White flight as a racist and reactionary phenomenon has been studied with its well-documented effects on record. But sociologist, Maria Kysan, from the University of Illinois says, “White families are increasingly self-segregating themselves in new ways — and it’s largely in the form of their moving decisions.”
Kysan says many people want to live in a diverse neighborhood, but in practice, they want a specific type of diversity. People have preferences over races and the percentages of various races.
Another sociologist, Cassi Meyerhoffer from Southern Connecticut State University, has research that puts specific racial preferences in neighborhood selection to the test.
Meyerhoffer interviewed white residents in Buffalo, NY, and Ogden, UT, to determine how white residents respond to neighbors of color.
Usually, white residents feel threatened by large numbers of minorities in a neighborhood. And typically, this fear is felt against the minority group with the largest numbers.
However, Meyerhoffer’s study shows a switch and a shift when white residents must choose between Latino or Black neighbors.
In both cities, Buffalo and Ogden, white residents would choose Black neighbors over Latino neighbors. These preferences remained true even when Blacks were the largest minority group. In both cities, white residents spoke about Latinos in similar ways.
The white residents, from various backgrounds and social demographics made statements like:
“I just feel a little more trusting of Black people because I’ve always dealt with Black people. I have Black friends.”
“I trust Black people more than I trust Latinos to tell you the truth.”
“I don’t have much experience with Hispanics, I have more experience with African-Americans.”
To be certain, the white residents preferred white-majority neighborhoods. And when the respondents thought about Black and Latino neighborhoods, crime was a major threat.
But when the respondents thought about Latinos as neighbors, or Latino neighborhoods, it was crime + culture that were the threats.
Latino neighbors in both Buffalo and Ogden were seen as threats to “the American way of life.” And in general, whites aren’t alone in these feelings about the American way of life.
According to a 2016 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings, 55% of all Americans believe the American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.
And specific to racial groups those numbers include 59% of whites and 53% of Blacks that say the American way of life must be protected from foreign influence.
Foreign influence is quite a broad term, and if applied en masse to Latinos it’s inaccurate. Most Latinos in the US are born in the US. The numbers of foreign-born Latinos have declined since 2000.
We could only wish people had Russia on their minds when answering this question about foreign influence, except this poll was about immigration and not infiltration.
But at the local level, the white residents in Buffalo and Ogden also cited language barriers, and not knowing Latino culture. And several mentioned Latinos being illegal immigrants who take jobs.
And perhaps most of all the white respondents felt comfortable talking about subjects like culture, language barrier, jobs, the economy, and citizenship, rather than race.
My big questions are why does this matter? And, why should this matter to other racial groups?
When They Say “Culture,” Remember What They Say About Black Culture
Culture for these respondents refers to behaviors and beliefs but also the “American way.” The phrase “All American,” is not an inclusive one for them.
Personally, I’ve heard people talk about the number of people who live in one house or an apartment. I’ve heard landlords talk about the number of refrigerators in a unit. All of that falls under culture for some people.
And culture has been used against Black people too. They might say, Black people play their music too loud. Or, they might say Black people get loud when in groups. Or they assume Black people like to hang out on the block or on the steps of their homes.
Black culture has been blamed by all shades of people.
Those who cite culture don’t care about the causes and conditions that create culture. They assume everyone is the same from a racial or ethnic group. And that sameness is badness.
When They Say “Taking Our Jobs,” Remember What They Say About Affirmative Action
Regardless of the legal status of their Latino neighbors, some white respondents assumed Latinos were illegal immigrants. And the other assumption is that the illegal immigrants are taking the jobs that belong to US citizens. They don’t seem to fault the businesses, instead, they blame the skin they see. What’s odd is the majority of Americans agree that immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want.
This anxiety over an undeserving someone else who takes a job that belongs to a person more qualified is what they say about affirmative action.
A Black face high up in the workplace or attending an elite university is thought to be there because of affirmative action.
Latinos are assumed to be illegal immigrants and Blacks are assumed to be the beneficiaries of affirmative action. Both assumptions question the legitimacy of a person’s status. And both assumptions say you don’t belong in my space.
When They Say “Language Barrier,” Remember What They Say About Ebonics
Many Latino people speak Spanish that’s a fact. And the white residents in the study assumed they would not be able to communicate with Latino residents.
But a Pew Research study in 2013, found that 6 out of 10 (62%) of US Latinos are either bilingual or prefer to speak English. And, in a 2011 survey, US Latinos overwhelmingly said immigrants need to learn English (87%).
This means just because one hears Spanish that doesn’t mean English isn’t possible.
So, at least some of this talk about communication is prejudice. And language has long been a way to judge people and discriminate.
With Black people, Ebonics or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), has been demonized. Ebonics is a language barrier for some too. And like Spanish, people stand on the language barrier and look down on Black people.
Ebonics has been mimicked and mocked in the same way someone might mimic and mock a foreign accent. Just sounding Black gets discrimination.
When They Say “Crime,” Remember What They Say About Us
Crime could include theft, drugs, assaults, gang violence, and homicides. Crime is a tangible threat to safety, security, and sanity. The respondents in the study cite media coverage as an influence on how they felt about crime in a neighborhood.
But there was also the presumption that the mere addition of Black or Latino faces meant crime would increase.
Crime is a way people infer race. And it’s a way to say certain races have criminal or violent tendencies. This same charge of criminal intent and predatory aggression has been placed on Black bodies for centuries.
Cracking the Code
The same old “codes” are switching to other racial groups in the United States. The codes have switched but the meanings are the same. The cries about immigration control are also cries about the increasing legal population of Latinos too. It has become easier to hide and openly express racial anxiety, stereotypes, scapegoating, white supremacy, and racism.
The factory of prejudice continues to churn out remakes and recycles of its go-to responses. Prejudice wants to reinvent and reapply itself.
As Meyerhoff puts it, “As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, patterns of prejudice against Latinos may become more similar to patterns of prejudice against blacks.”
Solidarity is still critical. We have to get a clue and reject these patterns. Let’s take note of how those with power switches switch. Then we can all grab the switch and stop.