Thursday, November 15, 2007

White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

by Kevin M. Kruse
Princeton University Press
Paperback, $18.95
352 pages, illustrated
ISBN: 978-0-691-13386-7

Book Review by Kam Williams

“At the start of the 21st Century, the politics created by white flight are not simply still present; they are predominant. Despite its fundamental importance in contemporary political and social life, however, the roots of modern suburban conservatism remain largely obscured.
On the surface, its policies appear to have little to do with the forgotten struggles over segregation. Upon closer examination, however, much of the modern suburban conservative agenda… was, in fact, first articulated and advanced in the resistance of Southern whites to desegregation...
Recognizing the legacies of white flight would be a first step in reducing the steady tensions between the cities and suburbs and help bring together a nation that with every year seems ever more polarized by race, region, and class. Before that can happen, however, white Americans must stop running away from their past.”
-- Excerpted from the Epilogue (pg. 266)

Despite the significant inroads made in terms of dismantling segregation in the wake of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the truth is that today, some fifty years later, the bulk of the black community continues to find itself beset by many of the same woes supposedly cured during the Civil Rights Movement. Yes, the African-American access to the vote, public schools, fair housing and job opportunities may now, at least technically, be guaranteed legally, however, the power structure has proven to be quite adept at reformulating the rules to ensure that white citizens continue to enjoy their privileged status.
This is the contention of Kevin M. Kruse, a Professor of History at Princeton University. And in his informative book, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, he makes the case that the Southern racist reaction to court-ordered desegregation created a blueprint soon to be adopted by the rest of the nation.
Basically, he says that rather than share equal facilities with blacks, whites have simply abandoned the cities for suburbia, establishing exclusive residential, employment and educational oases remote from urban areas. Virtually all of the old downtown areas were then allowed to decay. So, although no state-sanctioned, or de jure, color line continued to exist, none was really needed anymore, since African-Americans could now be comfortably discriminated against via an unassailable form of de facto segregation.
Kruse’s informative opus is primarily an examination of the exodus of Caucasians from Atlanta between 1950 and 1970. Nonetheless, his scope is much wider as he extrapolates from what transpired there to makes some damning conclusions about how blacks have again ended up a marginalized segment of society in general.
For the same fate of re-segregation has befallen not only the rest of the South but “cities like Denver, Detroit and Boston”. The author even goes so far as to argue that the resulting Rust Belt can be blamed as much on de-segregation as on de-industrialization, as “virtually all whites reacted to the course of civil rights change with some degree of opposition and distancing.”
Modern-day America revealed as an enduring dystopia where the demise of white supremacy has subtly been supplanted by the rise of white suburbia.

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