Minority isolation is a stark reality in North America. However, its manifestation and magnitude differs tremendously between Canada and the US. While Canada has ethnic enclaves, its housing patterns do not represent the extreme stigmatization and isolation that is prevalent in US ghettos. In fact, research shows that the prevalence of racialized ghettos in Canada is quite questionable as most locations are highly dispersed and racially neutral.
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Furthermore, economic mobility is possible for those who live in them. Conversely, US ghettos embody extreme stigmatization of minorities. Socialization systems fail their residents and lead to continuous perpetuation of poverty from generation to generation. Therefore, while racial segregation in ghettos is endemic, plagued by poverty and involuntary in the US, Canadian ethnic enclaves are voluntary and heterogeneous in terms of income.
Comparison of racial segregation in housing between Canada and the US
Polikoff (2006) explains that Ghettoization is very much alive in the US. Segregation in housing has led to the development of racially-defined ghettos which entrap their residents. These ghettos arose as a result of numerous economic and social reasons. First, policies in the US have historically favored white land and home ownership, which has led to segregated housing patterns.
In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Act created a policy that provided loans to white home owners. In the subsequent decades, whites could enjoy tax exemptions while non whites could not. Construction firms built cheap and massive houses in the inner cities while a series of whites left for the suburbs.
Attempts at integration in the 1960s only perpetuated further zoning as white sub urban communities created their own municipalities. This provided them access to funds meant for all urban residents. Realtors also perpetuated racial discrimination by leasing and renting to certain races. Therefore, black settlers only had cheap housing in which to live. The result was an excluded minority-based residential community.
Conversely, racial minorities in Canada, who live in the same residential areas, did not suffer from continued discrimination in housing. Instead, most of them chose to live together for voluntary reasons. They came together in order to communicate and commune with one other.
Most ethnic immigrants spoke different languages and adhered to different cultures from the mainstream. They chose to live with persons who shared their background in order to feel comfortable. Therefore, unlike their American counterparts who were forced into the ghetto by discrimination in housing, racial minorities in Canada chose to live in these locations voluntarily. These individuals had the option of leaving those ethnic enclaves if they wanted to because social and economic policies were not stacked against them.
In essence, those enclaves are temporary neighborhoods that meet the needs of residents and then prepare them to integrate into the rest of society. Several locations in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are increasingly heterogeneous. This implies that there is no systematic growth of racial minorities in these locations. The racial character of former enclaves keeps shifting to indicate that a lot of integration is taking place.
US racialized ghettos are characterized by a high level of social isolation. Residents are cut off from institutions that form part of mainstream society. This implies that they do not have access to networks that would furnish them with employment opportunities. As a result, they are trapped in a cycle of continuous unemployment.
Other classes and ethnicities rely on business networks to secure employment, but African Americans in urban ghettos do not have such an advantage. They lack community associations that would provide them with such a platform. Members also do not attend school or political meetings regularly. Middle income blacks prefer not to interact with their low income counterparts as a result of fear.
Since crime and drug activities are rife in these ghettos, African Americans who would have helped the economically disadvantaged do not do so due to environmental constraints. Social cohesion, friendship ties and voluntary activities are elusive in racially segregated American ghettos (Whitehead, 2000).
Conversely, Canada appears to have the opposite problem. Ethnic enclaves in some parts of Canada like Toronto and Vancouver have immense levels of social networks. Chinese immigrant populations in these cities have high incomes and above average home ownership rates.
These networks emanate from community associations between immigrants of this particular group. The individuals have also taken advantage of their family ties in business to apply for mortgage loans, which have allowed them to own homes easily. It should be noted that these ethnic enclaves were not always like this in the past.
During the early 1900s residential locations with many Chinese immigrants were run down, filthy and crime-prone. However, adjustments in property taxes and the continued arrival of wealthy Chinese immigrants led to an adjustment of these racial enclaves (Evenden, 2004). Residential areas predominated by this ethnic community turned into historical sites rather than dysfunctional locations. Therefore, while the US ghettos continue to deteriorate, racial minority residential areas in Canada continue to flourish.
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Decline in employment opportunities within ghettos in the US explains why the ghettos are racially segregated. Prior to the 1960s, African Americans in general could not access employment opportunities due to racial discrimination. However, after racial reforms and affirmative action, blacks could now access employment opportunities.
Most of them did blue collar jobs in manufacturing companies. However, subsequent decades saw a decline in manufacturing jobs as most of them were relocated to other parts of the city. Individuals from these ghettos could no longer access jobs and had to cope with increasing levels of poverty. Furthermore, even small business organizations that would have offered employment opportunities took a flight from these predominantly black ghettos. They left because manufacturers that supported the residents no longer existed.
It is difficult for residents in these neighborhoods to look for work in other parts of the city due to racial discrimination in white-only parts as well as challenges in transportation. As a result, a great degree of poverty is now prevalent in these communities. Many black, ghetto residents have turned to a life of crime and drugs in order to cope with unemployment. This has led to greater ecological deterioration of their housing units.
Canada does not seem to suffer from this problem. Persons of one ethnic community may represent the majority in a certain neighborhood; however their work choices do not necessarily come from the same area (Walks & Bourne, 2006). Racial discrimination is not as serious a problem in Canada as it is in the US. Blacks, Chinese, and other Asians can seek work in different parts of the city. This implies that even if unemployment levels diminish in their neighborhoods, racial minorities are free to look for it elsewhere.
Conversely, African Americans are trapped in their respective ghettos because they are likely to face suspicion from members of other neighborhoods. Their low income status also prevents them from owning cars and this limits their mobility. Immigrants in Canada do not seem to suffer from this challenge.
Migration patterns in US ghettos also perpetuated the racial demographics in those areas. First, high income or middle income blacks left the ghettos. Many of them explain that insecurity is the key driver for their departure. Financially stable blacks worry about the safety of their property in the racially segregated ghettos. Since unemployment is rife and policing is virtually ineffective, well-to-do residents have to worry about the theft of their property.
This has caused many individuals to leave the ghettos and move to the suburbs (Billingsley, 1992). Poor blacks have now been left in these residential communities. Another migration pattern is the entry of ethnic groups into these residential areas. Many immigrants lived in these urban ghettos and perpetuated the poverty situation in the locations. A number of them were willing to work for lower wages than their African American peers.
This has depressed minimum wages and added to the job competition among residents of racially-segregated ghettos. Immigrants from poor countries were also more qualified than their counterparts in the ghettos. Skill transferability was not possible for the immigrants.
Therefore, a number of them took low level jobs even though they were highly qualified. For instance, an engineer from Venezuela was willing to work as a carpenter’s assistant in the US. This made them preferable to the local population in the ghettos. Immense competition in these neighborhoods further narrowed employment chances for blacks and thus perpetuated poverty even more.
Studies indicate that migration patterns also have a large role to play in understanding ethnic enclaves in Canada. Immigrants who arrived in Canada after 1977 have had to deal with lower incomes than their counterparts before that. This is due to factors that have also been cited in the US ghettos. Foreign credentials are devalued in Canadian companies.
Therefore, immigrants cannot transfer their skills from their home countries into the Canadian labor market. Institutionalized occupational exclusion makes immigrants have fewer job prospects. Consequently, when they make residential choices, many of them will select neighborhoods that are easily affordable. This pattern explains why certain ethnic enclaves are characterized by low income workers. However, the extent to which these patterns exist is minimal as those enclaves are widely dispersed (Dib & Sriraman, 2007).
In the near future, it is likely that poverty, disadvantage and entrapment will pervade the racially-segregated ghettos of the US. The factors that created the ghettos are too deeply engrained to be eradicated immediately. Several housing stakeholders, like banks and mortgage lenders, have redlined racially-defined ghettos, so residents have minimal hope of owning or improving their houses.
Furthermore, some economic problems like the departure of industries and competition from immigrants are difficult to reverse. It is also hard to change social habits like networking when basic safety is a challenge.
Conversely, Canada is unlikely to witness emergence of racialized ghettos because the composition of most of its low income residential areas is mixed. Furthermore, visible minorities are few in number thus implying that they are likely to be dispersed. Avenues for social mobility are extensive, and this allows racial minorities to move or leave in ethnically-oriented neighborhoods.
Racially-defined residential areas in the US are ghettos. Residents have been forced there by involuntary factors like racial discrimination in housing and employment. This has led to unfavorable social traits like poor networking or community interactions amongst these racial minorities.
As a consequence, poverty keeps increasing and members have no way out. Conversely, Canadian racial minorities living in homogenous areas are not entrapped. They chose to live in those locations and can leave them. Minorities are few in number, have networks and are highly dispersed. Their situation is much more favorable than their counterparts in the US.
Billingsley, A. (1992). Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: The Enduring Legacy of African American Families. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Dib, K. & Sriraman, B. (2007). The myth of ghettoization in urban Canada and Le Ghetto Francais. Plan, 3(6), 22-27.
Evenden, L. (2004). Vancouver’s Chinatown: Racial discourse in Canada. NY: Routledge.
Polikoff, A. (2006). Racial inequality and the black ghetto. Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, 1(1), 1-25.
Walks, A. & Bourne, L. (2006). Ghettos in Canada?. The Canadian Geographer, 50(3), 273-297.
Whitehead, T. (2000). The formation of the US racialized urban ghetto. Web.