Thursday, March 27, 2008

"white flight" and hegemonic discourse

I always hated the term "white flight" used to describe the transition from a white neighborhood to a minority neighborhood because it focuses only on one half of the story. Because in order for a white homeowner to "fly" and sell his house you need a minority homeowner to enter and buy the house. So why is it that only the white person has agency while the majority is embedded in structure. The white person is doing, while the minority is having something done to him. When you flip the scenario, and have a minority neighborhood transition to white, it's called gentrification, and again it is the white folk doing the gentrifying and it is not "black flight" though empirically the two should be the same.

Not sure if anyone has done the paper that separates out whether increasing black population lowers prices or whether decreasing prices attracts a greater black population. Might be a good economic paper.

This center has agency, periphery embedded in structure mode of discourse I'm sure has been studied to death. But an interesting area of research that I have little clue about. Just thought about it because TAL did a recent story on gentrification, and why because micromotives for macrobeaviors are hard to see, folk logic assumes gentrification is conspiracy driven, rather than driven by market forces. But that's another subject.


hcduvall said...

Well, from a general inexpert point of view, I suppose that approach is because the "white" elements, and in these cases typically combining racial and socio-economic class together, are the ones with more potent agency. "White" is you move out of a neighborhood because you have the means to do so, and you move into a fix-upper likewise because you can, to grossly generalize with the story scenarios. And on the flip, you don't move out because you can't, and you move in because the affordability is there. They aren't empirically the same because the change of the neighborhoods isn't demographic first but because of economic cost of living changes. "White flight" is you could afford to say but choose not to; the other flight caused by gentrification is (unless you are repelled by yuppies and hipsters) by being priced out.

I wouldn't argue that the racial context might not be needlessly reductive (though denying it's role would likewise be willfully ignorant), I don't think these terms have grown carelessly, or beyond usefulness just yet.

HoBs said...

yeah, agreed. i over simplified.

So you say whites have "more agency" And that was exactly my point. That in how we talk, whites always have more agency. Though I suppose all you are doing is equating agency with whoever has more money, which may be legitimate.

But just the idea is that in order for a white person to choose to move in, a non-white person has to choose to move out. Therefore there is some symmetry in the transaction.

hcduvall said...

Hence my judicious use of air quotes my friend. I guess what else is being hopped over gingerly beyond the confine of blog posts and comments is the way the community changes during such a process, and all the attendant feelings of displacement et al.