As I read in the, an operation called “Reframing Race” has accepted as its mission the task of teaching people, white people in particular, the semantic niceties of racial etiquette.
Some of the stuff we have heard before, such as the need to avoid words that associate whiteness with purity or cleanliness and blackness with evil and destruction. But the reframing regime goes deeper. One particular paragraph in the Guardian caught my attention:
Other recommendations include avoiding the phrase “white working class” and rather using “multi-ethnic working class” or “working-class people of all ethnicities” because the use of the former wrongly excludes black and minoritised people from the class group.
I faced this challenge in titling my new book Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight From America’s Cities. Naming a book is always a tricky thing. Naming a book that deals with race, especially for a white author, is trickier still. The level of difficulty continues to increase as outfits like Reframing Race narrow the window of acceptable speech and thought.
With the thought police hovering, I went through myriad mental gyrations before finding a title with which I felt comfortable. The “Untenable” was the easy part. In my conversations with scores of people who fled America’s collapsing cities, one person, a childhood friend, answered the “why” question most succinctly. His answer had particular impact given that he was arguing “against interest,” having remained a loyal Democrat even in exile. Most of those exiled did not.
This fellow was the last of my friends to leave our Newark, New Jersey, block. When I asked why he and his widowed mother finally moved on, he searched a minute for the right words and then simply said, “It became untenable.” When I asked what he meant by “untenable,” he answered: “When your mother gets mugged for the second time, that’s untenable. When your home gets broken into for the second time, that’s untenable.” His answer times a million pretty much summarizes what we have to come to know by the pejorative “white flight.” (RELATED: Eli Crane Is Not the Racist You’re Looking For)
That term has been wrong and insulting from the beginning. Newark, like most cities in the northeast and northcentral United States, was an ethnic enclave. Just about everyone I knew had a living relative born in a foreign country. The only exceptions were my black friends. As kids we self-identified by our ethnicities — Italian, Irish, Jewish, Polish, Negro. Over time, for their own reasons, the elites chose to classify us as simply black and white.
‘White Flight’ Isn’t Just White
Whatever we called ourselves, our city was becoming untenable. Newark had 24 homicides in 1950. In 1972, despite losing population, it had 148. People notice those things. The damage wasn’t limited to Newark. Nationwide, violent crime increased an astonishingfrom 1960 to 1980, with the cities leading the way. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians all fled the most toxic of these cities.
As a case in point, Donda West, Kanye’s mother, decided she had enough of her South Shore Chicago neighborhood when her son was mugged at knife point. “I was through when Kanye told me about it,” writes West. “If it wasn’t safe for him to ride his bike in the park that backed right up to our backyard, then it was time to move. I began looking for someplace else to live. Call it black flight whatever, I was ready to go.” (READ MORE from Jack Cashill: RFK Jr. Is Flummoxed by Affirmative Action)
In the book, I also tell the story of Cissy and John Houston, who fled Newark with daughter Whitney in tow for the exact same reason my friends and their families did — increasing crime, disorder, and riots. Michelle Obama’s parents, the Robinsons, did much the same. For the Robinsons, schools were the most important criterion.
Still, I chose to use “white” in the title of my book for one specific reason: Only whites were shamed for leaving. This was a slander that needed to be undone, a story that needed to be retold. If we can no longer say “white working class,” how is it that “white flight,” “white privilege,” and “white supremacy” remain acceptable? The Guardian article makes no mention of any of these phrases.
Michelle Obama Blames Non-Existent White Neighbors for Leaving
“The conversation on racism is stuck,” Dr. Sanjiv Lingayah, the director of Reframing Race, told the Guardian. “With our trailblazing research we have been able to show how different messages on race and racism affect a mainstream audience.”
Lingayah needs to have a chat with Michelle Obama. In 2019, while speaking at an, Michelle shared her take on white flight with her largely white audience. “As families like ours, upstanding families like ours who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better. As we moved in,” said Michelle, “white folks moved out.”
In truth, the once largely Jewish South Shore neighborhood to which her family moved had become very nearly all black by the time the Robinsons arrived. As soon as Michelle settled into her new home, she was accosted by rough-edged black girls who accused her of speaking white. At school, a black boy punched her hard in the face for no apparent reason. (READ MORE from Jack Cashill: Michelle Obama’s ‘Black Flight’ Problem)
“They were afraid of what our families represented,” Michelle said of the white neighbors she never knew. No — like Michelle herself, they were afraid of the families that spawned violence and disorder. Once Michelle and her brother Craig hit high school age, their conscientious parents found them distant and expensive options to avoid the nearly all-black school right down the street.
In part for political reasons, Michelle prefers the storybook version of white flight to her reality. As she sees things, the entire white population bears the forever stain of being white. “I wanna remind white folks that y’all were running from us, and you’re still running,” she scolded an audience that could not have been more fawning.
“The upside,” says Lingayah of his training regimen, “is that new ways of talking about racism can lead to new ways of listening.” Sorry, doctor, but as long as only one race is allowed to talk and the others are forced to listen, the conversation will continue to be pure noise.