This weekend( April 20-21, 2012) I have the honor of being on a panel at the UNC Global South Symposium on the “reverse migration” of African Americans. In honor of this, I’m re-posting my original thoughts on this subject. If you are near Chapel Hill this weekend, feel free to come by tomorrow afternoon. The entire symposium is FREE with registration by clicking here. My panel begins at approximately 1:45 PM and runs to 3:45 PM.
According to an article last Wednesday in the New York Times, a reverse great migration of African-Americans from the North to the South is occurring. Reasons cited are lack of jobs for young Black graduates, ability to purchase property and retire in comfort for elders and a flip-flopped racial climate. Also, many of the elders have the ancestral draw back to the South. Also, the Washington Post highlighted Section 8 voucher holders, some African-American, who are drawn to the South for it’s abundant suburban housing for affordable prices.
As a young Black woman with family members who have made the move and some considering a move back, I think the New York Times is spot on in its revelations about the retirees and their ancestral ties. I have aunts, uncles and cousins who have bought homes and began to prepare them for retirement. In the meantime, other family members have made homes out of them and they are good auxiliary gathering places for our family. Plus, my family members up North enjoy coming to visit the rural areas and find the pace of life relaxing. I have a set of neighbors originally from New York and another set from Florida who have decided to retire here, for a better pace of life. In other words, urban life is dead for them.
I’m not so sure that the claims of racial profiling and lack of jobs are a function of just New York though. I think all Black youth across the nation are struggling with this phenomenon. However, Atlanta and Charlotte have emerged as areas that honor and respect black culture, as well as provide a variety of nightlife options that appeal to young Black professionals. In addition, despite more young professionals of cultures outside of African-Americans converging on Washington DC, there’s still a core of young Black professionals who flock there in search of finding people with similar cultural roots. Lastly, many young Black college students and professionals have grown up with diverse cultures and welcome places that offer opportunities to experience other cultures. Racial profiling also seems to be a function of all police departments, however, I don’t doubt that some forces handle this better than others.
So what does this mean for urbanism? For the retirement age folks, it means that we need to work on spreading tactics such as agrarian urbanism. This way, people can have some semblance of a small town life, without giving up the idea of retiring to a farm and mobility if they can’t drive anymore or never learned to drive. For young people, it means to continue to advocate for places to go. Speaking for my friends and me, we love having the city parks, free concerts and also lounge style places to have a drink, maybe dance and have great conversations with each other.
Practitioners should make sure that community organizations and neighborhood groups can express concerns and even participate in the design of retrofitted and new(in reason) developments. I think these new migrants would welcome bike lanes, increased bus and train service, and community gathering spots that are community and not corporate owned. The key is to make sure it’s presented in language that they understand. Many of these people are coming South to take more control of their lives. Let’s make sure we help them in that ownership and move them to something that will produce the greater wealth and well-being they desire.