A blueprint for `black flight'?

Copyright Chicago Tribune Co. Nov 5, 1991

William Simpson is the editor of The Monitor, the newsletter of the Park Forest NAACP.

When author Charles Murray ("Losing Ground") was asked his opinion on large-scale federal and state programs for helping the poor, he replied he knew of none that have had "meaningful success." It is a doomed hope, he felt, to think that successes found in demonstration programs can be duplicated on a national scale (many other observers, at all points along the political spectrum, feel the same).

This is a caution that anyone should start from when analyzing studies such as the one that recently came out of Northwestern University (presented by investigator Prof. James E. Rosenbaum) on the successes of the Gautreaux housing plan for moving black inner-city poor to suburbs. After a generation of failures of large-scale programs, every new one should be taken with a fistful of salt.

But persistent reformers are going to continue to advocate more of the same, and based on small demonstration programs like the Gautreaux one (which has been administered by the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities), proponents are backing congressional bills to provide federal funds for a bigger demonstration project to enable the engineered movement of more African-American poor to suburban or more affluent communities.

Though the Northwestern University study came up with conclusions that anyone with a smidgen of common sense would have known (without the stamp of a prestigious university), still the conclusions showing that African-Americans in the suburbs go on to college in higher percentages than those in the inner-city do pose some complex issues for blacks that should be given a thorough airing by African-Americans.

The first thing to be noted and always kept at the forefront of awareness is that the demonstration and any ensuing large-scale projects involving the manipulation of black people are and will be run by whites. Under such a condition, it can be expected that the goals and the means of the programs will reflect the white perspective as to what black people "are," and "what is best for them," with the satisfaction of white self-interest the main goal.

Thus, the foundation of the Gautreaux housing program is the white administrators' disdain for social units that are majority or all African-American. It has been consistently pointed out by advocates of engineered housing programs that integration is not possible without the scattering of black families to avoid clustering. So, the Gautreaux project has been based on that presumption. And, whereas it is only a small program (averaging about 290 placements a year), the institution of a federal program based on Gautreaux principles could affect tens of thousands of African-American families nationwide.

This is a prospect of profound potential for black people. Think what it means, basically, for African-Americans to be scattered in suburbs per a Gautreaux pattern, insofar as those blacks placed are cut off from the traditional support that has been a part of daily living provided by black friends, family, churches and other African-American associations.

Whereas it is demonstrable that more black children from suburban communities will go to college, what are some of the ignored disadvantages that may and do result from the situation? One of the most consistent criticisms about the state of black communities is that as African-Americans gain a measure of education and job success, they move away from the communities, leaving behind any thoughts of the areas.

Yet, the federal and other governments are being lobbied to provide funds for projects, such as Gautreaux, that will exacerbate the migratory flight of successful blacks. Even if studies show that the most propitious way to "move up" is to leave the inner-city for the suburbs, doing so under the auspices of white-run programs that operate from a viewpoint that discourages African-Americans living next door to each other is a concession to interminable subordination by black people.

Those African-Americans who find favor with the conclusions of studies like the Northwestern University would do well to conduct some monitoring of the hundreds of communities in which blacks now live in the state, or nationwide, for that matter. Look past the figures showing that twice as many blacks from the suburbs go on to college than from the inner cities.

Questions need to be asked like: What do African-Americans do in the suburban communities other than reside next to white families? Do they serve on the governmental bodies, own businesses, administer the schools? What jobs do they hold? After the black students go off to college, do they then have to go somewhere else to get a job because the suburbs are even more discriminatory than the city? As a matter of fact, how many of the kids moved by Gautreaux-like programs to the suburbs, who go on to college, actually finish?

Further, are blacks ready to realize that if it is conceded to be "better" for advancement for African-Americans to move to the suburbs under a Gautreaux plan, then it is just as justifiable for all blacks to do the same thing, under an engineered plan or not? And when suburban blacks who do go to college graduate, why should they come back to the city? Why not just automatically proceed back into the suburbs? The possible consequences of programs like Gautreaux begin to emerge.

Serious consideration of the alternatives for bettering the condition of black people would certainly have to concede that more success is likely to be realized from moving away from petered-out city environments. That, after all, has been the motivating power behind the vast migration to and within America for years.

But, a reality has to be faced: The immigration away from any community leaves little foundation of the kinds of individuals needed to sustain the viability of the territory left behind. Just as important a question is that of blacks' immigrating to "promised lands" as pawns of manipulative "scattering" plans run by whites who have displayed scorn for the inclination of black people (as all people) to want to live with their "own kind."

The time has surely come for African-Americans to thoughtfully consider at least two questions: What are the pros and cons of blacks moving to suburbs under the auspices of engineered housing programs like Gautreaux? And what are the long-term consequential prospects of such relocation being administered by white-run organizations? Is author Charles Murray right and no large-scale governmental housing programs (state or federal) can be successful, precisely because they are founded and operated on a basis of a dominant white race manipulating a subordinate race for the self-interests of the dominant?