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'White Space, Black Hood' with Sheryll Cashin: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with Georgetown law professor Sheryll Cashin about the history of residential caste and its effects today.

Residential segregation and unequal allocation of resources continues to play a profound role in areas of concentrated poverty, and conversely, high opportunity. Georgetown law professor Sheryll Cashin has spent decades studying housing and how geography is central to American inequality. In “White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality,” Cashin traces the history of anti-Black residential caste, which she says manifests in three forms: boundary maintenance, opportunity hoarding and stereotype-driven surveillance. She joins to unpack her findings and to share strategies for abolishing state-sanctioned practices that further perpetuate inequities.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

Sheryll Cashin: Although residential cast comes out of anti-blackness, it was, frankly, the response to millions of great migrants leaving the south and moving north and west, the primary response to 6 million black people moving over seven decades was to contain them in their own neighborhoods, and then cut those neighborhoods off from the kind of public and private investment that was rained down on white spaces.

Chris Hayes: Hello and welcome to Why Is This Happening with me your host, Chris Hayes.

If you ever travel to other countries, anywhere in the world, as a foreigner, you will have this sort of, I think, more acute vision and perception of what you encounter in the society, often, nothing is familiar to you, everything is new. You kind of look over everything with this kind of curiosity and inquisitiveness.

One thing I think that you really will notice intensely, when you're traveling in a new place, are these lines of class and wealth. You'll understand very quickly if you're in a very, very tony area, in a city. You'll understand very quickly, if you're in a working class or poorer area. You've been perceiving at all times all of these signifiers of wealth and status that exist in the society down to building materials. =

I mean, lots of places you'll see like the building materials will tell you exposed brick, very cheaply made brick in places that are poorer, obviously, like stucco and larger buildings and places that are wealthier. You get a sense immediately when you are in a new place of these lines of class and how they intersect with geography.

I think in the U.S. that exists as well. I think sometimes people get a little more dulled to it, but it's omnipresent in traversing particularly urban geographies in the U.S. This is something I wrote about in my second book, A Colony in a Nation, about these invisible lines, sometimes very visible lines that demarcate where a 'good neighborhood' is and where a bad neighborhood is.

There's all kinds of like advice and mythology around good and bad neighborhoods, where you can go and where you can't go, what you should do if you have to go to a bad neighborhood, who you should be with. All of this, again, if you're a foreigner coming to us or an alien, you would see very quickly a few things.

One is; these lines exist intensely in urban areas, urban centers. They can shift very quickly. Oftentimes, they're not even that far from like the center to the periphery. In terms of geography, you can move a few blocks from areas that are very wealthy to areas that are very poor.

The other thing that would just hit you in the face is race. The role that race plays in what these neighborhoods are, that areas that are blighted, that are in conditions of more obvious physical disrepair, with more abandoned lots with building materials that are worse, with places that have not been touched up in a long time or rehab, in which public services often are worse. You notice garbage hasn't been picked up. All these indicators in places that are predominantly populated by people that are non-white.

This just jumps out at you. When you go to very tony areas, if you walk down, say like, Fifth Avenue between 94th Street and Central Park South, you're going to notice a very different group of people who are predominantly white, not exclusively, but predominantly.

None of this of what I'm saying here is new. I don't think anyone that walks around any urban geography in the U.S. knows about it. But I do think that there's a way in which we just receive this as kind of some feature of the landscape, just the way that there's mountains in some places and flatland in the plains and then there's a river here. It's like, oh, that's the bad neighborhood and that's good neighborhood.

None of this is natural, it all got created. It's all constructed by a whole set of institutional choices, political choices, policy choices, that have been made throughout the years to construct what we think of, again, in modern sort of parlance as 'the ghetto'; bad neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods or my favorite euphemism, the inner city, which is an amazing euphemism because it doesn't ever actually say anything about poverty or race, but communicates both through sheer geography like the center-most part of the city is the blackest and poorest, its inner.

All of that is like the product of long historical processes, both political, institutional, governmental and they're the subject of a great book by my guest today, Sheryll Cashin. Her book is called White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality. She's written other books as well. She's a law professor at Georgetown and a contributing editor to Politico magazine.

Professor Cashin, it's great to have you on.

Sheryll Cashin: So nice to be with you, Chris. Thank you for having me.

Chris Hayes: How did you get interested in this topic specifically?

Sheryll Cashin: Oh, I've been researching this stuff forever, it feels like. I wrote a paper about the affordable housing in Yonkers as a remedy for a famous or infamous segregation suit there. I wrote that paper in law school. I worked in the Clinton White House on community development in distressed urban neighborhoods and I've been a law professor for 25 years now.

It's an obsession. It was like, how is it, why is it that, as you described, we have communities of concentrated advantage and concentrated need that's heavily racialized and for some reason, I have not been able to let go of it. This book is a culmination of two decades of research of understanding.

Basically what it argue is we have a system of residential caste in this country that is as intentional as the racial caste system of Jim Crow, as intentional as slavery was. Each time this country seemed to put to bed a peculiar black subordinating institution. It created another one from slavery to Jim Crow to the iconic black ghetto.

But what I try to shine a light on it is the hood's opposite, affluent white space that these two things are interconnected and part of the same system of residential caste, the one couldn't exist without the other. You couldn't have affluent low poverty, predominantly white space if you didn't intentionally concentrate poverty elsewhere and that's what I'm really illuminating in the book.

I'm also illuminating how geography and segregation alters politics and the power relations that exist and why it is that we over invest in affluent white space and disinvest and as you suggest, particularly in your book, and prey on people in concentrated black poverty.

So I just wanted to give readers the benefit of all my thinking on it, frankly.

Chris Hayes: Why do you think it's an obsession for you? What keeps drawing you back to the topic? It's an obsession for me too, I will say.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. It's like, oh, I'm so glad he's interviewing me because he gets it. He really gets it.

Chris Hayes: Well, for me very formative, so speaking for myself as a white kid from the Bronx in the 1980s, I just had a lot of experience traversing over these lines.

Sheryll Cashin: Right, these boundaries.

Chris Hayes: I think, because I was a child to go back to my monologue in the top, I was noticing it all the time. It's like, oh, this is my friend's house in the projects. This is my friend's house in this neighborhood. This is where I go and get off the bus.

Sheryll Cashin: Right.

Chris Hayes: This is this place that I feel a little wigged out and a little nervous and why do I, and so it's always been a lifelong obsession of mine. Why do you think you keep returning to it?

Sheryll Cashin: Well, I come from a civil rights family. I was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. My parents dedicated their lives to disrupting the cast of Jim Crow, desegregating public accommodations, schools with their children and politics, right?

Chris Hayes: Uh-huh.

Sheryll Cashin: I was sort of taught that it's like your duty, your highest value to spend your waking hours thinking about and trying to uplift people who have less than you, particularly poor black people. That's kind of in my genes and the main structure that oppresses poor black people and black people, generally, in this country is segregation. You cannot understand the persistence of racial and economic inequality in this country without understanding the role of geography where you live, increasingly, is destiny for you, right?

Chris Hayes: Uh-huh.

Sheryll Cashin: I wanted to make transparent, it's been normalized you and I, for some reason, can't stop paying attention to it. But it's been normalized and what I'm trying to say is this isn't the past. We have public policy choices to this day that reifies this caste system, that encourages rather than discourages exclusion.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Sheryll Cashin: In fact, it's getting worse since I wrote my first book. The first book was about this too, The Failures of Integration. In the 20 years since I wrote that book, more than 80% of the cities, the larger cities, the moderate to larger cities, cities with more than 200,000 people, segregation has gotten worse.

Chris Hayes: Residential segregation.

Sheryll Cashin: Residential segregation has gotten worse in the last 20 years, so I wanted to shine a light on this. It's utterly inconsistent with our professed values. Most people believe in the value of opportunity and equality, but we're ordering our society such that actually very few people are winning and what I want to underscore to your listeners is, although residential caste comes out of anti-blackness, it was frankly the response to millions of great migrants leaving the south and moving north and west, the primary response to 6 million black people moving over seven decades was to contain them in their own neighborhoods, and then cut those neighborhoods off from the kind of public and private investment that was rained down on white spaces.

But what I'm trying to underscore is that we're all harmed by it. Only a small percentage of the population, those that can afford to buy their way into high opportunity, low poverty spaces are winning. They get the best of everything, golden infrastructure, wonderful, well-resourced schools with excellent experienced teachers. The best of everything and everybody who's excluded from those places is subsidizing affluent spaces with their tax dollars, with their gas tax dollars, with their sales tax dollars.

I'm trying to underscore the mutuality of it and get people to think about what we can do to disrupt this and create broader opportunity for everybody.

Chris Hayes: Let's talk about the history here, because you just mentioned the sort of origin of what we think of. When we think about the 'inner city', right?

Sheryll Cashin: Uh-huh.

Chris Hayes: Which is black neighborhoods, densely populated black neighborhoods in urban environments in the north, particularly, or outside of the old states of the confederacy, let's say. That ranges all the way west, obviously, to Los Angeles and California and all across a huge swath of the country.

Sheryll Cashin: The south has also followed that pattern. The north led on it, but the south has become pretty segregated, too, but go ahead.

Chris Hayes: Yes, that's a great point. But in terms of the origin story, it's the Great Migration. It's the sort of--

Sheryll Cashin: Right.

Chris Hayes: --essentially, refugees from apartheid in the old confederacy who are leaving to seek opportunity to get out from under the tyranny of essentially rule by fear, terror and legal discrimination that go to the north. What happens as that Great Migration happens, the inception moment of the 'black ghetto' were of inner city neighborhoods.

Sheryll Cashin: Well, it starts in the 19-teens and it accelerates, particularly after World War I where a lot of laborer, a lot of employers are trying to bring more black laborers to work in factories. Black people, I'll give several examples like Baltimore but in most cities, black people were scattered across the city, wherever they can afford to buy, they could largely live.

But when they start arriving in massive numbers, cities use violence, racially restrictive covenant, some cities tried racial zoning for a while until the Supreme Court struck it down. They follow with exclusionary zoning, but they get contained in south side of Chicago, where Michelle Obama is from. Black people were contained in an eight square mile area, an enormous density compared to what whites experienced and they redlined all of those neighborhoods.

For the listeners, if there's a particular city you're interested in, just Google redlining and the name of that city, and a map will pop up and you'll immediately start seeing reporting about this history of response to the Great Migration in your city and I highly recommend you do it.

The federal government, which created the 30-year mortgage, it didn't exist before, made the decision that we are only going to ensure this new credit product, the 30-year mortgage in majority white areas. They had all of the neighborhoods color code and mapped in virtually every neighborhood where great migrants were concentrated, they were marked with a D color-coded red, hazardous.

Many of these neighborhoods were quite vital. Immediately overnight, black people could not get access to traditional credit and so the decline starts there. Then the federal government piles on in addition to redlining, you get urban renewal, many black neighborhoods were mowed down in the name of slum clearance in order to reconfigure cities for white professionals. Where did all these black people who were displaced and used to live in strategic neighborhoods near downtown, where did they go?

Many of them were channeled into public housing built by the federal government or subsidized by the federal government, and intentionally they were assigned on a racially discriminatory basis. White people will live here. Black people will live there. What happens when you create a large high-rise housing project? Chicago is a case book example of this.

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Sheryll Cashin: Just blocks, and blocks and blocks of these high-rises, what happens when you require that 100% of the people in those buildings be black and poor? Overnight, you create a ghetto. It did not exist before. Extreme concentrated black poverty and then the government intentionally, as you mentioned, intentionally gives those areas less services, less sewers, roads, trash collection.

Yes, they look decrepit and the social distinctions that come naturally to people become much more efficient when you overlay geography. You could point to those areas, those people and white avoidance was already hellish. They would drop bombs on homes with black people. Affluent black people managed to get out of the hood, but whites would associate the conditions in intensely disinvested black neighborhoods with blackness and it starts a vicious circle.

Then they pile on with the highways. You look where most of the highways are laid. Any city that had a critical mass of black people, they typically would mow the highways through those neighborhoods, whichever group was most politically powerless. To this day, I cite in the book a federal reserve study from 2018, 2019 and they said that marking these neighborhoods with a D correlates 80 years later with existing present disinvestment decline segregation and the habits exist.

Now, this was opportunity hoarding. Right now I offered statistics to show that what do cities do in the new millennium, when there's this back to city movement, a lot of people want to be in the city, they rained down all kinds of investment in majority white areas. A lot of areas became whiter and they disinvest in the same two decades, they disinvest and a lot of black areas became worse off and it didn't matter who was in charge.

In Baltimore, they discovered to their own horror, when they actually looked at the numbers that they were channeling four times as much money and capital investments in white areas as black areas.

Chris Hayes: Wow.

Sheryll Cashin: In Chicago, it's three to one. White areas in Chicago have been getting three times as much public and private investment. See, when people walk these barriers, which are often right across the street, Del Mar Boulevard in St. Louis is famous. You walk Del Mar Boulevard, one side is the hood and one side is affluent white space. Nobody sees this 80-year history of intentional disinvestment and predation.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Sheryll Cashin: They just look at this side and people tend to tell themselves stories to justify the way they are, so there must be something wrong with those people. It's their individual behavior that has them living like that.

Chris Hayes: Right.

Sheryll Cashin: Nothing could be further from the truth.

Chris Hayes: They're there because they belong there.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. Right.

Chris Hayes: Right. One of the things you just described, you talked about this in the book and you just described now, and I think it's worth just to zone in on it, because I think it's one of the most interesting things that happens. There's a kind of two-step process. There's the residential segregation. They tried to just say straight up like white people live here, black people have live here in law.

Sheryll Cashin: Right.

Chris Hayes: Even the Supreme Court of whatever it was, I think, the 1920s, right?

Sheryll Cashin: 1917, right.

Chris Hayes: Yes, 1917, even that is too much for the Supreme Court even in 1917. It's like no, I mean, we do have a constitution. You can't do that. Basically, it's wink, wink, nudge, nudge after that. It's private contracts and restrictive covenants. It's all kinds of different ways of getting around it.

Sheryll Cashin: It's another form. They go from racial zoning to what's called euclidean or exclusionary zoning, which still is very prevalent.

Chris Hayes: Explain that.

Sheryll Cashin: In many cities in this country, today, it is illegal to build anything other than a single family detached home on as much as 70% of the land. Now, New York City is obviously different. But imagine that 70% to 75% of the land in a lot of cities, you can't build anything than a detached home.

You can shape your social, economic and racial destiny just by using the zoning code. A lot of affluent suburbs won't even allow apartments. Now, I'm talking about like market rate apartments. There are ostensibly racially neutral ways three main processes of current residential caste. The first is boundary maintenance and there are all kinds of mechanisms. The chief one is what I just talked about, exclusionary zoning.

But you have realtors who steer people, racial steering by realtors, you have a lot of nasty discrimination in mortgage lending black and Latino applicants with the same qualifications as whites will often experience discrimination with inferior credit products and higher interest rates or be denied and the federal government spends a lot of money to concentrate poverty.

The federal government channel is about 10 billion a year into affordable housing development. Only about 17% of those units get built in high opportunity places. We're spending money to concentrate poverty.

We got these habits have been going on for decades. That's why I'm shining a light on them.

Chris Hayes: Well, there's two things. There's a sort of the intersection of race and affluence, that's the thing that produces the inner city neighborhood, the bad neighborhood, these two things together.

Sheryll Cashin: Uh-huh.

Chris Hayes: One of the things that's interesting is if you go back, you read like some of the literature like the Chicago south side and William Julius Wilson's work on this and others. There's always a racial segregation, but then there's particularly post World War II and into the 1960s. Work leaves this. Like these are places that are doing better economically at one point and then become poorer over time.

So you have you have neighborhoods that are middle class black neighborhoods that become poor black neighborhoods over the course of time, as essentially, the work leaves those areas, that opportunity leaves those areas, the capital leaves those areas.

There's actual backward stepping that happens in many of these places and many of these neighborhoods that you will hear the stories of from older black folks who will talk about - will shake their head and talk about the way things used to be when the state begins to sort of de-invest and de-industrialization starts to pull resources out of these places.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. William Julius Wilson said that, and this is his book, The Truly Disadvantaged, he claimed that the so-called underclass, which is not a term I use. It was a term he used. But by the way, I call the people trapped in the hood descendants, which is a term of affection for me. That is an acknowledgment of the continuum from slavery to Jim Crow, the descendants of enslaved today are the people trapped in the hood.

But he said that there are forces. One was intentional segregation, but to other it was this dislocation of, as you said, de-industrialization of the urban economy. And the moving away of good paying jobs that less educated black people, black men in particular could have. He said that with the Fair Housing Act and the civil rights revolution, and the opening up of opportunity, middle and upper income black people left the hood.

I agree with him on this analysis. It's ironic that in post civil rights America descendants or anybody trapped in high poverty settings is worse off than they were at least descendants pre-civil rights had the influence and the tax dollars and the models of your higher income brethren, right?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Sheryll Cashin: What I'm arguing is pre-civil rights America, we had a caste system that was based solely on race. Post-civil rights, we have a caste system at the intersection of where you live, your race and your economic status, right?

Chris Hayes: Yeah.

Sheryll Cashin: The good news is that people like myself, I'm sophisticated enough to probably notice discrimination, but to deal with it and I have the money to buy my way into - me and my husband together, most neighborhoods I want to go to I choose to live in a middle class integrated neighborhoods with a long history of blacks and Jews living together rather than affluent white space.

But descendants are uttered by everybody. They're at the bottom of the of this caste system. The two most persistent neighborhoods right now are affluent poverty-free neighborhoods and concentrated poverty neighbors.

Now, it's not just black people with concentrated poverty, a lot of white people are experiencing this for the first time. Concentrated poverty grew fastest in the suburbs in the first 15 years of the new millennium. But the boundaries or the borders to those two extremes are getting harder. Meaning, it's increasingly harder yes to get into affluent white space and it's increasingly hard to get out of the hood and that's a caste system.

All the neighborhoods in between, you get a lot of variation, but increasingly affluent people are living apart from everybody and in all cities, you have direct horizontal competition for limited public and private investment between these types of neighborhoods, and affluent places win over and over. They get more than their fair share of tax investments and private investment. It's a tough message, but it's true.

Chris Hayes: We'll be back after this quick break.


What's also interesting to me too is that the dynamics then become inscribed because anti-black racism is a fact of American and because the association of black people with poverty is so intense, born partly of the process of production of these spaces, you get like, oh, my home values will go down. Now, that is both a reflection of racism and also a fact about how the market will operate, because the market prices in people's racism.

You've got this crazy situation in which it's operating at both levels like the collective production of what property matters, what neighborhoods are good, all that stuff that's constructed by the legacy of racial hierarchy, personal prejudice born over time is like a self-fulfilling production, it conjures the thing that it's talking about.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. I agree with you. But I want to give your listeners some hope to show that it doesn't have to be this way. Let me give you the example of Louisville, Kentucky, racial justice activists, they're associating that city with Breonna Taylor's murder. But Louisville was a hyper-segregated city, I would say certainly in the '50s or early '60s, right. This is Massey in Dentons' work.

At one point, at least 50 cities in this country were hyper-segregated and it was black people who were hyper contained in their own neighborhoods. But over two decades, Louisville goes from being hyper segregated to just segregated and believe you may, there's a big difference for possibilities of accessing opportunity for a person living in a less segregated space.

How did that happen? They were forced to do school desegregation, but then after they did it, they developed a civic culture where people actually liked their integrated schools and people discovered they had more options for the type of neighborhoods they would choose, because no neighborhood was overwhelmed. They didn't have apartheid schools and they wanted to keep that.

So there's like this vibrant, civic culture around integrated schools and so the neighborhoods became less segregated and they've actually been going through this exercise of really understanding the legacy that I just talked about and educating people to try to put more investment into the west end, I mean, the final chapter is called abolition and repair. I try to hold up examples of progressive cities where popular will is not suppressed by mechanisms or a hostile state legislature, there are things you can do.

You can adopt inclusionary zoning, this is not hopeless. But the point is that there's less white flight and avoidance in Louisville and the property values are more stable and more vibrant. So it doesn't have to be this thing of white avoidance being what the market values.

Chris Hayes: Yes. It's a really good point and it comes back to this question about how much of this is zero sum and how much it isn't, because there is sort of zero sum when we talk about the fixed total amount of public investment distributed over various neighborhoods, right?

Sheryll Cashin: Yes.

Chris Hayes: But part of the argument, I think, that you're making is that there's a shared dividend for everyone to collect here if you start breaking down those barriers. Like you can produce a net benefit for everyone in a world and a geography that is less inscribed and less bordered, and less segregated than the one we have now.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. What I argue is that when people collectively, when the city begins to change the lens that they apply to descendants from presumed thug to presume citizen and apply a lens of care and actually see these human beings as potential assets, who can contribute to society if given the chance, it frees you up to try evidence-based strategies that put you in a virtuous cycle of repair rather than this just doubling down on borders.

Chris Hayes: And not a problem to manage, which is the way that the subtext, sometimes the explicit text of so much urban politics is that these neighborhoods and the people within them that you call descendants are a problem to be managed, and that's the goal. It's how to deal with that problem, where to put it, how to police it, how to contain it as opposed to like citizens as assets. Also as like - I mean, I say this in my second book, too - like we light an unfathomable amount of human ingenuity, talent and ability on the bonfire of segregation year after year.

Like just tremendous talent ability, like inventions that won't be invented and beautiful art that won't be made in our system that views fellow citizens as a problem as opposed to a resource.

Sheryll Cashin: It's also very costly for taxpayers. So the three main anti-black processes of residential caste are boundary maintenance, opportunity hoarding and surveillance, incarceration. Incarceration is very, very expensive. I've talked about Chicago, how Chicago has this three to one disparity in neighborhoods it's investing in. It also spends though mightily on incarceration.

There's 851 so-called inner city blocks in Chicago. Every four years, the state is spending a million dollars per inner city block to incarcerate people, nearly a billion dollars every four years to incarcerate people. It's not making their situation with gun violence any better, I cite a study, a scholar at UCLA found that the payouts for police killings of unarmed people, it's approaching to almost three-quarters of a trillion dollars, payouts for mistakes born of inhumane policing, excessive force.

This is not working out very well, it's really not working well for the descendants. But then contrast I give the example, okay, if you change the lens, I love this example of Richmond, California. Richmond, California in the '90s had gun violence rates that were worse than Chicago's, one of the worst in the country. They were so desperate that they took a chance on an idea that a guy who had been in youth development, he saw the roughly two dozens, only like two dozen young men who were really doing the shooting, he saw himself in them. He saw them as three-dimensional human beings capable of transformation.

They know who they were and so what did they do? They hired former felons, old Gs who had aged out of this to go and be disruptors and to mentor these kids and they offered them a peacemaker fellowship and they said, okay, if you are willing to try to change your life, we will give you this 18-month fellowship and we'll help you develop a life map for change. What do you need? You need a GED? You need a job? You need a driver's license? You need cognitive behavioral therapy? Drug treatment? What do you need? Do you need to get up out of here and travel somewhere else? What do you need to turn your life around?

They loved them madly. They surrounded them in love. They gave them the same kind of unconditional love and support that wealthy parents give their kids every day. This program was seeded with a million dollars. Gun violence fell by 55%.

I give examples of this. This is not a hopeless problem, but you have to create what W. E. B. Du Bois called abolition democracy. You have to create a politics abolition, transformation, reparation, whatever term you want to use, lately I'm calling myself an abolitionist, requires not just the tearing down and dismantling of anti-black systems, but the building up of new practices and new institutions that promote democracy rather than undermine it. I celebrate cities, multi-racial cities that are doing that.

Chris Hayes: Yes. Let's talk about that, because I think it could be difficult. Two things, one is that because the accrued legacy here is so intense, I mean, it's literally essentially a century. It's been about a hundred years since like the big beginning of the mass northern migration. You got a hundred years of this built up. It feels daunting to undo, right?

Sheryll Cashin: Right.

Chris Hayes: What are starting places? I mean, I'll tell a story quickly, which is that I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, it's predominantly white. But the district area that the neighborhood is in is considerably diverse. For a long time, this district for middle school had a very competitive admissions system for middle school. This produced, as one would expect, extremely segregated middle schools.

There were the, again, the good schools, I'm holding my fingers up in air quotes. Those were the predominantly white schools, they were the bad schools, those were predominantly non-white. The district under the leadership of Brad Lander, who was the city council member undertook a integration plan, a desegregation plan that got rid of that system, has created us a lottery system that aims to basically integrate the middle schools and so far it's working pretty well.

Parents were on board. I mean, it's one small step, but it's on board. My kids about to sign up to go to middle school and put her choices and she's going to go and she may have to go a little bit further geographically but like this is part of what desegregation looks like in practice.

What are places where you can stick the crowbar in a little bit to start to attack the problem that are actionable for folks?

Sheryll Cashin: Right. Well, first off, I want to say the beauty of understanding residential caste and its processes, once you understand them, then the way forward is clear, you just need to reverse those processes, so inclusionary zoning rather than exclusionary zoning. Greenlining of historically defunded, disinvested neighborhoods rather than redlining and predation, and then more humane police strategies like the one I just gave you.

Here's an example, Minneapolis for all its failings, around transforming policing there, I'll put a pin in that they have a problem there that they need to fix. But on the housing and zoning front, 70% of the land in Minneapolis, and trust me, it's a very segregated city and that's part of the story behind the very different predatory policing that George Floyd and other black men have received. It comes from very black neighborhoods, right?

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Sheryll Cashin: But 70% of the land in that city was zoned only for single family and through an education process, they created a politics where they were able to repeal that by 12 to one. Twelve to one, an overwhelming victory and now every single neighborhood, including the affluent white space that voted against it has to have, God forbid, duplexes and triplexes and they're planning for more dense, multifamily, rationally in high transportation corridors, but over time, it is going to be a less extremely segregated city.

All the research shows that the more integrated a city is, the more vital their economy tends to be and the better off particularly poor children do. This is Raj Chetty's indicia, so that's a concrete example.

Chris Hayes: Inclusionary zoning, so this is something that people are fighting for in lots of places.

Sheryll Cashin: Or fighting against, but there's a NIMBY movement of all the young people who come out of college and have a job but can't afford to live anywhere, California is 3 million units short of affordable housing, right?

Chris Hayes: Yes, it's crazy.

Sheryll Cashin: But that's just a concrete example. But then to the opportunity hoarding, there's a racial equity movement that's going on in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Seattle are among the cities that now require by law, a racial equity analysis, a neighborhood analysis of where they're spending the money precisely to disrupt this pattern of over investing in white neighborhoods and disinvesting elsewhere.

So over time, as some of the defunded neighborhoods begin to get nicer things, there may be less avoids, but also they're just getting what they deserve; parks, trees, health centers. I argue that the last should be first. Some people like to use reparations. I use the word repair, because I want the systems to be repaired, but Evanston, Illinois did come up with a reparations strategy program to atone for its recent sins, racial sins of what they visited upon black homeowners in that city to raise opportunities for black homeownership.

These are things that progressive cities can do. Here's another example that I just love, Lawrence, Massachusetts made all the bus routes from its poorest neighborhoods free. You have no idea if you don't ride the bus, what that means to someone who's trying to get to work, right?

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Sheryll Cashin: There are about 60 mayors that are calling for universal basic income pilots. Well, in one city, I'm forgetting the name of it, but a couple of black cities managed to reduce gun violence.

Chris Hayes: Stockton was the big one, yes.

Sheryll Cashin: Yes. Newark, Gary, Indiana, Savannah through social experiments, but one of them was a UBI pilot, surprise, surprise, you do a universal basic income pilot where the people in the hood, in poor areas are prioritized, surprise, surprise, you get less crime and less violence. So these are some concrete examples that I celebrate.

Chris Hayes: Let's talk about greenlining, because it seems to me that there's some complexity there in terms of investing in these neighborhoods. There's an example in Chicago that I'm pretty familiar with called the 606, which is this really amazing - I had friends actually that started advocating for this for a while - it was basically a strip of railway that went from essentially downtown out to the further west side neighborhoods and it moved through in a very interesting way, neighborhoods of different socioeconomic racial backgrounds.

So through kind of like sort of hipster neighborhoods and then sort of white affluent neighborhoods and then into Latino, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, it was very successful. It's an incredible place, you can go there, and it was public investment.

The idea was here's this park that we're going to invest in, that's going to be a universal asset across these lines of class and race. People can enjoy it and it has been very successful. One problem is that it's raised the property values along the park and it's led to a lot of people, essentially, it's become a sort of vector of gentrification in some ways. It's very desirable now, because, again, you're doing the right thing. This is the thing you want, you got neighborhoods on the far west side that haven't seen public investment.

We say, hey, this is public investment. This is public space. This is a park, we're going to do programs, then you get this next problem. I just have seen examples and you'll see these fights sometimes around public development in areas where people's fear is that, it's a double-edged sword. If you publicly invest in a neighborhood that hasn't had it, you will then bring people seeking that who will then displace the people that have been there forever so that they don't get to enjoy it.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. Well, I get this question all the time. First, I'm going to say the risk of gentrification which can be managed, I'll talk about this in a second, is no argument for not investing in historically defunded neighborhoods.

Chris Hayes: Totally agree with you on that. I completely agree with you.

Sheryll Cashin: Okay. So there's that.

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Sheryll Cashin: But I'm not an expert on this, but I know that there are strategies, if you're proactive and think about it in advance for maintaining or resisting gentrification, there's a community land banking movement where cities - Seattle is one that I feature - where in areas that they're investing in, they transfer land to trusted community institutions, typically nonprofits or CDC or something, but trusted community institutions that are building housing, rental housing with the goal that residents get to stay and have affordable options as communities are being revitalized, right?

Chris Hayes: Uh-huh.

Sheryll Cashin: So it requires thought.

Chris Hayes: Again, when you talk about the on-the-ground politics of this get pretty ugly. Like when you say like NIMBY stuff, it's like people show up those community board meetings and they say, like, I don't want affordable housing and I've covered them. They yell and they organize.

Sheryll Cashin: Right, and there's been a lot of yelling at parent meeting, at public hearings about efforts to integrate more the priced high schools in New York City, right?

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Sheryll Cashin: But this is what returns me to this concept of abolition democracy. We are not going to have the healthy, vital communities that bring all people along that return cities to their prior function of being a place where people could access opportunity and move up without intentionally organizing the millions of people who held up signs in the summer of 2020 saying Black Lives Matter, right?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Sheryll Cashin: You have to organize, you have to run for office like the really progressive new mayor, relatively new mayor of Baltimore and people who have beautiful signs in their neighborhood, in their front yard that say Black Lives Matter, there's still a lot of them in my neighborhood have to support, have to walk the walk.

I appreciate allies, but you have to support these policies and get the people who are at least open to these ideas to come to meetings to do their shouting and say, I want something better than a society that's premised on separation and fear. I cite the beautiful ideas of Bell Hooks, God bless her, she recently passed.

But I cite this powerful essay, she's arguing about love. She said a movement, if it's going to be sustainable, this is Dr. King too, it has to be based on an ethic of agape love, of unconditionally bestowing care on people that you don't know. She talks about how you get joy when you do that. You are emancipating yourself from 300 years of violence, back supremacy and she's turned you to think about what you get when you're joyfully entering a movement that brings care to others, but also hopefully, produces a city where you don't have to be as fearful when you cross a certain boundary.

I watched my parents in this. We were the only black family at a Unitarian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. I'm a Baptist now. I'm a black Baptist now, but my father would recruit those hippie Unitarians and they would come down and march with us and they were very joyful in their biracial activism undermining supremacy and they had a lot of fun doing it.

So what I'm trying to hold up is there's a better way of being in this world and, yes, this is going to be a long fight. You never get to stop fighting for the country you want. But there's a better way of being than just parochially fighting only for yourself and your own children. That's just not a sustainable ethos.

Chris Hayes: Yes. I think that one of the things we're seeing right now like, again, in this sort of micro level of this sort of critical race theory, moral panic happening in school boards and school room meetings, that to your point I've covered and been around zoning fights and I'll never forget, I think I told the story in a podcast before being at a little league game in fifth grade, and dad start passing around a petition on the sidelines, there's a men's homeless shelter they're petitioning against and they make the mistake of offering it to my father who just like turns on them and just starts giving them hell about how messed up it is that they want to keep these people who are desperate out and just lights up.

That like the people that oppose the local men's homeless shelter or the affordable housing or whatever it is are always going to show up to the meetings, always.

Sheryll Cashin: Always. Always.

Chris Hayes: Like that's a given. In some ways, I think there's a whole conversation we had about whether these processes need to be reformed themselves, because they tend to, I think, give outsize weight to people with a certain amount of social capital and investment in the status quo. But to your point like organizing those same people that show up to those meetings who were like, no, we want affordable housing here, because they do exist, it's a question of whether they're organized and equipoise to the folks that are the opponents who always are organized.

Sheryll Cashin: The point is that no one neighborhood should be overwhelmed by poverty. I did celebrate Minneapolis. T was radical to repeal single-family housing. But after all, they only subjected the affluent neighborhoods that didn't have anything else to duplexes and triplexes. California's done the same.

Now, every neighborhood in California has to be open to duplexes. You got to start somewhere, right?

Chris Hayes: Right.

Sheryll Cashin: I've watched this in my own city, God bless Mayor Bowser. She closed down a very massive homeless shelter and has built a series of smaller ones and she made it clear, every single ward including very rich west of the park, ward three, is going to have some, they're developing affordable housing,

Once you get used to it and see, this happened in Mount Laurel, New Jersey that it it's not going to overrun your life. It's okay and more people come along.

Chris Hayes: Yes. The proof is in the pudding sometimes.

Sheryll Cashin: Right.

Chris Hayes: When you actually can bring the thing about and show the people's worst fears of whatever apocalyptic scenario that is going to happen because there's a homeless shelter in their neighborhood does not come about, that becomes a tool for the next fight, because then you have the actual concrete example.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. This is what I really underscore about you don't have to convince everybody, you just have to get to at least 51% majority power with the deciding institution, right?

Chris Hayes: Yes.

Sheryll Cashin: I have a degree in Electrical Engineering. I'm a self-taught historian, a law professor, but I also really understand quantitative stuff. And I believe the math to getting to tipping points is getting easier. All you need is a critical mass of what I call culturally dexterous whites who accept diversity and want to make it work and the people of color. Yes, there are some Latinos and black people who voted for Trump, right?

Chris Hayes: Uh-huh.

Sheryll Cashin: And Asians, too, right?

Chris Hayes: Sure. But if you look at the numbers, strong majorities of those groups lean left of center and with each passing generation, particularly as the fastest growing groups in this country, which is Asians, multiracial people, Latino people, as they begin to engage with politics and feel their power, I think it's going to get easier to adopt, to put people in office who pursue sanity. At least now we can do that in progressive cities. Build your small utopia.

Brooklyn, you're in a little small utopia, right?

Chris Hayes: Well, but Brooklyn, I mean, look, Brooklyn is a perfect example. I mean, I love New York City and I love Brooklyn and I've talked about this on the show before, like the New York I grew up in was a very different than the New York now, which has become much more affluent, less African-American, less black just as city if you look at the demographic change over the last two decades.

But the Bronx in the 1980s was a very kind of diverse place, even though it was segregated in its own way and there were Italian-American white neighborhoods that were not very hospitable to black folks. One of the things that I I'm thinking about a lot in the context of my kids school and the public schools they're in is like living that value, like being part of a solution here to try to do what we can.

Because I do think like, I want the city to be a city where different kinds of people live next to each other from different backgrounds, different races, different socioeconomic spheres. That was a lot of what I loved about the city growing up and I want to make sure that stays, both as honestly selfishly because that's the thing I like, but also out of a perspective of my values and our values. Me and Kate and our household and our family's values.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. Well, I'm proud of you, Chris. I'm proud of you.

Chris Hayes: Don’t be proud of me, I'm not doing anything. I do think, look, my point here and I think your point is really well taken, which is that we do tend to pay a lot of attention to national politics and Trump and the Republicans and all this stuff and there are these small local battles about zoning and schooling and the maintenance of the boundaries that you talk about, the border and boundary maintenance that you can get involved with very easily and try to be on the right side.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. There's actually more demand for stable integrated neighborhoods and schools than there are those institutions to fulfill that demand.

Chris Hayes: Than in supply, absolutely.

Sheryll Cashin: Right?

Chris Hayes: Yup.

Sheryll Cashin: But people have to educate themselves about the policies that will help bring it about.

Chris Hayes: Sheryll Cashin is author of White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality as well as other books. She teaches law. She's a law professor at Georgetown. She's a contributing editor of Politico magazine. Sheryll, thank you so much. That was great.

Sheryll Cashin: Thank you for having me. It's been wonderful.

Chris Hayes: Once again, my great thanks to Sheryll Cashin. If you enjoyed that conversation and you found that interesting and useful, we did a conversation with another law professor named Dorothy Brown, who does her work on some similar themes, but focused on the tax code. She's actually a tax lawyer, tax scholar and she talks about all the ways that racial discrimination, racial hierarchy are actually embedded in our tax code. You should check out that conversation if you haven't yet.

As always, we'd love to hear from you. You can email us, tweet us with a #WITHpod. Why Is This Happening is presented by MSNBC and NBC News produced by the All In team, features music by Edie Cooper.

You can see more of our work including links to things we mentioned here by going to

Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the “All In” team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to