Michelle Obama is not wrong about “white flight”

Michelle Obama is getting a lot of undeserved grief for comments she made this week about the “white flight” she observed growing up on the South Side of Chicago:

“But unbeknownst to us, we grew up in the period — as I write — called ‘white flight.’ That as families like ours, upstanding families like ours … As we moved in, white folks moved out because they were afraid of what our families represented,” Obama said.

“And I always stop there when I talk about this out in the world because, you know, I want to remind white folks that y’all were running from us — this family with all the values that you’ve read about. You were running from us. And you’re still running, because we’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in … the families that are coming from other places to try to do better.”

I have no doubt that this was her experience growing up and that Obama is sharing her story in good faith. It’s not a particularly political observation either. You will read similar stories from, say, Condoleezza Rice in the book she wrote about her parents, Extraordinary Ordinary People or Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son. Rice grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and Thomas grew up in Savannah, Georgia, during the Civil Rights era. Both offer candid accounts of the racism they experienced in ordinary life that echo Obama’s. All of these people have succeeded against the odds through a lifetime of good values and hard work. Anyone who suggests otherwise is just embarrassing themselves.

Particularly working in education policy, I saw the ways that neighborhoods tend to segregate themselves by race and wealth. You have never met a more passionate group of people than folks fighting to keep their small, inefficient independent school district during a regionalization push in government. It’s not a fantasy or talking point. This is why we have charter schools in this country now. Pretty much the only way disadvantaged neighborhoods can get an edge in education is by bringing in the capitalists. It’s one of the best arguments for school choice there is.

The fact of the matter, though, is that we are not watching some epic white flight in American cities now. We are watching the wholesale destruction of great American cities due to objectively bad public policy. It’s not integration that people fear most, but inconceivable levels of government dysfunction and seeing most of their wealth melt away in taxes to pay for that dysfunction. That’s what is making people vote with their feet.

People leaving New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles are not generally moving to whiter suburbs. They are moving to the South – mostly to Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. These are aggressively libertarian tax havens, places where your kids will not be out of school for two weeks because of a teacher’s strike and your house won’t burn down because the utility has been plowing money into green projects at the expense of maintaining existing infrastructure. Where you are not paying higher and higher taxes because policymakers promised public workers lavish retirement benefits but set aside no money for them. And so on and so on.

Both Texas and Florida have massive minority and immigrant populations. I would submit to you that a white family fleeing Chicago over bad politics has a lot more in common culturally and ideologically with immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America in Florida than their progressive white neighbors in Chicago. To suggest that the realignment that is happening in the US right now is about race seems very wrong.

It may seem like history rhymes to Obama, however, because the people who are the most reliant on government services are the ones least likely to be able to afford to move out of dysfunctional urban areas. The decreased economic opportunities in these urban areas as the people who can leave do leave will also magnify the personal impact on those families. It probably does feel like their neighborhoods are in a downward spiral now. This will affect poor people of all races, but minorities especially. She’s not wrong that this is a tragic phenomenon.

6 thoughts on “Michelle Obama is not wrong about “white flight”

  1. In the most urban areas of Texas, though, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in leftist thinking (seen in votes!), and it most definitely is due to the immigrants in those areas. And unfortunately, a lot of it does have to do with race, even though it feels so inappropriate to point that out. Those major urban cities (and the border counties of course) are the highest concentrations of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas compared to whites. And the votes reflect that. Here’s a map


    The majority of Hispanics (who have been here several generations) are still staunch supporters of the democratic party, even though you could say a small, but growing minority is slowly turning to more conservative thinking. I believe it’s too small to have much of an effect against the tidal wave of new Mexican illegal immigrants who vote democrat by default, though. Frustratingly, many of the established Hispanic families still support our borders being open, we have several in our family like this, and it is just insane to see the disconnect in their way of thinking. Literally millions voted for, “Beto,” even though he was obviously the most useless idiot we could have had for our state Senator. Ted Cruz barely won, with 50.9% of total votes compared to Beto’s 48.3%. In a few years, realistically, Texas could flip, and yes, a lot of it has to do with race and the way the different races choose to vote for some reason.

    For the first time, a lot of us Texans are becoming very worried about the future of the state due to all this migration from the most liberbal states, as well as our border being flooded with illegals. I myself live in a declared, “Sanctuary City,” (hell-hole) where it’s becoming impossible to even stop the illegals from crime because they get released right after being arrested. I’m not racist by any means (husband is half-Hispanic!!), but even the crime rates suggest moving away from all-black neighborhoods, or our city’s Hispanic-gang controlled South and West side neighborhoods, is a *wise* choice for one’s family. Of course that is tragic, but many are still able to get out when they really want to.

    Unfortunately, they often don’t change their moral values, and bring a lot of the family dysfunction then to other areas of the city. It’s just so sad and depressing to see the cycles repeat themselves. The few black families on our street all have severely messed up family dynamics. Yes, they got out of the, “hood,” but there’s something deeper going on than that (lack of religious convictions?). One of the sons of those families on our street, my oldest was friends with, back when he was going to the public school, and that little black boy, at only age 7, was threatening to bring a gun to school and kill another student who was only 5. My son also told me there was a *regular* gang of kids (in elementary of all things!!!) who were **all black** who would terrorize the younger kids in the restrooms. They tried to do this to him, but he fought them off and he said the look in their eyes when he fought back was like pure shock. They were so used to these more pampered kids being easier to bully.

    What a complicated issue 😦

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    1. What you are describing is exactly why it drives me nuts when folks talk about immigration as if it’s some monolithic thing. “Immigrants” are not a homogeneous group at all. One of my best friends is from a Mexican immigrant family that voted for Trump, and part of the reason why they’ve become die-hard Republicans is that they are exasperated by what they see as a shift in values within Hispanic communities. If you talk to them, they’d tell you that the white liberals their kids are dealing with are bad influences, while the same white liberals think they are the saviors in the equation. The whole thing is absurd.

      I really don’t think it is inevitable that these “flight” states become blue though. (I hear the same thing from family in Colorado.) At the end of the day, very few people want to live in a dysfunctional place.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. E Michael Jones says that the reason that Martin Luther King got rocks thrown at him in Chicago was not because he was black but because he was not Irish, or Polish, or Lithuanian, or whatever the neighborhood happened to be that he was visiting. Professor Jones says that all these “white” ethnics did not become “white” until their urban neighborhoods were broken up and they were driven to the suburbs and that’s where they got homogenized as a generic “white.”

    The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal As Ethnic Cleansing


    “The government initiative to renew America’s large cities has been a profound and devastating failure. More homes were destroyed than were built; once-great metropolises lay in ruins; once-thriving neighborhoods were overwhelmed with drugs and crime; buildings built to last centuries fell to the wrecking ball after mere decades. The traditional explanation is that this was done to eliminate “blight.” A more recent explanation is that it resulted from faulty design. The real story is different. What began as the World War II intelligence community’s attempt to solve America’s “nationalities problem” and provide workers for war industries degenerated into ethnic cleansing. In this meticulously documented book, E. Michael Jones proves that urban renewal had more to do with ethnicity than with design or hygiene or blight. It was the last gasp attempt of the WASP ruling class to control a country slipping out of its grasp for demographic reasons. The largely Catholic ethnics were to be driven from their neighborhoods into the suburbs, where they were to be Americanized according to WASP principles. The neighborhoods were to be turned over to sharecroppers from the South or turned into futuristic Bauhaus enclaves for new government elites. The Slaughter of Cities proposes a new take on familiar territory. Jones concentrates on Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago. His conclusions will be shocking and controversial. The destruction of the ethnic neighborhoods that made up the human, residential heart of these cities was not an unfortunate by-product of a well-intentioned plan that somehow went awry; it was part of the plan itself.”

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