Wonkblog is a regular source of fresh ways of looking at big political themes of the day.

Lately, it has been soliciting from big thinkers their nominations for the best graphs of the year — stories told in stark statistical terms.

This nomination is from The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, a favorite of mine to begin with.

It takes exception to the growing popular notion that class more than race is an impediment to mobility in post-racial America. Coates responds with a graph by Patrick Sharkey, who wrote “Stuck in Place.”


This is wrong. And Sharkey’s chart is just one reason why. Basically it shows that huge swaths of black people live in neighborhoods with poverty levels that virtually no whites ever experience. And this finding has been consistent across post-Civil Rights history.

If you look at the chart, in the first generation, 62 percent of black people but only 4 percent of white people lived in neighborhoods where 20 percent or more of the people were poor. The numbers aren’t much different in the second generation. And in both generations, only a third of black people live in neighborhoods with under 30 percent neighborhood poverty. Only 1 percent of all white Americans lived that way.

So, even those black people who make the middle class are not the same as white people of the middle class.

Black people — regardless of class — live around way more poverty than even poor white people. Incidentally, this is also the reason one should be very skeptical when people say things like “controlling for income” or “controlling for class.” For black people, class is racism. We should not be shocked by this. We’ve had some 350 years worth of policy with that exact goal. America is working as intended.

Little Rock has provided and continues to provide examples of the phenomenon. Right now, the Waltons are bankrolling an effort to build a “charter school” — essentially a publicly financed academy for a select, predominantly white neighborhood. Some people of color will make it into the school’s classes if it is created. But the vast tough neighborhoods of Little Rock where the poor people, mostly black, live and who don’t have the means of transportation to this enclave, won’t be present in numbers consistent with other truly public schools They’ll be even less likely to enjoy the proven educational benefits that come from exposing poor children to middle class children. Inevitably, this class division will reflect the racial divide that Coates sees. Which is the point. The Waltons are building a school expressly meant to keep children from a good neighborhood out of other public schools whose student bodies are primarily composed of students from the poor parts of town.  That they happen to be overwhelmingly black is simply fact.