deeper over on the Patreon forums, Courtney. patreon.com/integratedschools - support this all volunteer effort, and let us know what you think.
Courtney: And, for our next episode, we will be talking with Dr. Jessica Calarco on intensive parenting and school segregation — and I am really looking forward to this episode..
Andrew: Me too… that conversation with Dr. Calarco was great… So, let us know what you think, what topics we should cover, what you’re struggling with - send us an email email@example.com, join us on social media @integratedschools, or on our website - integratedschool.org.
Courtney: And as always, we are grateful to be in this with you as we try to know better and do better....
Andrew: See you next time.