When you’re a Negro in America, your money does not make you better off, it just makes you a Negro in America. Period.
MILWAUKEE — Their daughter was sick and they needed family around to help care for her, so JoAnne and Maanaan Sabir took an unexpected detour.
They had spent years blowing past mileposts: earning advanced degrees and six-figure incomes, buying a 2,500-square-foot Victorian with hardwood floors. Yet here they were, both 37, moving to a corner of town pocked by empty lots, cramming into an apartment above Ms. Sabir’s mother, in the very duplex that Ms. Sabir’s grandparents had bought six decades earlier.
Their new dwelling was in a part of the Lindsay Heights neighborhood where more than one in three families lives in poverty; gunshots were too often a part of the nighttime soundtrack. They planned to leave once their daughter, Ameera, was healthy.
But then, reminding them of why they feel at home in communities like this one, their new neighbors started frequently checking on Ameera: Is she doing O.K.? And on their son, Taj: When’s his next basketball game? Mr. Sabir’s car stalled in the middle of the street one night, and it was the young men too often stereotyped as suspicious who helped him push it home. So many welcoming black faces like their own, they thought.
“It felt like that’s where we should be,” Ms. Sabir said.
Now, two years later, Ameera, 14, is healthy. And the Sabirs have not left. They have, in fact, only strengthened their resolve to stay after a fatal police shooting last weekend led to fiery unrestthat was also fueled by frustrations over race and segregation. Rooted where they are, the Sabirs point to a broad yet little explored fact of American segregation: Affluent black families, freed from the restrictions of low income, often end up living in poor and segregated communities anyway.
It is a national phenomenon challenging the popular assumption that segregation is more about class than about race, that when black families earn more money, some ideal of post-racial integration will inevitably be reached.
In fact, a New York Times analysis of 2014 census figures shows that income alone cannot explain, nor would it likely end, the segregation that has defined American cities and suburbs for generations.
The choices that black families make today are inevitably constrained by a legacy of racism that prevented their ancestors from buying quality housing and then passing down wealth that might have allowed today’s generation to move into more stable communities. And even when black households try to cross color boundaries, they are not always met with open arms:Studies have shown that white people prefer to live in communities where there are fewer black people, regardless of their income.
The result: Nationally, black and white families of similar incomes still live in separate worlds.
In many of America’s largest metropolitan areas, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, black families making $100,000 or more are more likely to live in poorer neighborhoods than even white households making less than $25,000. This is particularly true in areas with a long history of residential segregation, like metropolitan Milwaukee.