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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Deep dive into nextLI diversity data

The region must come to grips with its growing diversity and its lingering segregation.

From left, Rita Ciolli, Kai Teoh, Coralie Saint-Louis,

From left, Rita Ciolli, Kai Teoh, Coralie Saint-Louis, Amanda Fiscina and Amy Emmatty at the nextLI event on May 10, 2019. nextLI is a new Newsday initiative that seeks to use research to inform and guide conversations about the region's future.  Photo Credit: Newsday/Coralie Saint-Louis

Part of the human condition is the desire in each of us for our kids to do better than us, to be better than us, to make the world a better place.

So I was eager to see the first tranche of data on Long Island’s 18- to 34-year-olds presented Friday by nextLI — a new Newsday initiative that seeks to use research to inform and guide conversations about the region’s future. The data were delivered at a meeting of the Long Island Association, a group of movers and shakers these young adults eventually will replace.

The numbers are fascinating. But one set of data is particularly compelling for showing that young Long Islanders, like the rest of us, have yet to come to grips with their attitudes toward the region’s growing diversity and its lingering segregation, and the degree to which their feelings about race might be both its cause and effect.

The good news: Long Island’s young adults like the fact that the region is becoming more diverse.

More than two-thirds of the 18- to 34-year-old Long Islanders sampled by YouGov said that racial and ethnic diversity is important. More than three-quarters said diversity in schools is important. And a whopping 82 percent said they felt positive about the region’s growing diversity.

But ask them to put some rubber on that road, and some disquieting numbers emerge.

More than 70 percent said they want to live near people with views like theirs, and 58 percent want to raise their children in a neighborhood where half or more people share their ethnicity.

You could write off the former number with its emphasis on “views” as a symptom of the polarized politics of our times, which itself is a rejection of a different type of diversity.

But what about the latter? Is it a racial version of the not-in-my-backyard mentality that is Long Island’s original sin? Is it more cultural, like members of an ethnic minority seeking places with native foods, churches and a shared language?

Whatever the interpretation, our communities remain segregated. We haven’t done ourselves, or our children, any favors by allowing and sustaining that separation, or by objecting so fiercely to any new housing that might make our communities more diverse.

Interestingly, the divide itself has divides. Nearly half of higher-income young adult whites want the majority of their neighbors to be white. Only 28 percent of lower-income whites want that. An educated guess: Those lower-income whites already live in mixed neighborhoods. Exposed to the rest of the world, they’re more accepting of it. Those who are cloistered prefer the cloisters.

We have a long way to go. But giving our kids a little exposure will speed the journey.

 Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

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