The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Race: the tipping-point and the comfort zone

As I've mentioned before, America started out as a place where a persecuted religious minority could carve out a plot for itself alone, in which it might purify its particular brand of fanaticism and persecute those from other sects unwise enough to stray from their own sects' plots.

And the maintenance of this diversity-with-separation is a powerful element (one of many) in the continuing development of the nation. Less melting pot, more oil and water. (My theory, at least.)

Thus, the phenomenon of white flight from a neighbourhood, supposedly triggered by the proportion of incompatible ethnic groups (it was Irish before it Italians, Poles, Jews and Negroes) reaching the tipping-point. The tipping-point is apparently a constant, regardless of the ethnic groups concerned: around 8% [1].

(This uniformity strikes me as odd. One would expect the percentage to vary according to the acceptability of the incoming groups to the existing population: perhaps the data on, say, influxes of Japanese-Americans does not exist; or perhaps no statistically measurable influx has every occurred in a white area (is this credible?).

You'd expect the equivalent of a brown paper bag test - as fleshed out by socio-economic considerations. Walter White yes, Jack Johnson no, as it were.

When it comes to the issue where personal preference is most strongly present, the choice of marriage partners, there is no uniformity: in a 1997 paper Structural and Assimilationist Explanations of Asian American Intermarriage, a table of intermarriage stats for various Asian-American ethnic groups (p9) shows a wide divergence, between groups, and between genders within groups, in marriage with whites.

Why a similar diversity does not apply to the tipping-point escapes me for the moment.

(An interesting 1998 WaPo piece on Anglo white flight (from Hispanics) in Miami-Dade to Broward and Palm Beach.)

Whatever statistical model (if any) is appropriate to describe it, white flight happens, it seems to bear a stigma of immorality [2] - similar, perhaps, to that of divorce in the 1950s.

Compare school desegregation: supposedly, black students also have a sort of tipping-point, a percentage of the enrolment below which they do not feel comfortable [the URL for a paper on this disappeared when the machine crashed, dammit!] - and the suggestion is that the maximum black percentage acceptable to the parents of white students - say, around 10% - is way below the percentage at which the black students are comfortable - say around 30%.

Not hard to see - no evidence, so take as my hypothesis - that, in many media outlets, the desire for a comfortable percentage on the part of the blacks would be portrayed as legitimate, whilst the similar desire on the part of the whites would not.

A piece on an activist site by a white parent of a son just graduated from the Richmond, VA schools system talks about his (apparently favourable) experience at the wrong end of a 90:10 racial split. To judge from the piece, the writer is clearly an integration zealot (otherwise his children would have gone to private school!) - he talks about having
had to confront in our family the insecurities, fears and pressures which drive so many decisions in the white community.

I can't see many white converts to public education in Richmond coming from that sort of guilt-tripping - the tone and the futility remind me of the product of the constitutional queer-bashing religious right or the kill abortionists for Jesus crowd.

Pure fanaticism was where we came in...

  1. This says
    Numerous studies indicate that whites grow uncomfortable if the black proportion of their neighborhoods reaches 8%; anything more than that passes the "tipping point" at which "white flight" begins and the neighborhood rapidly turns over
    citing Andrew Hacker's 1992 Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal.

    An article by Maria Krysan Whites Who Say They'd Flee cites a 1963 paper by E Wolf The Tipping-Point in Racially Changing Neighborhoods but unhelpfully (for searching purposes) fails to use the key expression tipping point elsewhere in her piece!

    Mary Jo Wiggins' 2002 article Race Class and Suburbia says

    Demographic research studies have shown that Whites will tend to leave a neighborhood once the Black population exceeds a single-digit percentage.
    and, in footnote 77, cites various papers, including some which dispute the existence of a tipping-point.

    A February 2004 paper Empirics of Strategic Interdependence: The Case of the Racial Tipping Point by William Easterly examines US Census data to find no convincing evidence for the tipping-point hypothesis, at least for the last 30 years of population movements. It cites as the origin of the theory a 1971 paper Dynamic Models of Segregation by TC Schelling.

  2. I'd be interested to look at the coverage of white flight in the network nightly news over the decades. I'd be surprised to find any taking the viewpoint that it was to be expected or nothing much to worry about. I'd expect the whites to be asked anxious questions about what would become of the neighbourhoods they were leaving without their tax dollars and spending power, as if a shuffling and shame-faced answer was expected. None would be congratulated for getting their kids a better place to grow up in.

    Chances are, of course, that the reporter concerned might well have engaged in white flight himself, for the same reasons...

    There is a rundown from the September 12 1975 edition of the WGBH news show Evening Compass - from a time when busing-mania gripped Boston - the note on which starts:

    Greg Pilkington reports that the specter of "white flight" has been raised by attendance figures which show the Boston school population to be majority non-white.
    Did Greg get the double entendre?

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