White Flight/Black Flight

White Flight/Black Flight: The Dynamics of Racial Change in an American Neighborhood

Rachael A. Woldoff
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    White Flight/Black Flight
    Book Description:

    Urban residential integration is often fleeting-a brief snapshot that belies a complex process of racial turnover in many U.S. cities. White Flight/Black Flight takes readers inside a neighborhood that has shifted rapidly and dramatically in race composition over the last two decades. The book presents a portrait of the life of a working-class neighborhood in the aftermath of white flight, illustrating cultural clashes that accompany racial change as well as common values that transcend race, from the perspectives of three different groups who are living it: white stayers, black pioneers, and "second-wave" blacks. Rachael A. Woldoff offers a fresh look at race and neighborhoods by documenting a two-stage process of neighborhood transition and focusing on the perspectives of two understudied groups: newly arriving black residents and whites who have stayed in the neighborhood. Woldoff describes the period of transition when white residents still remain, though in diminishing numbers, and a second, less discussed stage of racial change: black flight. She reveals what happens after white flight is complete: "Pioneer" blacks flee to other neighborhoods or else adjust to their new segregated residential environment by coping with the loss of relationships with their longer-term white neighbors, signs of community decline, and conflicts with the incoming second wave of black neighbors.

    Readers will find several surprising and compelling twists to the white flight story related to positive relations between elderly stayers and the striving pioneers, conflict among black residents, and differences in cultural understandings of what constitutes crime and disorder.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6103-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-11)

    It is a typical afternoon in Parkmont. I am there for the day, visiting with residents in their homes, on their patios, on the streets, in schools, at barbershops and hair salons, and at the local synagogue. As I move around the neighborhood, I notice real estate agents showing homes to black families.¹ As recently as 1990 the community was only 2 percent black and yet today, ten years after the collection of 2000 census data, it appears that the community contains very few white residents.

    Parkmont² is a modern U.S. community that has experienced firsthand the phenomenon of white...

    (pp. 12-31)

    White flight remains a relatively common pattern in U.S. cities. In fact, data on neighborhood racial change show that white flight is still far more widespread than white in-migration into mixed areas (see appendix).¹ On a very basic level, we know that many urban blacks seek a better place to live and that white and integrated communities tend to have more amenities than segregated, inner-city black communities, where poverty and disadvantage tend to be more concentrated.² However, we also know that whites often leave integrating neighborhoods. The evidence suggests that there are three major reasons that white residents leave neighborhoods...

  6. 2 CHOOSING PARKMONT: Whites Staying and Blacks Pioneering
    (pp. 32-71)

    The first phase of racial transition in Parkmont can be accurately characterized as white flight. Although many white residents sought to leave integrating Parkmont as soon as possible, others continued to find the community a desirable place to live. As younger, middle-aged, and even elderly whites moved out, Parkmont’s demographics formed an unusual mix: elderly white stayers and black striving pioneers. This chapter introduces these two groups, explains how they came to share a community, and explores the role of choice and agency. In so doing, it complicates what we think we know about race, as we see two very...

  7. 3 STELLA ZUK’S STORY: Choosing to Stay
    (pp. 72-88)

    By the fall of 2006, Parkmont had already become a predominantly black neighborhood, and the number of white stayers was dwindling. It was at this time that I met eighty-seven-year-old Stella Zuk, a resident of Parkmont since 1951. We were at Parkmont’s synagogue for Saturday morning Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), sitting in the large ballroom located on the first floor above the sanctuary. We joined a table where a small group of elderly congregants was seated, snacking on cold cuts for the kiddush meal held on Friday nights and Saturday mornings to sanctify or celebrate Shabbat.

    At its peak, the...

  8. 4 CROSS-RACIAL CAREGIVING: Pioneers Helping Stayers to Age in Place
    (pp. 89-110)

    Laws do not require us to reach out to, befriend, or help our neighbors. We have the option of subscribing to the philosophy underlying Robert Frost’s famous quotation, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Many people choose to remain distant from their neighbors for various reasons, and one might imagine that those who lived through Parkmont’s rapid population change would have been especially loath to build new relationships with incoming black residents.¹ Neighborhoods that experience white flight are vulnerable to their longtime residents feeling threatened, fearful of the unknown, resentful of unstoppable change, and prejudiced toward newcomers. Or perhaps more benignly,...

  9. 5 KEN WILKINSON: Striving for the Next Generation
    (pp. 111-134)

    Ken Wilkinson, a forty-seven-year-old pioneer, represents a linkage between Parkmont’s two major stages of change. His narrative provides insights into the community’s transition from white to black by illuminating the pioneers’ reasons for selecting Parkmont as a destination, their perceptions of white flight, and their relationships with elderly stayers. Ken’s story explores black flight by portraying pioneers’ discussions of sources of dissatisfaction with the school and neighborhood environment as black flight began to set in, their conflicts with the second wave residents, and their hopes and plans for the future. As one of the first pioneers to arrive, and as...

  10. 6 BLACK FLIGHT: Consequences of Neighborhood Cultural Conflict
    (pp. 135-175)

    Race, gender, social class, and neighborhood are all social structural factors that shape the complex web that sociologists refer to as “culture.” Culture can be seen as a collective-level construct that describes a group’s shared set of values, norms, and attitudes toward life. These values and norms are codified, whether formally or informally, into rules and sets of behaviors that group members use to meet their goals.¹ Such cultural codes can include rules that pertain to relatively mundane, everyday topics (e.g., how a family should maintain their property), as well as deeply held convictions (e.g., what constitutes a moral life).²...

  11. 7 BILLY’S NARRATIVE: Clashing in Parkmont
    (pp. 176-191)

    When asked about their old neighborhoods, many of Parkmont’s black residents described the things they didn’t like: “There was a lot of crime and drugs, and I didn’t like that.” “The schools that were there and different places around the neighborhood.” “Two people were killed on my block.” “I was mugged over there three times. That’s why I carry teargas everywhere I go, and that’s why I don’t trust anybody.” “Down that way? The violence and everything. The drugs, everything that’s going on down there, and especially because I have a baby now.”

    Most black residents moved to Parkmont to...

  12. 8 SKIPPING SCHOOL: The Negative Effects of a Neighborhood Institution
    (pp. 192-212)

    Families often decide to move when there is a mismatch between their real living situation and the neighborhood and housing scenario that they desire.¹ Age, family structure, housing space, and budget all factor into residents’ views of their residential status as they plan to move. However, another important factor that drives families’ mobility choices is their perceptions of the local schools. Such heavy attention to neighborhood school quality is merited since public schools are a key way in which neighborhoods indirectly affect children.²

    The role of schools in blacks’ residential satisfaction and mobility decisions is understudied. Much of the research...

  13. 9 CONCLUSIONS: Understanding the Cultural Dynamics of Neighborhood Change
    (pp. 213-230)

    Many anecdotal stories of white flight conclude when whites make their mass exodus from a neighborhood. There is no need to follow up because it is assumed that what will transpire is known: the inevitable, clear-cut, neighborhood racial change “death spiral.” Many anticipate this sense of doom well in advance, which is why school and neighborhood racial integration so often lead to the community phenomenon that is labeled “white flight.”¹ Whereas white flight marks the end of an era for those who leave, it is just the beginning for the newcomers and old-timers who choose to remain.

    My study of...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 231-232)
  15. References
    (pp. 233-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-252)