Top 10 Most Segregated Cities? None of Them Are in the South.

I don’t know why conservatives are always kvetching about the census.  It’s uncovered some really interesting stuff.

Like this display, from Salon.  It’s a list of the Top 10 Most Segregated Cities in the United States.  For the record, from Most to Least, it’s:  Milwaukee, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

In other words, Obama Country!

(Except for St. Louis.  Which makes me 90% right.  I’ll take it.)

Aside from the pungent point that, typically, the Left talks one way and lives another.  And aside from the totally gratuitous low-blow that Obama was elected by racially-segregated states, what’s really interesting here is that none of the top 10 Most Racially Divided Cities are in the south.  None.

(We can argue about St. Louis.  But as I said: I’ll take 90% right….)

This reminds me of a piece I wrote, a few years ago, for the old Newsweek International. I can’t find it online anywhere — which may explain this – but I’ll reproduce some of it here:

I was in New York last week, for my brother’s birthday party.  It was what is known as “a big one,” so I stirred myself from relaxing in Los Angeles sunshine, and headed east.

            “How was your flight?” people at the party asked.

            “Actually,” I said, “I didn’t fly.  I drove.”

            A long pause would then ensue.  Then, finally:


            Which was a question, somewhere between Van’s Pig Stand in Shawnee, Oklahoma and the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee I asked myself a few times.  It was late and Interstate 40 was scarred and pocked by construction, it was raining – but in that distinctly southern way, where the raindrops simply appear in the envelope of humidity, condensing on the inside of the windshield and curling the pages of the road map – and mentally checked off the various things I was giving up by going to New York the long way. 

            I gave up the fifteen or twenty minutes of robotic typing you have to watch the airline agent do just to change your seat assignment.  I gave up the shuffling, slow-moving herd as it funnels through airport security.  I gave up the slack-jawed glassy-eyed indifference on the face of the people tasked with finding your nail scissors.  And I gave up the “snack with beverage” that somehow constitutes the bright spot of the whole cross-country airplane ordeal.

            This is a beautiful country, and I took the longest of the long ways – over two weeks to get from Los Angeles to midtown Manhattan – and the only twinge of regret I felt along the way was that however delicious a bar-b-que sandwich from Van’s is, eating one right before the six-hour stretch to Memphis is not advisable from a health and comfort perspective.   Enough said.

            Still, why?  


 One reason is that I live and work in Hollywood, and make my living producing (or trying to) television and movies that entertain (or try to) the rest of the country.  The chief peculiarity of this most peculiar business is that the more successful you are at entertaining ordinary Americans, the less likely it is that you will have to encounter them.  Having your finger on the pulse of the nation, apparently, can be done poolside in Bel Air, or cruising at 30,000 feet in a Gulfstream V.

            It’s a good idea, though, for the rest of us to get out once and a while and see the country we’re trying to amuse, and to meet the people who, in the long way around, pay the bills.  And with a bit of planning, you can eat pretty well, too.

            And that’s the real reason I decided to hit the road.  Fried chicken. 

            A few years ago, driving from Memphis to New Orleans with friends, we made a quick detour through McComb, Mississippi to have a meal at The Dinner Bell, an old boarding-house style restaurant a few minutes from the interstate.  We had heard about its convivial, friendly atmosphere – three or four large round tables, each with a lazy susan groaning with platters of southern delicacies, its simple all-you-can eat price structure, and its classic fried eggplant, okra, hush puppies, sweet potato casserole, buttery biscuits, and of course, flawless fried chicken.  But on that night three years ago, it was unexpectedly closed.  Disappointed and cranky from hunger, we ended up at a sad and sagging Taco Bell.  And so I had a mission:  eat at The Dinner Bell before I was old enough to make it medically unwise.

            Two weeks ago, I did just that.  It was, as predicted, perfection: delicious, carefully prepared southern classics in a place suffused with the kind of quiet happiness that comes from feeding people well, and being well-fed yourself.

            And a strange thing happened:  right there in the deepest part of the Deep South, in walked a young black man and a young white woman.  They sat down at two empty seats and tucked into their lunch.  Eavesdropping shamelessly, I gathered that this was a business lunch – he was her boss, and this was some kind of informal employee review taking place over the platters of eggplant and macaroni and cheese.  I readied myself, as a northern snob was taught to do, for Racial Tension.  I was in, after all, Trent Lott Country.  And here was a young black man and a young white woman out eating together just as free as you please.  I waited for something – nasty comments, bitter words, bigotry overt or otherwise.

            Of course, nothing of the kind occurred.  The neighborly, gracious atmosphere of The Dinner Bell – and in fact, everywhere else I went in the south – was totally unlike the spooky northern stereotype of Mississippi and Alabama.  Totally unlike what sophisticated northerners, in their bigoted snobbery, imagine when they hear the words “McComb, Mississippi.”  And I wondered how many interracial co-ed lunches were being eaten on that day at, say, the Four Seasons in enlightened Manhattan, or the Ivy in progressive Hollywood?

            Not many, I’d guess.  And that’s another reason for getting out of the airport and onto the open road.  It’s a good way to break down a few prejudices, and a tasty way to do it.  

It’s been a few years, but I’m glad to see the census has finally caught up with me.  Here’s the take-away:  the big bad south — that troubled place people are always making troubled movies about — is a lot less racist, in measurable, practical terms, than pretty much any city to the north.  Blue states aren’t “progressive” or “open” or “tolerant.”  They’ve just got better PR.

Until now.  Hard to argue with the census.