Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Mechanics of White Flight

When I was a child in the 1960s, we had a family friend who was an elderly widow who lived in Buffalo, New York. She was white and her home was in a part of the city near the Bills stadium that had become almost all African American over time. I remember being puzzled about how that had happened, and I have that same morbid fascination to this day.

Osamudia James, a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law, recently supplied a couple of data points about how neighborhoods become segregated. While addressing Donald Trump's recent bizarre attempts to appeal to black voters by saying they live in hell on earth, she wrote:

White parents, for example, assert that they care most about academics when selecting schools for their children. But as studies that control for educational programming and academic outcomes show, parents often use race as an indicator of school quality. In one study, just a 2 percent increase in the number of black students in the school population correlated with a parental perception that school quality had declined, even when objective evidence contradicted that perception. (emphasis added)
Just 2 percent. This concern about "good schools," used as a mask to make it okay to flee certain schools or neighborhoods for white-dominant areas or schools, is definitely a major part of how segregation works these days. And remember, white parents don't always care about having the "best school" -- they want a school where white students (and especially their student) can be on top, as demonstrated in the current white flight taking place from schools where there are "too many" Asian American students. Those Asian American students are "robots" or "machines," they're "too competitive," or just too darn good at math.

Professor James also comments on residential white flight:
Whites, studies show, prefer to live in communities with lower levels of diversity, assigning higher value to white neighborhoods that are otherwise identical to black neighborhoods, even after controlling for class indicators such as condition of homes or lot size. Given the choice between mixed but ultimately majority white neighborhoods, and all-white neighborhoods, whites selected the latter. In short, anti-black sentiments drive white residential preferences.
Ten percent is the breaking point. According to Emory University Law School Professor Dorothy Brown, when a neighborhood reaches about 10 percent black, white people begin to leave in numbers, which then undermines home values and causes even more flight to "safety."

I imagine that's what happened back in that Buffalo neighborhood in the 1960s, though maybe the percentage needed to start the panic was a bit lower then. But either way, it leads to disinvestment in the area, leaving poorer and poorer people behind, who in turn are blamed for the declining condition of the buildings and infrastructure.

1 comment:

Gina said...

In Oneonta, there lived only one Black family for years. I attended school with one of the kids. They lived behind the American Legion, and the father, a widower, owned a bar downtown called The Black Cat. When I was in high school, the colleges hired some Black professors. I babysat for one of these families. They were middle class, highly intelligent people, with two adorable young children. But when I was seen sitting on their front stoop watching the kids play in the front yard, the spotters ran to my parents and complained to them. The problem was a white kid working for a Black family. When my parents tried to force me to stop babysitting for them, I refused. My babysitting was my own business not theirs, and that family's money was just as green as ours. That shut up my parents, and I never heard another word about it. But when I was in college, I heard that wonderful family left town, not because they didn't love their jobs, but because of the way Oneontans had treated them. I called it white "supremacy" in action.