Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Resegregation? Maybe. Racism? Nope.

Part 1

If it wasn't for the grimness of the allegation, you'd think he was joking.

Unfortunately, left-wing activist Fred McKissack sounds like he's serious.

More's the pity.

Conservatives like to bash liberals for opinions that are as unsubstantiated as liberals claim right wing opinions to be. Yet in this case, McKissack gives conservatives plenty of ammunition on a silver platter.

McKissack recently wrote a column for the Progressive Media Project entitled "Resegregation of Schools a Disheartening Trend." His article presumes to address the growing racial distinctions in American classrooms. However, it's based on the sloppy hypothesis that the atrocious legalized separation of black and white students that was outlawed in 1954 can be compared with current trends in post-modern public schools.

Ecru Flight to the Exurbs

Nobody can really dispute McKissack's basic observation that American schools have become increasingly stratified along racial lines. But is that because of something sinister like racism, or something more organic and benign?

I say it's not racism, but the new class system that's evolving in our society. A class system based not on race or ethnicity, but simple economics.

In case you haven't noticed - or read my blog! - ecru flight has reshaped the urban and suburban landscape during the past twenty years. What started out as white city folks protesting newly-arriving blacks in their neighborhoods turned into white flight during the suburbanization of the United States during the 1950's through the 1970's. Most experts concur on the predominant racial component which fueled this phenomenon, reshaping urban areas in both the North and the South.

After the suburbs fermented for a while, the migration further away from city centers began again in earnest during the 1990's. As suburbanites grew tired of their aging subdivisions and shopping malls, they looked for greener pastures again in what have become the exurbs, sprawling new subdivisions even further away from urban cores and, supposedly, away from the urban problems moving into the older suburbs.

As the vacuum created by wanderlust suburbanites migrating to the new exurbs has provided move-up potential for urban folks, minorities have begun flowing into the aging suburbs faster than ever. In addition, some skeptics have voiced suspicions that as city governments have torn down crime-ridden federally-subsidized housing projects, they've quietly been dispersing the former residents of these complexes within suburban communities via Section 8 vouchers.

True, some of that suspicion is race-based, yet some of it is amoral real estate economics. Many suburban subdivisions were built quick and easy, not for long-term occupancy, and lots of relatively new construction is showing its substandard quality. In addition, lots of people like new stuff, and as their aging split-levels and mock-Colonials begin looking dated, the only land left for contractors to ravage - I mean destroy - I mean develop... (sorry, my bias is showing!) for even newer housing is in the exurbs. So that's where people of means are headed.

In the meantime, school districts are stuck. They can't pick up and move like homeowners can. Schools have almost no say in the students they get. It's whomever moves into the neighborhood. And as poorer minorities are moving into the older suburbs, living in homes being vacated by others moving to the exurbs, schools by default are becoming browner, and the exurb schools are getting whiter than ever.

Isn't Less Racism Good?

All this might make for a tidy racist scenario if it were simply a black and white issue. But - as McKissack should be celebrating - it's not. Instead, he's insisting on refusing to acknowledge how some things have actually improved in the United States. It's as if some liberals don't want to admit that progress actually is being made.

Not that the phenomenon of exurbanization should be considered progress in and of itself. Some planners call the trend, particularly in parts of the country where population growth is nil, "rural sprawl." But what is remarkable - in a good way - about the continued migration of monied classes from older neighborhoods is the fact that it's not purely white anymore.

That's why I call it "ecru flight" instead of "white flight." Sure, most of the people moving further out from America's cities are white, but they're being joined in this trend by blacks and Hispanics in unprecedented numbers. Minorities who have, for the past several generations, managed to get the same education and professional experience that pays them the same salaries whites use to buy into the desirable towns and villages ringing urban America.

In my book, even though I detest the persistent sprawl endemic with exurbanization, I think the fact that racism is finally playing an insignificant role in mobility - at least when compared to history - is something to celebrate.

Are the homeownership rates in exurbia between blacks and whites 50-50? No, but that's not the metric to measure. Exurban living ain't cheap. So I'd look at the percentage of people who can afford it, and then the breakdown of that economic class by race. If that percentage roughly reflects homeownership rates in exurbia, then I'd say we're making good progress (I haven't yet found a study to corroborate that - maybe you can.) After all, that's the metric we're working towards in our current, aging suburbs, which tend to be balancing out.

Next, Part Two: Is School Resegregation Really Make-Believe Racism?

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