Just finished reading Mark Goldman’s history of Buffalo called City on the Edge. It is certainly recommended if you are a history or architecture buff and love Western, NY. The book goes through the glorious and agonizing history of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood. While it doesn’t beat you over the head with the theme, it is evident, as in many writings that involved the evolution of American urban areas, that “white flight” is something that takes some blame for the decline of inner cities.
For the record, my family did not “flee” until well after we all left the nest, here is the home we grew up in (sans bars), and we did not leave until the early 2000s (our youngest was born in 1975).
Every time I hear the narrative about “white flight” leaving and therefore damaging/gutting the inner city, something seems not quite right. Ask yourself, what does such a narrative actually imply? Ever since I became involved in higher education I have been taught that I, being white and male by accident of birth, am among the oppressive class, even if I grew up lower income and comparatively disadvantaged. And as a member of the oppressor class, I contribute to the oppression of all folks who are not like me. Let’s accept that, fine. But what then does this imply about the state of the inner city since the oppressors and exploiters have fled? You would think that intellectuals and the public at large would not bemoan white flight but rather they ought to celebrate it. Wouldn’t it be a fantastic thing to have the folks that are oppressing you just pick up and leave? Or does the narrative surrounding white flight imply that it is easier to exploit and oppress from afar than it is from nearby? Who knows?
There is quite another implication of this narrative, and I am not the first person to make this point. Isn’t the view that “middle-class whites fleeing” is a problem really, really, really paternalistic at best and insulting and demeaning at worst? What this thought is implying is that the Wintercow family is doing great right now, but if a few of my neighbors decide to pick up and leave, and are replaced by a different set of individuals, then my family will fall apart. No need for further commentary on that point.
These points don’t have to be political, I think they merely result from being able to think through the logic of one’s thoughts and ideas. It might even be the case that white flight has indeed ruined the inner city, but if that is the case then I think the narratives about such a thing might have to be adjusted and the causal mechanisms that lead from flight to urban decay ought to be made a bit more clear.