Posts Tagged ‘White flight’

Sundown towns and white flight

May 30, 2010

Residential segregation by race is such a key fact of American life that it seems as if it has existed from time immemorial. And it also seems like the result of a natural process – if not members of different races voluntarily sorting themselves out, then as a result of impersonal economic factors that have to do with race only by coincidence.

Two books I read a couple of years ago show this isn’t so.  The recent discussion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act reminded me of them.  One is Sundown Towns: a Hidden Dimension in American Racism by James Loewen. He describes how American small towns between 1890 and 1940 used violence and governmental authority to drive out their black residents, a historical event which has been forgotten and covered up in the years after.

The other is White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin M. Kruse. It gives a blow-by-blow account of the civil rights struggle in Atlanta in the 1960s, and tells each victory for racial integration led to white people withdrawing to the suburbs and allowing the city to become a black ghetto.

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City schools and the flight to the suburbs

May 6, 2010

The city of Rochester, N.Y., where I live, has the same kind of troubles as most urban school systems in the United States – a high dropout rate, poor test scores and a flight of middle-class people, many but not all of them non-Hispanic white, to the suburbs, leaving behind a school population of poor people, many but not all of them black and Hispanic.

Mary Anna Towler, the editor of City newspaper, and Mark Hare, columnist for the Democrat and Chronicle, along with many others, think middle-class flight is itself the problem. They think the main obstacle to giving children a good education is “concentration of poverty.”  I hesitate to differ with people who are so dedicated to the welfare of the city and its children, and who have thought so deeply about its problems over such a long period of time. But I don’t believe this kind of thinking will get anybody anywhere.

What are they saying to middle-class parents? Poor children are poison, but we want you to put your children in the mix to dilute the poison. Who will willingly do that?

In fact I know college-educated middle-class white people whose children have gotten excellent academic educations in city schools and in the process gained a better understanding of the society in which they live than children educated in a more sheltered environment. But I know of those who’ve had a bad experience in city schools, and still others who don’t want to take the chance. Then there was the poor black woman in the city some time back who was convicted of fraud for enrolling her children in a suburban school. She was so desperate to get her children out of city schools that she was willing to risk being convicted for a criminal act.

I don’t criticize any of the people I’ve mentioned for their choices. If I had children, I would do what I thought was best for them, and not what I thought was theoretically best for society if everybody did it.

The fact is that parents and teachers in the city, not people in the suburbs, are responsible for education in the city. Almost all human beings, except a few kings and aristocrats, are descended from poor, illiterate people, and yet education is possible. Education is possible in the city, too.

And while I don’t claim to be able to tell teachers how to do their jobs, I have some thoughts – for whatever they’re worth – about improving our school system.

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