Friday, June 17, 2011

Rachael A. Woldoff's "White Flight/Black Flight"

Rachael A. Woldoff is Associate Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University. She is coauthor of High Stakes: Big Time Sports and Urban Redevelopment.

Woldoff applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, White Flight/Black Flight: The Dynamics of Racial Change in an American Neighborhood, and reported the following:
What are neighbor relations between blacks and remaining whites like in the aftermath of white flight? Page 99 of my book, which falls in the middle of “Chapter 4: Cross-Racial Caregiving,” complicates what we think about neighborhood racial change and invites readers to consider its aftereffects.

In my study, black “pioneer” residents moved into a white neighborhood, which became mostly black within a decade. The remaining white residents, the “stayers,” were mostly elderly and wanted to continue to age in place. For these whites living next to black families, the unexpected possibilities of positive and meaningful cross-racial neighbor relationships materialized.

Page 99 [inset left, click to enlarge] of my book explains the cross-racial neighboring and the reasons that black pioneers provided support to white stayers, especially considering that they did not receive payment or tangible benefits in return. This page in particular emphasizes the importance of African American socialization into a culture of caregiving and respect for elderly.

The larger context of the story confronts stereotypes about the whites “left behind” when neighborhoods change. The assumptions many people have are that black neighborhoods are dangerous ghettos, white elderly residents are fearful, racist xenophobes, and black residents are suspicious of the white elderly neighbors with whom they have little in common.

However, stayers and pioneers had a different story to tell. Without the pioneers, many stayers would not have been able to remain in their preferred residential situations as long as they had. Many stayers lost their spouses, received few visitors, and increasingly struggled to complete even minor tasks. Pioneers’ help with daily chores and housework eased the burden and even prevented them from suffering from injuries and criminal victimization. Stayers also relied on pioneers for companionship and a shared sense of neighborhood identity. In this way, pioneers functioned as an essential part of stayers’ lives and contributed to their overall well-being.

As one stayer said of her new black neighbors, “They used to put salt down and clean the street and sidewalk. When he did his lawn, he did my lawn. He said, ‘I have to do like someone else would do for my mother.’ When I lost my husband, my neighbor gave me a lot of encouragement. He said, ‘In case you’re afraid or see something or hear something, knock on the wall. If you just notice some noise or thing that make you upset, just you knock on the wall.’”

Thus, for a time, the social world of this neighborhood became a far more racially diverse place than ever before; it was not just a neighborhood for exchanging pleasantries and welcomes, but it was also a place where neighbors helped people in need. While becoming established in their new homes and community, the pioneers often found themselves reaching out and coming to the aid of their elderly neighbors. Over time, neighbor relationships between stayers and pioneers evolved, matured, and deepened to become far more.
Learn more about White Flight/Black Flight at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue