How is Black Migration Changing the Country? [Reader Forum]

Black families are moving to the South and the suburbs. How will this effect, well, everything? Our readers chime in.

By Channing Kennedy Oct 17, 2011

Last week, our intern John Sullivan brought us some of what he’s been working on for our publisher, the Applied Research Center, and it’s fascinating stuff. In short, Black families are moving south, and to the suburbs. In some ways, this seems self-evident; why stick around in urban centers with high unemployment rates? But it’s not quite that simple; the suburban centers to which Black people are moving have lower employment rates than white-majority suburbs, for one, and residential sprawl creates the same problems everywhere. And this migration pattern’s ramifications for community organizing, and for black voting power, are yet to be understood.

John’s article and data points drew some interesting commentary from the bloggerati, including ThinkProgress’ Matt Yglesias, and kicked off a delightfully nerdy conversation here in the Colorlines community. Here’s what you had to say.

jpj248 starts us off:

The influx of educated middle class, mostly white young people into urban areas is a well-documented trend. This "bright flight" was highlighted by a 2010 Brookings Institution report which analyzed U.S. Census data from 2000-2008. The report found that for the first time in the nation’s history, the majority of people of color in the U.S. live outside of the city proper. ( 1, 2, 3, 4 )

[…] I wonder what this means on the flipside, for city centers that are becoming increasingly whiter and gentrified. Along with this "bright flight" of young white transplants into the cities has been significant discussion in the architecture, design, and urban planning world regarding "revitalization" and making cities more "liveable." However, is this strain of urban planning leaving suburbs and communities of color out of the picture? Is there enough policy work and thinking around improving our suburbs, which are arguably where the real "diversity" and "melting pot" are?

Andrea responds:

It is a new white flight. with white retirees returning to mixed development, low maintenance areas of the urban core, and new families or urban pioneers colonizing areas once only frequented by artists, the elderly and minorities.

I am a PhD student in Planning and Historic Preservation. There is a dialogue acknowledging the displacement, but a fear around talking about race. Instead, they talk about the challenges of social equity and community resiliency, which I see as very sanitized ways to engage what is a new emergency. Suburban divestment follows reinvestment in cities.

Yazmin Aguilar responds to another commenter’s remark that blacks are being run out of cities by Latino migration:

Hispanics are not running anyone out. If anyone is running any minorities out of anywhere, it is the federal and local government. It is time we stop pointing fingers at other minorities that are facing the same injustice; instead, we need to point fingers at the ones who are really behind all the injustice that minorities face.

CJ Johnson Writes:

The points brought up in this article are disturbing and not encouraging sadly. Particularly the mentions of the possible weakening of the black vote in suburban metropolitan areas, which I have personally witnessed in the Dallas metropolitan area. Too many young, educated, and professional blacks have abandoned the city, to live in suburbs in order to acquire McMansions.

Instead of designing what the American dream looks like for us, we have just adapted to or followed what mass white America did during the mid-20th century. Who are now returning to the core of cities in droves and at the detriment of misplacing people of color.


The suburbs are where the effects of sprawl are hurting people the most, and while deindustrialization of many northern cities has been a fierce scourge on black families, the arrangement of low-density housing and low-margin employers will likely just make the problem worse. It will not help build wealth in the black community, and like so many in the suburbs now, many of the migrants will continue to live ‘one paycheck away.’

[…] The South is great. I grew up in NC and I am annoyed by people from elsewhere who malign the region. Nothing wrong with appreciating hospitality and sunshine! The sprawling community-less, unwalkable, over-leveraged, poorly-built, unsustainable, wealth-eroding suburbs are not, however, awesome.

Regardless of what the brochures say, a land of suburbs is not a good long-term strategy for addressing ‘what ails this country’ or its citizens. If they remain the American dream, we have no future. I am discouraged that black families (and policymakers) are being duped into buying the same soon-to-spoil goods that have been so fundamental to the housing and financial crisis.

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