Suburbs of Self-Hate?

I’m seeing lately that communities of color are buying into suburban ideals that are actually hurting rather than helping the community. This article in the Atlantic Cities talks about how this has happened in some Asian communities in California and I’ve seen it firsthand in the Black community here in North Carolina. (Latino readers, I’m not going to speak for you here since I have no evidence, but I don’t doubt it happening there too).

What disturbed me the most about that article is that people were leaving the city because of bad schools and crime. It makes me ask, attends these schools and who committs those crimes? If these are our neighbors, are we giving up on our own people? I know race is arbitrary, but culture is not, nor is neighborliness.

I do understand the embarrassment, real safety risks involved in staying in certain neighborhoods, especially as a member of non-white group or even as a white person who’s been unfairly targeted for ridicule or persecution. I understand the feeling of entitlement once one has come upon a better social class and standing to move somewhere where the class is well known and celebrated. I know that it speaks to victory over ones oppressors to move on sometimes.

Yet, when will we take responsibility for what’s in our neighborhoods and stop running away when problems start? Are we sometimes holding the very same attitude as our oppressors?

Suburbia, in many cases, was built for purposes of isolation. I do understand that folks like nature and that’s well and good. However, the proliferation of gated communities (for average, non-celebrity Americans), zoning restrictions that assume malefeasance out of its citizenry, and even charter schools are doing more hurt than harm.

We have to realize that we have to take the good with the bad. If the man on the corner calling out crazy stuff is physically harming you, then yes, please report him to the authorities. That kid that’s bullying your child may actually be the victim. We actually need to question our children more, especially when they claim they are not learning or being bullied. Are we sure THEY aren’t mistreating fellow classmates or cheating on tests? If the problem is inside the four walls of your home, moving to a different place will not change it. In fact, you may find youself to be the new nuisance in your new neighborhood

I also understand wanting a more rural setting. But if you want that, consider an actual rural setting. Or, be mindful of other ways you can be environmentally friendly, such as growing food in your yard, carpooling, or lobbying for better, more connected infrastructure in your new neighborhood.

Please folks, stop this whole running away to the suburbs because of the Other. Look hard in the mirror and make sure the Other isn’t yourself. Stop hating yourself. The time is up for racializing our neighborhoods and this kind of “grass is greener” thinking.

Photo credit: flickr user Derek Bridges.

  • Part of the suburbs booming with folks of color, might be self hate. But from what I’m seeing, in my own community as well as others all across the country? Blacks and other POC are being FORCED out, due to gentrification. I know you weren’t talking about it in this article, I just think that when it comes to talking about POC and the suburbs, we must be careful in examining reasons WHY folks move out of the city. Many I know would LOVE to stay, but are forced out for a variety of reasons, bad schools that suffer from unequal funding included. This isn’t a collectivist nation, although I think MANY communities would benefit from a collectivist mindset, but alot of things happen because of forces much bigger than you and I. Just a thought. we’ll talk about this later lol

    • kristenej

      Thanks for putting that up. I am seeing some forced migration as well, but wanted to address some of the movement to upper class suburbs. Also, I have an article on a sincere young black gentrifier I’m going to post on the FB page. Also, I know the article doesn’t address the different governing structures that make one person’s suburb another person’s town, but stay tuned because I’m going to follow up on that. I can’t just leave this hanging on one article, there will be more to come.

    • Isn’t gentrification really just a PC way of saying what I keep referring to as Institutional racism and classism? The poor are always forced to where the rich want them to go be it tent cities, shelters or housing projects.

  • You’ve done a great job of describing what is happening but do you know why it happened? I do:

    • Kristen Jeffers

      Absolutely, it’s been done like you describe in your post in many communities across America. That’s why I’m disturbed by folks who use the same logic to move out of the very areas that still need them to help balance the economy. Restrictive covenants are supposed to be dead, why do we continue to honor them under the table. As I told Deidre, stay tuned, I’m going to deal with the other side in another post.

  • Nesheaholic

    This is really interesting. I don’t think I agree. I moved from South Philadelphia to a suburb of Philly after my car was stolen, and there were repeated shootings in my area. I wanted to live somewhere that I could feel safe. I don’t think this is self hate at all. I still work in the city, and do extra work with schools in the city, but when I had the means to live in a place where crime wasn’t such a huge factor I had to leave. I didn’t move to the suburbs because I thought the grass would be greener living around non-POCs. I moved hugely for safety.

    • kristenej

      What the sad part is that you had to move. I too was mugged, but the irony is that it was in what us Southerners consider suburbs, which means an isolated subdivision of either apartments or houses, with no real “eyes on the street”. I understand safety, as I stated above, probably too briefly. Who I’m more concerned about are people who have the means to make a community better(meaning they can find or create gainful, legal employment for your carjackers and shooters) and they still leave. You still give back and have concerns for the community. I don’t consider you the main audience for this post, it’s the folks that don’t care anymore at all that make me the maddest.

  • I believe the solution to this ‘Black flight’ to the suburbs is simply civic engagement. But the key is knowing your power. A lot of African Americans may not know that they can get what they ask for, or organize and mobilize for systems change. That is why teaching high schoolers and younger about civic engagement through planning, through community art, and through volunteering is learning how to leverage your voice and neighbors into purposeful action that brings about sustainable solutions to poverty and gentrification. Thanks for bringing this topic up! I love seeing another Black woman in planning!

    • kristenej

      Thank you for your thoughts and stopping by! I think it takes being in planning and studying all the legacy of racism in it to understand how important it is to stand OUR ground and take back the communities we are being pushed out of. We have to be honest and know some of these communities were not built for us at all, yet we are so willing to run into them only to be pushed back when we get there. Please stay in touch and keep reading!

  • Suburbs of Self-Hate? | The Black Urbanist via @blackurbanist

  • cyclewrite

    I don’t see gentrification as a horrible thing IF it doesn’t force a lot higher property tax on lower income people who have lived in their homes for decades when it was a “poorer” neighbourhood. There are some great amenities provided by gentrification.

    I’m thinking of where my parents now live (and will die there) in their home now in midtown Toronto. Yes, there are some hip cafes but also good 2 grocery stores and hardware store just a 15 min. walk or less. A known bike path was built just about 5 yrs. ago in a hydro corridor park half a block that’s connected. It’s used. There are mature trees on their street. It is a pleasant street not too wide, so that cars don’t go screaming down the street. Cyclists go up and down.

    They live in newish in-fill house built within last 15 years. So a blend of old and new. And a public school across the street..the sound of children playing. Transit stop is just 10 min. walk away.

    My immigrant father was restaurant cook all his life. Parents had 6 children. My mother doesn’t know much English.

    Did my parents need to live a heavily Chinese speaking neighbourhood to feel ‘close’? I’m not convinced. They just like to visit some people maybe once a month or less. It’s just them. For them, it’s family. We can’t change them.

    They did choose well to be close to services and transportation at this final stage of their lives.

    I really caution heavily on how we view “gentrification”. If the neighbourhood already has a history of mixed ethnicity and local community events/activities, it can help a lot for the future vitality.
    Yes, they did live in the suburbs in a mid size city of 100,000 before moving Toronto. They lived there when most of their children had already moved to another city.
    No, coming from that city they wouldn’t want to live in older Chinatowns (Toronto has 2 older ones, plus several suburban ones.) The houses are older and would require a lot more money and care to upkeep, something they can’t afford now. They had their experience with their first home when I was teen. It was tiring on them.
    Jean @

    • kristenej

      I understand what you are saying too. However, there’s a very thin line between supporting development and services because we need them, moving to a house because we like houses and like the distance between family and moving away because we think that it will make us “better citizens” in the sense that our worth is dependent on that house or going to a certain school. I’ve seen municipalities and even our communities buy into the “having a house makes me legit” myth, and then turning around and going into debt. I want services for my mom in her suburban house and I want services downtown in my hip new apartment. However, I want us to not feel like the material wealth that the suburbs used to represent is the only thing that validates people, especially people of color.