Commentary: Study Finds Greater Opportunity for Blacks in South Than North

New research suggests that the “opportunity gap” separating Blacks and Latinos from whites is significantly narrower in the South and the West than it is in the Northeast and Midwest.

It’s well known that the South has been the hotbed of American race problems for centuries. First there was slavery, which wasn’t strictly limited to the South, but became the basis of Southern society and politics, as well as economics. Then, after the Civil War came Jim Crow laws and the Klan. In the years since segregation has fallen, America’s most infamous racial flare-ups — the Jena 6, Confederate flag debates and the like — without fail seem to happen somewhere in the South.
Despite the history, many African-Americans have been moving to the South of late, leaving behind major Northern cities where Latinos have taken root. At first the Black exodus from places like Chicago into the South may not make a lot of sense, especially if you’re particularly well versed on the atrocities that went down in places like Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss., years ago. But a new study released today by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, may help explain the migration.
According to the study, which comes on the heels of research that says segregation in America is falling, the “opportunity gap” separating Blacks and Latinos from whites is significantly narrower in the South and the West than it is in the Northeast and Midwest. This data, which looked at things like residential segregation and public school quality, runs counter to what we’ve come to expect in America. The South is supposed to be bad for Blacks, and the North is supposed to be good. Experts say that’s not necessarily the case anymore.
“The story of both opportunity and challenges in the U.S. varies widely from one metropolitan area to another," Margery Turner, the Urban Institute’s vice president for research, told USA Today. "Many Blacks and Latinos are overcoming barriers. There are many success stories…but gaps remain, and they are significant."
The institute never said that this means Blacks in the South have a perfect life — they certainly don’t, and financial disparity between Blacks and whites continues to persist throughout the country. But what this does suggest is that times are changing. No longer should Blacks necessarily fear the South as a place where opportunity is nonexistent if you’re too dark. But this should serve as a reminder to people in New York and Chicago who like to mock the Southern states as being racist hellholes. All is not well in the “liberal” North, either.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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