The New Segregation: Ethnic Identity or Racism?

Four decades after civil rights activists risked their lives to fight racial discrimination, many minorities are choosing segregation over integration.

In many places throughout the country, well-off minority families are moving into new neighborhoods to be with members of their own race.

According to the latest U.S. Census, the trend is most dramatic in the suburbs.

Hispanics in South Florida and Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area are moving into upscale, same-race neighborhoods. In Atlanta, where 61 percent of the population is black, many affluent African Americans say they prefer to live in areas where the figure is closer to 100 percent.

For the past decade, Atlanta’s Cascade community has been sprawling westward with new subdivisions and large houses. It looks like any other upper-middle-class suburb, except that nearly all the people moving there are black.

"They think of Cascade as a 'Black Mecca,'" said Cascade resident Mary Mitchell, who is black. "They feel at home, at ease."

Mitchell said she and her neighbors have no problems with people of other races, but they prefer living among people with similar cultural experiences.

"They are very conscious of their culture," said Atlanta realtor Jo McDaniel. "They feel that their children will get more exposure, as far as their culture is concerned, if they are in a neighborhood where they are the majority instead of the minority."

McDaniel said clients who express a racial preference tend to be upper-middle-class or wealthy. However, federal Fair Housing regulations prevent McDaniel from discussing neighborhood demographics with them, and for most clients race is not an issue.

Such was the case for Kevin and Lashon Hill, a black couple who recently bought a home in a racially mixed subdivision just northwest of the Atlanta city limits.

"When you go out in the world, it’s not going to be all black people, all white people," said Lashon Hill. "It’s going to be a mix. You’re going to have to deal with white people, black people, Asians, Hispanics. So, I think it’s a good thing."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when all Americans would socialize together.

Why, then, is segregation, a practice once condemned as "racist," now passed off as "ethnic identity"?

Mitchell says the difference is that today individual families decide where they live, not governments.

"If you want to live in a predominantly white neighborhood or predominantly black neighborhood, it is a choice," Mitchell said.

That choice will shape the future of the country. As America becomes more ethnically diverse, will it remain the "Great Melting Pot," or will its ethnic ingredients stay separate?

Kevin Hill remains optimistic that cultural differences will not lead to the "resegregation of America."

"Black and white people have a different way of doing some things," Hill said. "So, in your house, you do what you know, and outside you kind of assimilate with everyone. That’s what a community is all about."