Lifetime in slipstream of white flight

Richard Bacon
Chicago, IL

Mid 1970s living in perfectly nice middle class neighborhood in NE Dallas Texas. The desecration, by busing, of the neighborhood school (which was mediocre anyway) caused about half the families with school age children to move out in one summer. My best friend moved. Those of us who stayed were dispersed to private schools, or lived in families that “didn’t care.” It was like surviving a plague–half the people you knew were suddenly gone.

By high school, I was back in Dallas public schools, at a superior high school with multiple academic magnet programs and about 40-50% white kids. But by early 1980s it was clear that the “best” white kids had moved to suburbs or private schools. Dallas ISD is now only 5% white.

As an adult I moved to Chicago, to the South Side, for grad school, living in a neighborhood surrounded by a sea of neglected and abandoned neighborhoods, beautiful places with tree-lined boulevards, right by Lake Michigan, that white people fled a generation earlier.

Then I married a South Side Irish/Polish woman. Here entire extended family & friends had fled multiple times, moving en masse and replicating whole streets in a new suburb, only to flee that new refuge when a black family moves in. And every move some get left behind and the familial and social connections get frayed a little more. For 3 generations white flight has been organizing principle of this population.

I now live in one of those abandoned/neglected South Side neighborhoods, not wanting to recapitulate the white flight story of my life. It’s a wonderful street, rehabed and infill dwellings, with really wonderful neighbors. But I still feel like refugee.

I don’t blame black people for all this. I blame the white folks who disrupted and dislocated our lives. They wanted to be “safe,” but they create self-fulfilling prophecy with their fear.


Tweets by Michele Norris