On `white flight'

December 08, 2005|By THOMAS SOWELL

"The New White Flight" was the title of an eye-opening article in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal. It was about a high school in Cupertino, Calif., where a growing Asian-American student population is causing academic standards to rise - and causing many white parents to withdraw their children from the school and some to move out of the community.

The school has some of the highest test scores in the state. But although everybody is in favor of high academic standards in the abstract, not everyone is in favor of having to struggle to meet those standards.

A white mother who was taking her son to an after-school soccer game noticed all the Asian-American parents arriving to take their children to an after-school study program. A few years of her son playing soccer while the Asian kids were hitting the books would be bound to create academic disparities.

The phrase "white flight" is completely misleading. All over the world and throughout history, groups have collected together with people like themselves, whether by race, income, education, religion or any number of other characteristics. There is nothing unique when white people do it.

A century or so ago, when Polish immigrants began moving into various Detroit neighborhoods, blacks began moving out. The research of pioneering black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier showed long ago that Harlem and other black communities were internally divided, with people of different income, education and behavior patterns living in distinctly different zones.

When blacks move into a neighborhood and whites move out, that is something visible to the naked eye, but there is nothing unique about such "white flight." The phrase is misleading for the same reason that saying white people have toenails would be misleading. It is true in itself but suggests something unique that is in fact common to human beings of all sorts.

It is not just in residential patterns that people sort themselves out in many ways. People tend to marry other people with similar IQs, even when they don't know what those IQs are. They just tend to gravitate toward people whose levels of understanding are similar to their own.

That people sort themselves out in many ways is not usually a big problem, except to those people who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling other people what to do. Government programs to unsort people who have sorted themselves out have produced one social disaster after another.

The decades-long attempts to mix black and white schoolchildren through school busing produced no real educational benefits but much racial polarization and ill will. The same thing continues to be done in colleges in the name of "diversity" - and with the same bad results.

Among the most unconscionable attempts to unsort people who have sorted themselves out by behavior are government programs to relocate people into neighborhoods where they could not afford to live without subsidies. Often the people in those neighborhoods have sacrificed for years in order to be able to live where they could raise their children in decent surroundings and not have to live in fear of hoodlums - only to have the government import the bad neighbors and hoodlums they have tried so hard to escape.

Both kinds of people may be of the same race, but that does not make the consequences any less painful or the resentments any less bitter. Blacks as well as whites have objected to having problem people thrust into their midst through housing subsidies or government housing projects being built in their neighborhoods.

Almost never do the social experimenters relocate dysfunctional and dangerous people into their own elite neighborhoods. They unsort other people's neighborhoods and embitter other people's lives.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His syndicated column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is info@creators.com.

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