A Recipe for White Flight

I (Erin) got to meet yesterday with Dr. Clarissa Hayward, Ph.D. at Washington University here in St. Louis. Clarissa studies race and America’s contribution to its reality. On this journey, we have come face to face with the lived experience of racism, in many of its countless forms. In front of me sat a woman who studies the structures we’ve built to ensure its existence.

As I sat and listened to her findings on the institutions designed to secure and sustain segregation in America, she dove into three areas where this has been most pronounced: housing, education and criminal justice.

As we discussed the FHA and its endeavors to incentivize white flight, I was reminded of my school days running around the playground where I grew up in west Texas.

I remembered with crystal clarity how one child would be singled out as “the one” who couldn’t join in the game and the ring leader would run away from that child calling out behind them, “noooo, you can’t play with us.” I don’t know about you, but I was determined to never be “the one”.

I wanted to play and I wanted to be included, so I made sure I was as vivacious, strong and bold a play mate as possible so as never to be the one left out. I let fear lure me into the game.

Looking back I can see now that this game follows the exact same pattern as white flight. The same rules apply in neighborhoods as on playgrounds. These patterns and ways of thinking are as subconscious as breathing air, but fear, combined with implicit bias almost always leads to explicit action.

All you have to do to stop that pattern on the playground, or in real life, is stand with the one. A single strong person standing with the one being left out can throw a wrench in the game. If a handful decides to join in, the game is over.

Can we think for just a moment about the flawed thinking that encourages people to run away from each other? For example, a black family moves into a predominantly white neighborhood and people start to say, “there goes the neighborhood.” What if someone were to test that narrative with a different one by challenging that response rather than running to list their house and get out while the getting is good?

When will we begin to see and believe that the benefits of living in racially diverse neighborhoods far exceed the benefits of homogeny?

It may seem logical to some that home value is linked to the whiteness of a neighborhood. But I believe this thinking is flawed and directly linked to the system designed in the 1930’s by the FHA to perpetuate segregation, and Dr. Hayward agrees.

Home value in truth is linked to what we choose to collectively believe has value. That means we each have a decision to make, just like the kids on the playground, to run from “the one” out of baseless fear, or run to the one and call game over.

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