In the course of researching my book-in-progress, “Dispossessed: The Untold Story of America’s Great Ethnic Diaspora,” I have felt compelled to read the orthodox literature on what the left insists on calling “White Flight.”
That literature doesn’t get much more orthodox than a 2017 New York Times op-ed by Princeton scholar Leah Boustan, titled, “The Culprits Behind White Flight.”
Given the then recent trauma of the 2016 presidential election, Boustan begins by imagining a scenario in which Democratic strategists ask themselves the question, “Was Donald Trump’s surprise victory due to his voters’ racism or their economic anxiety?”
Boustan’s own research into postwar white flight, she explains, began with “a similar question of whodunit.” The two questions, she continues, likely had the same answer, namely that racism and economics led to both Trump’s victory and white flight, one as undesired an outcome at Princeton as the other.
After some meaningless statistics and other filler, Boustan concludes with the world class cluelessness one has come to expect of our Ivy League betters.
“To complicate the picture,” Boustan writes of the displaced white ethnics driven from America’s cities, “few of them left personal accounts, and they may not have been able to articulate exactly why they moved.”
I almost choked on my PBR when I read this. In the course of my project, I have spoken to scores of people on this subject, and everyone knew exactly why they moved. It’s just that no one has bothered to ask them.
Hell, Dr. Boustan could have asked me. I would have happily told her why my family and my neighbors were forced from our harmonious Newark, New Jersey, neighborhood in the 1960s. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t economics or racism.
The Boustan op-ed generated more than 800 comments. I reviewed the comments expecting to see the readers either affirm her perspective or chide her from not being hard enough on fleeing whites. I underestimated the Times readers.
Reader after reader from all across the country provided exquisite, sometimes horrifying detail of why they or a loved one – often a mother or grandmother – were compelled to leave a collapsing neighborhood.
“My brother was beaten daily, we were threatened that our home would be burned down, kids were knifed at school, girls’ hair set on fire. Gangs and drugs reigned. We eventually left for a white trailer park,” writes a woman who grew up in Compton, California. Let’s see – is that racism or economics?
“After my cousin was mugged on her way to Catholic school,” writes a woman from Detroit, “they moved out, leaving my grandmother. Her home was broken into multiple times.”
“When my mother-in-law was assaulted, knocked to the ground and had her purse stolen, there was no investigation, barely an expression of concern or sympathy,” writes a fellow from New Haven. “When I was robbed at the train station, the perp escaped into the nearby public housing, and that was the end of it.”
Reading these accounts, from New York Times readers no less, Boustan had to feel a little foolish. These people were “able to articulate exactly why they moved.”
Brother beaten, girls’ hair set on fire, neighbor shot, grandmother threatened – the imagery is precise, and it comes from experience, an experience about which Boustan seems oblivious. Several readers made note of Boustan’s Ivy League, a world removed from real people and real problems.
“Don’t call people ‘racist’ because they want to educate their children and don’t want to be repeatedly robbed at knife or gunpoint, or worse,” writes a father who fled in disgust from St. Louis.
“Ms. Boustan,” writes one reader, “you are a Princeton professor, supposedly capable of independent thought and analysis, please don’t be so easily pulled into narrow minded, shortsighted political rhetoric.”
“Tellingly, this piece makes absolutely no mention of concerns for safety and the desire natural to all people to live apart from crime,” writes another.
“And I understand why it does not – addressing crime and its impact on where we choose to live does not fit in with any narrative that is socially acceptable for a professor of economics at Princeton to present in the pages of the NY Times.”
Another reader brings the issue home, “I see that the author studied/worked at Princeton, Harvard & UCLA, all located in exclusive areas that are primarily white,” he observes. “So if she is claiming to be an expert on white flight, I wonder … has she actually LIVED somewhere deeply impacted by white flight?”
Second question: Has she ever even talked to someone deeply impacted by white flight? I am guessing the answer to both questions is no.
If you have a story to tell on this subject, please contact Jack through his website, Cashill.com.
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