From the late 1950s, statistics reveal that white Americans left the cities to reside in the suburbs. The common term for this migration was White Flight. It generally involved consistent migration of the whites from the racially diverse urban cities to more racially homogenous settlements like the suburbs.
This trend was attributed to many factors and not just the desire for racial segregation. Certain business practices such as mortgage discrimination and redlining were among the economic reasons that contributed to the white exodus. Other reasons were population pressures, especially during the period of economic reconstruction. This essay explores the extent to which white Americans left the city for the suburbs to live in racially homogenous societies.
Racial homogeneity involves people of the same race residing together. Recent debates in policy have evolved over whether the migration of whites from cities to suburbs is driven by racial reasons or the larger environmental and economic conditions in the city. Research has proved that racial causes are among the primary reasons for such migration. In the 1950s, policies that would increase either the total number or level of integrating blacks within the city would reduce whites. Also, migration to the suburbs is a consequence of the consistent expansion of the urban community. This expansion includes the dispersion of housing and jobs. Because of the central cities’ static boundaries, whites’ previous movements towards greater housing and job opportunities in the suburbs contributed to the further decline of economic and environmental conditions within the city (Frey 426).
Whites who moved to the suburbs after the second world war can be concluded to have done so out of racial motivations. In the post-world war two era, the discriminatory housing practices of that period and the changing market forces intensified whites’ selective mobility to the suburbs. One of the facilitating factors was the considerate increase in black migration from the south, which was majorly rural, to the northern side, which was urbanized. This increasing number of black Americans in the northern states increased more pressure on the already tight housing market. What further heightened the pressure was their relegation into exclusively black neighborhoods. This factor prompted whites to migrate into the suburbs (Frey 426).
After the war, the increased availability of suburban housing spearheaded the need for whites’ outward migration to the suburbs. The black immigrants and local migrants occupied previous white settlements, and the two processes are what historians term as a racial transition. In the racial change, the affected neighborhoods, especially cities, experienced an increase in the black population and decreased the white population. Historical analysis of vacancy patterns and white resident characteristics suggested that the movement of high social status white Americans in the cities came disproportionately from partly black neighborhoods rather than purely white segments of the city. To this extent, it can be concluded that some white Americans moved to the suburbs to live in racially homogenous settlements (Frey 426).
Market and non-market discriminatory practices led to the shift into suburban settlements. The post-war suburban shift can be attributed partly to individual racial motivations. It can also be attributed to discriminatory housing policies on the part of private and public agencies. However, interracial housing dynamics are not the only drive for white movement from the cities. First, the peculiar housing market situation which speeded the interracial transition in the post-war period has not been repeated in large cities. Also, the migration of blacks into the cities has reduced over the past few decades. There has been an increased diversity among immigrants. These trends have slowed the pace in city-suburb transition and reduced disparity in status between black and white city residents (Frey 427).
According to Pettigrew, there has been a change in the attitude of white Americans towards residential racial segregation. From recent surveys, the majority of whites embrace racial integration. Because of continued suburbanization over the past few decades, a significant number of Metropolitan whites have been relocated into highly exclusive suburban communities. Those left behind either cannot afford the suburbs or simply prefer residing in the cities. Recent analysis also shows that residential segregation at the metropolitan level exceeds that within the main cities. Desegregating central city schools could also lead to suburban migration (Frey 427). Other factors could contribute to this, and it would be biased to conclude that the need for racial homogeneity also drives this.
From historical statistics, in the 1960s and 1970s, the white population of central cities declined by almost 10% (Blakeslee 1). The erosion of city-based taxes and the decline in job markets, coupled with inflation and decreased federal intervention, led to a shift in the nation’s direction. Demographically, the country was headed towards two separate societies, the white society located in the suburbs and an African American society located in the large cities. Visibly, most of the population moving to the suburbs were the richest and those of higher social class, the white Americans.
Conventional wisdom conflicts with empirical evidence when it comes to the demographic approach of the white flight. Conventional wisdom states that the migration is racially motivated and driven by the need for a racially homogenous settlement. Empirical evidence, on the other hand, provides other factors for the migration other than racial reasons. One of these factors is the urban community’s natural expansion process, which includes the dispersion of both jobs and housing. Individual and family decisions to move to the suburbs may be based on the cost-effective analysis. Some simply prefer less populated areas. To some, it is merely a matter of class and absolutely nothing to do with race (Blakeslee 2).
The extent and nature of white migration in the suburbs can also be explained by attributes related to policies. Among them are financial policies. When city revenues decline, a tax increases. This, in turn, tips the balance to favor the suburbs where there are lower taxes. The quality of the school system of a community is also a contributing policy factor. The suburbs spend more per capita on education from surveys, which attracts certain families, especially those with school-going children, to move to the suburbs (Blakeslee 2).
Other factors also come into play that contributes to the white exodus into the suburbs. An increase in population in the cities as a result of in-migration increases crime rates. The issue of crime rates in this context is subjective. Some attribute an increase in crimes to the increased number of black Americans migrating into the cities. When white migration into the cities is viewed from this angle, then it is of racial motivation. Such whites have the mindset that it is the unemployed blacks who engage in criminal activities. This notion may be true or false, depending on the circumstance under reference. Contrarily, when whites migrate into the suburbs for crime reasons but primarily attribute it to the general increase in population, their migration is not racially-motivated (Blakeslee 2).
Black Americans migrated from the Southern states for various reasons, including agricultural and economic changes. Their migration into northern states instigated a response from multiple white households. These households moved to the suburbs to escape a range of issues that arose from their counterpart’s migration into the cities. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, fiscal management issues and increased concern over racial minorities and the poor in general were part of these reasons (Boustan 4).
The post-world war era in America witnessed a lot of changes in different sectors. One of the most significant demographic consequences was White Americans’ migration from the cities to the suburbs. This migration was because white Americans sought to live in racially homogenous communities, but only to a certain extent. Many other factors have been given as reasons for the white flight. Economic, demographic, ecological, and social reasons are among the many other factors contributing to this migration. No clear consensus has been reached as to which factor was the most contributing. Still, historical surveys have given much empirical evidence that support factors other than racial homogeneity.
Blakeslee, Jan. “White Flight’ To the Suburbs: A Demographic Approach.” Institute or Research on Poverty Newsletter, vol. 13, no. 2, 1978, 1-4 www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc32a.pdf. Accessed Dec 10 2020.
Boustan, Leah Platt. Was Post-war Suburbanization “White Flight”? Evidence from The Black Migration. 2006, http://www.econ.ucla.edu/people/papers/Boustan/Boustan383.pdf Accessed Dec 10 2020.
Frey, William H. “Central City White Flight: Racial and Nonracial Causes.” American Sociological Review, vol. 44, no. 3, June 1979, p. 425, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2094885?seq=1 Accessed Dec10 2020.