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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

DeFacto Segregation Alive and Well in the Lehigh Valley, But We All Know That

Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

In my post about the racial disparity between Allentown's different zip codes, I mistakenly assumed that zip code 18104, which includes Allentown's west end, is located wholly within Allentown. Shocked at the disparity within Allentown itself, I decided to post about it.

Turns out I blew it. The Observer nails me. "It is unfair to compare 18104 to 18102 since 18104 goes all the way past Kmart on Tilghman Street. That is most of South Whitehall and some of Upper Mac. You need to look at the zip code area, not just the name Allentown. Look what Beth. Twsp zip is, then compare apple to apples. FYI 18104 starts on the west side of 17th st. Since the city limits are basically 30th St., that is not a very large area!"

Of course, the racial disparity in different communities still exists, but we all knew that. Right? Nazareth, my neck of the woods, is 97.5% white. RS notes that the northwest corner of Lehigh County, zip code 18066 (New Tripoli), is 97.4% white. Bangor, which is 97.7% white, has us all beat.

It's also hard to dispute that Allentown's downtown, zip code 18101, has become a third world country. Nearly thirty per cent of the population there has an income under $10,000 per year. Fifteen per cent never even made it past ninth grade. That community is only thirty-four per cent white.

GB has a possible explanation for this white flight. "Pennsylvania has devolved into people intentionally and willfully isolating themselves from other communities. And the folks in Harrisburg (who make the planning laws and encourage this behavior) are owned by the special interests who make sick amounts of cash off of this system. What's worse is that we try to justify it. I had to get away from 'those' people."

I'm certain there are no easy explanations. I'm equally certain that some of this is the result of racism.


Chris Miller said...

Let me make an observation or two about Allentown. The school district is crummy and it is crummy because they cannot draw on outlying neighborhoods for taxes as other districts, Nazareth, Easton, can. I have had clients, white, black, Latino, Asian, who absolutly refuse to move into Allentown because of the schools. Then you have what has been some pretty lousy governments in that city. Pappa Joe D., God bless him, opened the city to HUD housing that brought in lower income folks and with it a criminal element. Heydt tried and met with some success. He was replaced by the former PA Senator who really looked good in a suit but pandered to every group in town much like the current arse kisser.
When I was a kid, Allentown was the Queen of the three cities and a lot of the community is still beautiful. The east and west side are great areas but downtown center city is a mess. I don't believe this is because of racism. I believe it is because people make choices and after they make bad choices we teach them that they are victims.

Anonymous said...

The term "defacto segregation" is a bit unfair to those of us who happen to be white, used to live where the bullets now fly, and chose to move to less crime ridden areas.

I have several siblings and a mother who still live in Gangstaland because they can't afford to live where I now do.

I didn't flee people of any particular color. I fled people of all colors who would do me or my family harm.

Blue Coyote said...

In 1994, my spouse and I lived in the 1100 block of Oak Street in Allentown. It's an alley street near Linden and the Union Cemetery. I was born and raised in a large metropolitan city. One day, a juvenile burglarized an apartment across the street and lit a fire in the apartment. A neighbor and her children were occupying the apartment upstairs. They barely made it out alive.

I told my spouse we are leaving Allentown. There are reasons, other than racial inequality and economic forces that prompt exodus from our cities. Many social factors must be admitted (as well as racial segregation) and addressed by local and state governments. I believe the list of social issues would be a page long if we really think about.

In the end, I couldn't care less if the juvenile who set that fire and changed my mind to leave, was pink with purple pokadots and zebra stripes. The final straw for me was the crime issue. Defacto segregation, while legitimate, is but one factor in a laundry list of social ills that effect living patterns.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, this portion of the "segregation discussion" is where the people with common sense reside. It's refreshing, after spending time at the other one with LOLV, who seems to think that it's all because of racism. Several of you seem to understand this along the lines that I do. Racism exists...yes, no one denies this. But it is neither the only reason or main reason for middle and upper income people to move elsewhere. Allentown is presently the result of years of decline, poor decision-making, failure to anticipate and more. Now Allentown is at the mercy of perception - perception that it is unsafe, unclean, unfriendly...etc. Is Allentown closer to turning it around, or is it closer to becoming Camden? I happen to agree with everyone on this page, probably because each of you seems to have a mature, sensible outlook, based upon a much broader life experience than LOLV. Her profile says she's 24 and she can't help that. Only years of life experience in the real world, where you obtain your facts from something other than the internet can provide this perspective.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

my 24 years of life in the city has taught me a lot more about city living probably than your 50 years in the burbs.

I was actually not arguing that racism is the reason why people move. If you were reading my posts instead of jumping to conclusions, you would know that.

my argument is this: the segregation that exists in allentown and almost every other city is economic. But within the broader context of political economy in the US, economic status and race are linked.

Those who can afford to move out of crime-ridden neighborhoods will. My family moved from 9th and Turner to the West End when I was still in elementary school. We never made it all the way to the suburbs, but we got the hell out of dodge just like anyone else who could afford to.

The point I made in the other post is not that people are leaving the neighborhood because people of other colors move in. But that very few people of color are able to move out. My family were the only ones on our block and none of our neighbors freaked out and moved when they saw us settling in. We had the economic means to live in the West End and it was a really wonderful place to live and grow up, and our neighbors accepted us with no hostility.

But the reality of a huge racial divide in economic opporutunity makes it so that very few families of color are able to afford moving to the West End or to South Whitehall or to Lower Macungie.

and THAT is de facto segregation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If you were reading my posts instead of jumping to conclusions, you would know that.

I appreciate passion, but not personal shots. You and the anon both make valuable points and actually agree as much as you disagree. He or she obviously read you.

Your relative youth and his or her reading comprehension have nothing to do with the validity of either argument. OK?

Anonymous said...


You are white. You are middle class. You could afford to live anywhere in Allentown, but where do you live?

Thanks for making the point.

I don't know you well enough to assume that you would be a racist. It looks as though you have settled in one of Allentown's finer neighborhoods because you can afford to. You prove my point. Why would you not choose to reside in center city, since you are so passionate about the plight of the poor? You live on the west end because you are around people of common socio-economic background, not because it's mostly white, right? If it did not matter, would you not choose to live in center city?

Bernie O'Hare said...

LOLV's race and personal circumstances are irrelevant to this discussion. I understand the point you're trying to make, but let's not personalize things.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

way to make assumptions that are WRONG.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

You are actually arguing with me on a point I never made. You think that I am attacking white middle class people for moving out of downtown. I'm not. I'm not white, I'm not middle class, and my family moved out of downtown almost 20 years ago.

I feel like a broken record. The problem is not with people moving to better or safer neighborhoods. Its with people who are left behind in the unsafe crime-ridden neighborhoods because their skin color impacts their economic opportunities. The problem is that because they are left behind, their children are also left behind to attend poor inner-city schools which cannot and do not provide a quality education to the students. So those children grow up also at a disadvantage, and the cycle continues.

Chris Miller said...

If I understand you correctly people of color in the inner city are not able to get jobs because they are people of color. That is absurd. We have affirmative action, political correctness and quotas going on yet somehow people of color can't make it. So we holler racism and blame it on where they live. There are many black people in this nation, Barack Obama comes to mind, and I am sure in Allentown who have found a way to get out of the mess they are living in just as the Italians, Poles, Irish, Jews and Pennsylvania Dutch did when they were the folks living in the poor sections of town. I would recommend you pick up Justice Thomas' "My Grandfather's Son".
Let me also note that until recently, the late 1960's, folks of all colors in this nation did not have the kind of excess jingle that is flaunted today by gangsters in the inner city who make their way in their neighborhoods by stealing from their own folks and then sporting the bling they pay for from their life of crime. Keep in mind that these folks have made a clear decision to live this kind of life and to inhabit the area of easy pickings.
Let me close by stating that we cannot help them. Like the Irish, Italians, Poles and others, and most importantly summed up by Mr. Bill Cosbey, they have to help themselves. It does not make any difference the color of one's skin.
By the way, I do believe that many of the businesses on Hamilton are now being operated and owned by Latino businessmen. No more excuses.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, Most of the businesses along Alentown's hamilton Street are minority-owned.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

Chris, you do not understand me correctly but I have already wasted enough of my breath.

Bernie O'Hare said...


I know Chris. I've known him for many years, long before I started blogging. He's a retired teacher, and was a good one. He's also involved now in the real estate business and knows quite a bit about that, too. He and I are on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum and have had many disagreements over the years, but I really respect him and know him to be very sincere.

It could very well be that Chris does not understand you, but if you are tired of discussing this with people who don't get your points, the best thing to do is leave it alone. There's no reason for you to complain about wasting your breath. No one is forcing you to comment. If you didn't want to do that, you shouldn't have started in the first place.

Some of your comments have opened eyes and may even have influenced what others think. But you persuade no one when you act in such a condescending matter. This is a sensitive topic. As I asked someone else not to personalize things, the same goes for you.

Look Out Lehigh Valley said...

Bernie, I have posted what I think are by and large pretty clear and not condescending informational replies to this topic (which is one that is close to home, personal, and gets me fired up so its hard for me to mind my manners) and yet "chris" is drawing conclusions about me and about my opinions based not at all on anything I have said in any posts. So please understand my frustration in having spent considerable time only for someone to completely ignore my point in favor of talking down to me as though I have never thought about this issue with any serious weight.

That would be the same as if I responded to his above post by asking "So if I understand you correctly, you think that people are only poor in this country because they are lazy and refuse to work to better themselves?" or "so what you are saying is that if someone is poor and lives downtown they must be a criminal scumbag, because no one who isn't a lowlife would continue living there."

I didn't draw those conclusions and I'm not drawing them now, but that's because I took the time to read his post and think about it, instead of just summarily dismissing it and spouting off my own misconceptions with no respect.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have already wasted enough of my breath.

LOLV, This is condescending. I know it, you know it and so does everyone else. Please respect my readers.

Chris Miller said...

You have to realize that there are a lot of people in downtown Allentown and elsewhere because they have made certain decisions. Most of them bad. There is no reason for this given that we live in the greatest nation in the world where people of lesser means have pulled themselves out of poverty and despair. My own grandfather came from a farm family with a 6th grade education. He bought a country store that he ran from 6AM-12AM. He died a milionaire. My dad worked for him. When my grandfather closed his business my mom and dad built a motel. Like my grandfather, they worked hard, kept long hours, invested wisely and prospered. My brother and I were the first to go to college. We both taught. I taught history in Bethlehem for 32 years. I also have been a licensed realtor since 1986 and now work full time as a realtor in Bethlehem. I have worked hard and enjoy it. I have a great family, a modest home, take care of my mother-in-law who lives with me and my wife of 41 years and I also help my 83 year old mom. I am 63. I could kick back and take life easy but I choose not to. To many people today believe that what I have worked for all my life should be handed to them for free. And why is that? Because the people who claim to represent them, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, tell them that. Why is Hillary Clinton more popular among black voters then Barack Obama, because Hillary will continue to promise them freebies paid for by the rest of us. The black community needs to listen to the likes of Justice Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele and others if they are going to pull themselves out of the mess they are in. Washington DC spends 12 thousand per pupil per year and the district school system is a mess. You do not get ahead by sitting on your ass, smoking your Camels and waiting for the promise land to get to you. And I will tell you that the future is not all that bright because the younger generation, and this applies to all colors, believes everything should be free. Free homes, free health care, free cars, free music all free, free, free. We have reared a bunch of morons who are on their way to living in a socialist society Look around, observe, and pay attention. The good life you see before you will disappear if your not careful

Anonymous said...


I'm not just saying this because I happen to agree with you, but you are correct, in my opinion. I was in the middle of a tit for tat with LOLV over this issue, which began with the assertion that there is defacto segregation happening in Allentown. Most of the posts here seem to be along the lines that says America is still the land of opportunity, so make the most of it. Just stop expecting to have everything handed to you for one reason or another. I know latinos who work hard, have moved out of public housing and are prosperous. Not because they are latino, or despite being latino...because they aspire to more and work toward achieving more. I know blacks, Greeks, Asians and others who likewise have adopted this lifestyle. What they have in common is a desire to improve their position within the socio-economic structure of America. The recognize opportunities and they then have the propensity to move to nicer neighborhoods, where they just so happen to meet people just like them, and I don't mean racial heritage. I am third generation, but I refer to myself as "an American". I am offended by the "hyphenation" that goes on in this country. I am appalled by anyone who still blames personal failure on race and gender. People who use it as a crutch are almost as bad as racists because they do not offer hope, just more excuses and explanations for underachievement.

I agree that Allentown has become increasingly latino, black and poor. One really does not need to check a census report to confirm this. The root cause of most poverty is a failure of individuals to take personal responsibility for actions and decisions they make. Make enough poor decisions and you will eventually find yourself in a bad situation. You and I know this....some people find it much easier to just "blame it on the man".

Wouldn't mind having a cup of coffee with you some time.