Today I was skimming through the articles on Yahoo!’s front page, when I came across this article about a new kind of “white flight.” The article talks about how young professional white kids are moving from the suburbs to the cities in pursuit of higher-paying jobs and short commutes. This got me thinking about the term “white flight.” Historians originally used this term to describe the mass movement of white families from cities into the suburbs from the 1940s-1960s. When you learn about this phenomenon in school, you are generally taught that white people are racist bastards who didn’t want to rub elbows with kindly immigrants and benevolent black folks, so they all packed up their stuff, hopped in their Ford, and sojourned to the suburbs. In part, this may have been true, but I think there was more to it than that. Cities (especially in the earlier part of the Twentieth Century) were not nice places. They smelled bad, the housing was often cheaply built and unsafe, and there was a lot of crime – come to think of it, this doesn’t sound much different from today. At any rate, many of the white people who lived in these cities realized that they had enough money to move to a better location – somewhere cleaner, healthier, and safer for their children. I do not think that they were all motivated by fear and hatred of minorities and immigrants, it’s just that many of these people came from families who had been here several generations and who had saved up enough money and improved their station enough to be able to get out of the cities. Recent immigrants could not get out of the pestilence-filled urban areas because they simply were not well-enough established yet. They had not yet saved up enough money, and they likely didn’t speak a lot of English, making it difficult to find higher-paying skilled labor jobs. The descendants of these immigrants likely fled the skeeziness of the inner city two or three generations later. African-Americans had difficulty leaving during this time because of the evils of segregation – they were given low-paying jobs and inferior housing, which meant that they did not have the resources to flee the cities either. Again, over time, more African-Americans have moved out of the cities and into suburbs.
This new type of “white flight” talked about in the article seems to have the same motives as the old type, minus any underlying or outright racism. There are more jobs in urban areas because that is where the major financial & business centers reside. In addition to the jobs, the social scene is often geared towards young, liberal white people. Have you ever read the blog “Stuff White People Like?” The majority of that stuff can be found in large urban areas, thereby making them appealing places for educated white folks. Many of these same activities do not appeal to people of other races, mainly because they are not crazy and do not like to freely waste money. I highly doubt racism has anything to do with this round of “white flight,” as young, liberal white people are the most likely to proclaim their love of diversity and people of other cultures.
In light of the new and enlightened form of “white flight” I would like to propose we change the name. “White flight” sounds racist. It sounds like white people fleeing in terror under the cover of night because of their xenophobic fears. It also gives white people more importance than we probably deserve. This term only specifies the whereabouts of white people, ignoring the geographic locations of people of other races. The article talks, conversely, about “bright flight” (which, I think, is deceptive, because it refers to people of all colors other than white, but have you ever seen a group of pale white kids in the sun? It’s BLINDING), which I don’t recall ever learning about. It just seems racist to use this term which puts so much attention on where white people live, as if we’re the only ones who matter (which, of course, we are not).