52 Soc. Probs. 148 (2005)
Racial Discrimination in Housing: A Moving Target

handle is hein.journals/socprob52 and id is 154 raw text is: Racial Discrimination in Housing:
A Moving Target
DOUGLAS S. MASSEY, Princeton University
A passage from Stanley Lieberson's classic book on the methodology of social research,
Making It Count (1985), has always stuck with me. In it, he considers what a social scientist
might conclude from a regression model predicting black and white earnings from various
background characteristics, including education. Invariably the coefficient for schooling is
strong, positive, and significant-the more education one has, the greater one's earnings.
Moreover, the apparent gap between black and white earnings is much smaller when
schooling is included as a predictor in the equation than when it is left out. In this sense,
the racial gap is explained by lower average levels of education among blacks compared
with whites. Obviously, therefore, all one has to do to reduce the racial gap in earnings is to
increase levels of black education. The social scientist thus recommends that policymakers
design and implement programs to reduce black dropout rates and increase the odds of col-
lege attendance.
Lieberson (1985), however, doubts that reducing educational gaps will reduce the earnings
gap and goes on to sketch a provocative counter-argument:
Suppose we start with a radically different perspective on this question and see where it leads us.
Let us hypothesize that racial or other interest groups will tend to take as much as they can for
themselves and will give as little as necessary to maintain the system and avoid having it over-
turned. In this case, whites will give blacks as little as they can. Under such circumstances, one
would assume that observed interrelations between income gaps and features such as education...
describe ... the current pathways leading from a specific causal force to the outcome of that force.
If so, a complicated causal analysis of factors contributing to the racial gaps in income has not the
causal value one might have assumed. It describes the given set of events at a given time; it
describes what a black person might well follow as a get-ahead strategy if he or she can assume that
not many other blacks will follow the same strategy and hence the basic [social] matrix will remain
unaltered. But there is no assurance that this matrix will continue to operate-indeed, there is vir-
tual certainty that the matrix will not continue to operate if some superficial factor that appears to
cause the income gap is no longer relevant (for example, if the groups end up with the same educa-
tional distribution). In which case, new rules and regulations will operate; the other regression coef-
ficients will change in value in order to maintain the existing system. (pp. 191-92)
Simply put, Lieberson argues that if whites are selfishly motivated to discriminate against
blacks to enhance their own material well-being, then when the government forces them to
end a particular discriminatory practice, they will simply look for other means to maintain
white privilege. If an older discriminatory mechanism based explicitly on race becomes impos-
sible to sustain, whites will substitute new ones that are more subtly associated with race. The
specific mechanisms by which racial stratification is achieved may thus be expected to change
over time as practices shift in response to civil rights enforcement. Whenever one discrimina-
tory pathway is shut down, another is soon invented.
Lieberson's pessimistic analysis suggests that the problem of racism is not likely to be
solved easily or quickly by passing a few reforms and calling it a day. Racial discrimination
is a moving target. One cannot simply ban prevailing discriminatory practices and declare the
Social Problems, Vol. 52, Issue 2, pp. 148-151, ISSN 0037-7791, electronic ISSN 1533-8533.
© 2005 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photo-
copy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.

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