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Racial Segregation
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Segregation in the US
Black Codes • Jim Crow laws • Redlining • Racial steering • Blockbusting • White flight • Black flight • Gentrification • Sundown towns • Proposition 14 • Indian Appropriations • Indian Reservation
May Laws • Japanese American internment • Italian American internment • Immigration Act of 1924 • Separate but equal • Ghettos

White flight is the sociologic and demographic term denoting a trend wherein whites flee urban communities as the minority population increases, and move to other places like commuter towns.[1][2][3] Although an American coinage, “white flight” denotes like behavior in other countries. In many mixed-race cities in the U.S., the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision of the Supreme Court, ordering the de jure racial desegregation of public schools in the United States, and subsequent attempts to achieve de facto desegregation by means of forced busing, were major factors propelling white flight.[4][5] However, white flight was observed during the 1950's and 1960's even in those cities (such as Detroit and Cleveland) where racial segregation of public schools was banned long before Brown.

The business practices of redlining, mortgage discrimination, and racially-restrictive covenants have been credited with accelerated white flight to the suburbs. The denying of banking and insurance and other social services or the exorbitant prices of said services increased their cost to residents in predominantly non-white suburbs and city neighborhoods.[6][7]Furthermore, according to Laura Pulido, the historical processes of suburbanization and urban decentralization contribute to contemporary environmental racism.[8]


White flight in the United States

White flight has occurred, and occurs, in almost every large U.S. city,[9] begun consequent to the post–World War II baby and economic booms. Explosive suburban population growth, and racially integrated city populations were made feasible by the building of highways and parkways bypassing non-white neighborhoods to reduce travel time between town and the country.[10]



After World War II, aided by the construction of the interstate highway system, many White Americans began fleeing large cities to new suburbs. These suburbs often had racially-restrictive housing policies. In the cities, the post-war housing shortages - resulting from the influx of rural black african, mexican, and chicano workers for war-effort employment combined with the massive numbers of military white european, mexican, and chicano returning home from the war - aggravated pre-existing socio-economic inequalities between the races. Those social conditions propitiated white flight from urban downtown areas to outlying suburbs and subdivisions where the post-war housing boom was already well under way. With the unprecedented influx of blacks and poor whites into the nation's cities during the war, middle-class and middle working-class whites considered these locales far preferable to the inner cities, many of whose infrastructures were already in serious decline. A practice further reinforcing unofficial segregation in states outside the old Confederate South was exclusionary covenants in title deeds and real estate neighborhood redlining[11] — explicit, legally sanctioned racial discrimination in real property ownership and lending practices; thus Black Americans were effectively disbarred from pursuing the American Dream of homeownership, even when they were able to afford it.[10] Suburban expansion was reserved for middle-class and working-class white people, facilitated by their increased wages incurred by the war effort and by subsequent federally-guaranteed mortgages (VA, FHA, HOLC) available only to whites to buy new houses. Blacks and other minorities were relegated to a state of permanent rentership.[12]

The roads built via the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956) and its successors, built to transport suburbanites to their city jobs, much aided white flight, and proportionately reduced the city’s supporting tax base, thus, consequently, beginning urban decay.[13] In some cases, such as in the Southern United States, local governments used highway road constructions to deliberately divide and isolate black neighborhoods from goods and services, often within industrial corridors. In Birmingham, Alabama, the local government used the post–World War II interstate highway system to perpetuate the racial residence-boundaries the city established with a 1926 racial zoning law. Constructing interstate highways through majority-black neighborhoods eventually reduced the populations to the poorest proportion of people financially unable to leave their destroyed community.[14]


The real estate business practice of “blockbusting” was a very important means of controlling non-white migration and aiding white flight for profit. By subterfuge, real estate agents would facilitate black people buying a house in a white neighborhood; either buying the house themselves, or via a white proxy buyer, and then re-selling it over-priced to the black family. The consequent panic among the remaining white inhabitants (aggravated by real estate agents and the local newsmedia)[15], would psychologically coerce the remaining white inhabitants, fearing devalued residential property, to quickly sell, usually at a loss — realized when they began selling en masse — thus generating great sales commissions for the agents. In turn, the real estate agents would then sell at higher-than-market prices to the incoming black families, profiting from price arbitrage and the sales commissions from both the black and white victims of such schemes. Thereby, the racial composition of a neighborhood populace often changed completely in a few years.[16]

Urban decay

Urban decay in the US: the South Bronx, New York City, was exemplar of the federal and local governments’ abandonment of the cities in the 1970s and 1980s; the Spanish sign reads “FALSE PROMISES”, the English sign reads “BROKEN PROMISES”.

Urban decay is the sociological process whereby a city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude — depopulation, economic restructuring, abandoned buildings, high local unemployment, fragmented families, political disenfranchisement, crime, and a desolate, inhospitable city landscape. White flight’s draining of a city’s tax base is one cause.

In the 1970s and 1980s, urban decay was associated with Western cities, especially in North America and parts of Europe. In that time, major structural changes in global economies, transportation, and government policy created the economic, then social, conditions resulting in urban decay.[17] Urban decay contradicts the urban development of most of Europe and North America, in countries beyond, urban decay is manifest in the peripheral slums at the outskirts of a metropolis, while the city center and the inner city retain high real estate values and sustain a steadily increasing population.[10]

North American cities suffered white flight to the suburbs and exurb commuter towns, which [10] started to reverse in the 1990s, when the rich suburbanites returned to the city via gentrification of the decayed urban neighborhoods by over-paying for (and over-pricing) the real estate and so economically expelling the original poor inhabitants. Blight is another characteristic of urban decay — the visual, psychological, and physical effects of living among empty lots, and buildings and houses labelled “THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED”. Such desolate properties are socially dangerous to the community because they attract criminals and street gangs, thus contributing to the volume of crime. Urban decay has no single cause; it results from combinations of inter-related socio-economic conditions — including the city’s urban planning decisions, strictly-enforced rent control,[citation needed] the poverty of the local populace, the construction of neighborhood-excluding freeway roads and rail road lines,[18] depopulation by suburbanization of peripheral lands, real estate neighborhood redlining,[19] immigration restrictions,[20] and racial discrimination.

Government-aided white flight

The organization of municipal government in the U.S. facilitated white flight from racially diverse cities by establishing new municipalities beyond the abandoned city’s jurisdiction to avoid the legacy costs of maintaining city infrastructures, instead spending said taxes establishing the suburban infrastructures. The federal government contributed to white flight and the early decay of non-white city neighborhoods by withholding maintenance capital mortgages, thus making it difficult for the communities to either retain or attract middle-class residents.[21]

The new suburban communities limited the emigration of poor and non-white residents from the city with restrictive zoning, thus few lower middle-class people could afford a house in the suburbs. In the event, many all-white suburbs were incorporated to the cities they had fled. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, partially incorporated towns such as Granville, Wisconsin; the (then) Mayor, Frank P. Zeidler complained about the societal destructive "Iron Ring" of new municipalities incorporated in the post–World War II decade.[22] Analogously, semi-rural communities, such as Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, and Franklin, formally incorporated as discrete entities, to escape urban incorporation when Wisconsin state law allowed Milwaukee’s incorporation of such rural and sub-urban regions, that did not qualify for discrete incorporation, per the legal incorporation standards.[23][24]

Desegregation: public schools and student busing

The post–World War II racial desegregation of U.S. society — especially of the public schools — catalyzed white flight from the cities to the suburbs. In 1954, the US Supreme Court ordered the de jure termination of the “separate, but equal” legal racism established with the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case in the nineteenth century, thus, with the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case, the Supreme Court ordered the racial desegregation of public schools, because the unequal funding of majority-black and majority-white public schools ensured that black people received an inferior public education despite paying taxes for it. In 1971, in the case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the Supreme Court ordered the forced busing of poor black students to suburban white schools, and wealthy white students to poor schools in the city. In the case of Milliken v. Bradley (1974), the dissenting Justice William Douglas observed that “the inner core of Detroit is now rather solidly black; and the blacks, we know, in many instances are likely to be poorer. . . .” Like-wise, in 1977, the Federal decision in Penick v. The Columbus Board of Education (1977) accelerated white flight from Columbus, Ohio. The racial desegregation of schools and the racial integration of U.S. society were most opposed by white people whose children attended private schools, yet, the most vehement opponents of racial integration were white people whose children attended private, religious schools.[25][26]

A secondary, non-geographic consequence, of school desegregation and busing was cultural white flight: withdrawing white children from the mixed-race public school system and matriculating them to private schools unaffected by U.S. federal integration laws. In 1970, when the United States District Court for the Central District of California ordered the Pasadena Unified School District desegregated, the white-student proportion (54%) of the schools approximately reflected the school district’s proportional white populace (53%).

Once the federally-ordered school desegregation occurred, whites who could afford private schools withdrew their children from the racially diverse Pasadena public school system. In result, by 2004, Pasadena had 63 private schools educating some 33% of schoolchildren, while white students made up only 16% of the public school populace. The Pasadena Unified School District superintendent characterized public schools as “like the bogey-man” to whites and implemented policies meant to persuade white parents to matriculate their children to the racially diverse Pasadena public school district.[27] In the event, white flight rapidly altered the racial composition of public school systems; upon desegregation, in Baltimore, Maryland, the Clifton Park Junior High School had 2,023 white students and 34 black students; 10 years later, it had 12 white students and 2,037 black students. In northwest Baltimore, Garrison Junior High School’s student body declined from 2,504 whites and 12 blacks to 297 whites and 1,263 blacks in that period.[28]

Recent decades

The New York City and Los Angeles metropolises now experience black flight consequent to the growing Hispanic and Asian populations settling in traditionally African-American communities.[29][30] In 1967, the 12th Street Riot of Detroit, Michigan, contributed to white flight, leaving contemporary Detroit more than 80 percent black, and most of its suburbs, including Livonia, Dearborn, and Warren, overwhelmingly white.[31]

A unique example of white flight in the United States took place in Miami: in 1980, the Mariel Boatlift brought 150,000 Cubans to Miami, the largest such migration in U.S. civilian history[citation needed]. During this time, many of the middle class non-Hispanic whites in the community left the city. As a consequence, while in non-Hispanic whites made up about 90% of Miami's population in 1960, by 1990 they made up only about 10%.[32]

Southern California

In Southern California, white flight from Los Angeles began before the racial Watts Riots in 1965, but the riots appear to have increased the pace of flight. Likewise, the 1992 riots spurred both black flight and white flight from the city. In California and in the rest of the western U.S., Hispanic Americans are the greatest ethnic minority; as their communities increased in size in larger cities, so increased the white flight to the suburbs. During the 1990s and early 2000s, African Americans continued migrating from the historically black communities of Inglewood and Compton, which now have mostly Latino populations, to Inland Empire, California communities such as Fontana, Rialto, Moreno Valley, Palmdale, as well as parts of Orange, and Ventura Counties.[33] (See black flight.)

In San Diego, white flight in the 1950s occurred in much of the southern parts of the city, such as South East San Diego, as residents moved to neighborhoods in the more northern part of San Diego County. As a result of this the majority of the neighborhoods south of the I-8 highway are predominantly Hispanic, African-American, or Filipino.

Northern California

Since 1980, in the states west of Texas, San Francisco and Oakland are the only major U.S. cities whose white populations have increased. After sixty years of having been a predominantly black city, gentrification begun in the 1990s has changed the demographic composition of Oakland. Most of the Asian-American population of the San Francisco Bay Area live in San Mateo County, San Jose, Santa Clara, the East Bay, Sonoma, and Napa Valley, not the city proper. The non-white proportions — 20 percent black and 40 percent Latino — of the socially conservative capital city of Sacramento (38% white) are greater than the comparable proportions of socially liberal San Francisco.

White flight world-wide


In Australia, white flight occurred in the cities where most immigrants, usually Asian, settled, especially Sydney, from where Anglo-Celtic Australians have fled from the South-Western Sydney suburbs, because of the increased non-white populace, and have moved to peripheral metropolitan suburbs, notably Penrith, New South Wales and the northern coast of GosfordWyong. These white flight destination suburbs remain predominantly white (Anglo-Celtic).[34]


Non-white immigration to Ireland at the twentieth century’s end provoked white flight from Dublin to the island's interior and peripheral suburbs, which an economist described as “unprecedented white flight”. In 2006, the Central Statistic Office forecast that white flight would continue.[35] Also, international and Irish news media reported an emerging pattern of indigenous Irish self-segregation centered upon Gaeilge (Irish language) schools in reaction against the increased percentages of non-white and foreign immigrant pupils matriculated to Dublin schools.[36][37]

The Netherlands

In recent years, and especially after the Muslim assassination of the artist Theo van Gogh, some Dutch people have left the Netherlands, emigrating to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Aggravating the high-population density stresses, the rise of inter-ethnic violence and crime between the indigenous Dutch people and non-white immigrants are cited as motives for white flight.[38][39]

New Zealand

From the 1950s to the 1970s, white flight in areas of New Zealand was a gradual reaction to the mass urbanization of Māori natives and Pacific island guest workers. In Auckland, white flight mostly has reversed since the 1980s, with European New Zealanders residing in neighborhoods that previously had non-white (Māori and Pacific Islander) populaces such as Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, and Kingsland. Contemporarily, those previously non-white city neighborhoods and the CBD are amongst the most expensive, desirable real estate in Auckland and New Zealand. Similar gentrification has occurred in Wellington inner city neighborhoods of Thorndon, Newtown, and Aro Valley.[citation needed]


White flight in Norway is the result of mass immigration, starting in the 1960s, and increasing since. By June 2009, more than 40% of Oslo schools had a majority of people of immigrant backgrounds, with some schools having up to a 97% immigrant share.[40] Schools in Oslo are increasingly divided by ethnicity, with white flights segregating cities being widespread.[41][42] For instance, in the Oslo borough of Groruddalen, which currently has a population around 165 000, the ethnic Norwegian population decreased by 1.500 in 2008, while the immigrant population increased by 1.600,[43] and in thirteen years, a total of 18.000 ethnic Norwegians had moved from the borough.[44]

After receiving an increasing amount of attention, in January 2010, on the news program Dagsrevyen on the public Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, a feature story was introduced as "Oslo has become a racially divided city. In some city districts the racial segregation starts already in kindergarten." During the feature, it was also said that "in the last years the brown schools have become browner, and the white schools whiter", an outspokenness which caused some minor controversy.[45][44]

South Africa

South African white flight, notably from the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban, was a reaction to the interior immigration of Black South Africans to the cities as the legal racism of apartheid ended. In the event, White South Africans fled either to the suburbs, or emigrated from racially integrated South Africa.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

Trevor Phillips, head of the UK Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, and Mike Poulsen, an Australian academic, have claimed that White Britons and non-white Britons are becoming more segregated. However, researchers Ceri Peach, Danny Dorling, and Ludi Simpson have argued that segregation in the UK is either stable or declining.[46] Demographic data indicate trends of simultaneous ethnic minority dispersal and segregation. In the 1980s and 1990s, ethnic minority populations increased in both white-majority suburbs and towns and the inner city districts of first immigrant settlement.[47] In areas such as Newham and Brent, White Britons have become a minority, though they remain the single largest ethnic group.[48] Unlike in the United States, all major UK cities have white-majority populaces.[49] Researcher Ludi Simpson says that the growth of ethnic minorities in Britain is due mostly to natural population growth (births outnumber deaths) rather than immigration, and that both white and non-white Britons are equally likely to leave mixed-race inner-city areas. In his opinion, these trends indicate counter urbanization rather than white flight.[50]


White flight in Sweden have followed the same pattern as white flight elsewere. The triggering event was mass immigration starting in the 1990s. Especially in larger cities the white flight is more obvious in suburban areas. In particular, the third largest city of Malmö, the white flight problem is the most obvious. Infamous suburbs in Malmö, such as Rosengård has as much as 86% immigrants[51] and percentage gets higher with the descendents of immigrants, mostly originating from the Middle East/North Africa. Recent debates (2009) in Sweden, different parties argued for the necessity of breaking the social structure in nearby white segregated towns like Vellinge by relocating newly arrived young male immigrants to those areas by law[52].

See also


  1. ^ David J. Armor. Forced Justice: School Desegregation and the Law. Oxford University Press US, 1986.
  2. ^ The Best Story of Our Lives By Bobbi Bowman
  3. ^ ABC News: Increasing Diversity
  4. ^ Charles T. Clotfelter. After Brown: The Rise and Retreat of School Desegregation. Princeton University Press, 2004.
  5. ^ Diane Ravitch. The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980. Basic Books, 1984.
  6. ^ White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin M. Kruse. ISBN 978-0-691-13386-7
  7. ^ How East New York Became a Ghetto by Walter Thabit. ISBN 0-8147-8267-1. Page 42.
  8. ^ Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California, by Laura Pulido Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 90, No. 1 (Mar. 2000), pp.12-40
  9. ^ Growing diversity of American cities By Anushka Asthana, Washington Post. Monday 21 August 2006
  10. ^ a b c d Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States by Kenneth T. Jackson. ISBN 0-19-503610-7
  11. ^ Crossney and Bartelt 2005 Urban GeographyCrossney and Bartelt 2006 Housing Policy Debate
  12. ^ "Racial" Provisions of FHA Underwriting Manual, 1938

    Recommended restrictions should include provisions for: prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended . . . Schools should be appropriate to the needs of the new community, and they should not be attended in large numbers by inharmonious racial groups. Federal Housing Administration, Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act With Revisions to February, 1938 (Washington, D.C.), Part II, Section 9, Rating of Location.

  13. ^ Locational Dimensions of Urban Highway Impact: An Empirical Analysis, by James O. Wheeler, “Geografiska Annaler”. Series-B, Human Geography, Vol. 58, No. 2 (1976) pp.67-78
  14. ^ From Racial Zoning to Community Empowerment: The Interstate Highway System and the African American Community in Birmingham, Alabama Charles E. Connerly Journal of Planning Education and Research, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp.99-114 (2002)
  15. ^ [Ford, Richard T. The race card : how bluffing about bias makes race relations worse; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008; pp. 290-291]
  16. ^ Blockbusting - Encyclopedia of Chicago History
  17. ^ Urban Sores: On the Interaction Between Segregation, Urban Decay, and Deprived Neighbourhoods, by Hans Skifter Andersen. ISBN 0-7546-3305-5. 2003.
  18. ^ The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro, p.522.

    The construction of the Gowanus Parkway, laying a concrete slab on top of lively, bustling Third Avenue, buried the avenue in shadow, and when the parkway was completed, the avenue was cast forever into darkness and gloom, and its bustle and life were forever gone.

  19. ^ How East New York Became a Ghetto by Walter Thabit. ISBN 0-8147-8267-1. Page 42.
  20. ^ Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival By Paul S. Grogan, Tony Proscio. ISBN 0-8133-3952-9. Published 2002. pp.139-145.

    "The 1965 law brought an end to the lengthy and destructive — at least for cities — period of tightly restricted immigration a spell born of the nationalism and xenophobia of the 1920s", p.140

  21. ^ When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, by William Julius Wilson (1996) ISBN 0-679-72417-6
  22. ^ Mayor served 'the public welfare': Longtime city icon known for integrity, energy, principles, by Alan J. Borsuk. “Journal Sentinel”, 8 July 2006
  23. ^ Joel Rast, "Governing the Regimeless City: The Frank Zeidler Administration in Milwaukee, 1948–1960", Urban Affairs Review, Vol. 42, No. 1, 81-112 (2006)
  24. ^ Donald J. Curran, "Infra-Metropolitan Competition", Land Economics, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Feb., 1964), pp. 94-99
  25. ^ Jacobson, Cardell K., “Desegregation Rulings and Public Attitude Changes: White Resistance or Resignation?”, American Journal of Sociology, v.84 n.3, pp.698–705.
  26. ^ C.W. Nevius: Racism alive and well in S.F. schools - here's proof
  27. ^ Tackling Local Resistance to Public Schools By John Ryan
  28. ^ Reasons and Results 1957-1997
  29. ^ Diversity is our strength
  30. ^ Rainbow Coalition
  31. ^ Most Racially Uniform Cities, - CBS News
  32. ^ Miami, Florida Wikipedia article, retrieved January 29, 2006.
  33. ^ Pollard-Terry, Gayle. “Where It's Booming: Watts”, Los Angeles Times, 16 October 2005. p.E-1.
  34. ^ Birrell, Bob, and Seol, Byung-Soo. 'Sydney's Ethnic Underclass', People and Place, vol. 6, no. 3, September 1998.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^,8599,1853128,00.html
  38. ^ Dutch desert their changing country
  39. ^ More Dutch Plan to Emigrate as Muslim Influx Tips Scales
  40. ^ 40 prosent av Osloskolene har innvandrerflertall
  41. ^ Bredeveien, Jo Moen (2 June 2009). "Rømmer til hvitere skoler". Dagsavisen. 
  42. ^ Lundgaard, Hilde (22 August 2009). "Foreldre flytter barna til "hvitere" skoler". Aftenposten. 
  43. ^ Slettholm, Andreas (15 December 2009). "Ola og Kari flytter fra innvandrerne". Aftenposten. 
  44. ^ a b "Noen barn er brune". Nettavisen. 15 January 2010. 
  45. ^ Ringheim, Gunnar; Fransson, Line; Glomnes, Lars Molteberg (14 January 2010). "«Et stort flertall av barna er brune»". Dagbladet. 
  46. ^ Dominic Casciani, So who's right over segregation?, BBC News Magazine, 4 September 2006, accessed 21 September 2006
  47. ^ Whites leaving cities
  48. ^ BBC NEWS | CENSUS 2001
  49. ^ 'Minority White Cities?', chapter 7 in [1] Finney and Simpson (2009).
  50. ^ Simpson, L. Myths and counterarguments: a quick reference summary.
  51. ^
  52. ^



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