"White flight" was the term created by sociologists for when people middle-class began moving from poor city neighborhoods to newly created sub-urban communities that were not city apartments and townhouses but not rural either - suburbs. 

Sociologists are contending that while the suburbs are still middle class, there is white flight happening in those too, leaving behind middle class "ethnoburbs" of minority residents. That's bad. Yet other sociologists are concerned that heterosexual people are moving into gay neighborhoods - gayborhoods - and that those therefore are in danger of losing their "distinct cultural identity" as a result. Is it possible to know when similar people living near each other are cultural identity and when it is discrimination?


Today at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco, Samuel Kye discussed "Revisiting White Flight and Segregation: The Consequences of Ethnoburbs."  

"The findings suggest that patterns of segregation remain highly active even in these, the most affluent of ethnic neighborhoods," said Kye, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology t Indiana University Bloomington. "Collectively, this raises important questions about the future of America's increasingly diverse metropolitan areas."


Of course, segregation and self-segregation are different things - or not. If gay people don't want heterosexuals in their neighborhoods, is it because they want to preserve their neighborhood culture or because they are intolerant? Substitute 'minority' in questions and the answers about culture look a lot less clear. 

Kye used a nationwide sample of census tracts to examine residential trends and hopes to expand the conversation about ethnic neighborhoods beyond the Chinatowns and other urban "enclaves," where people of similar ethnicity lived either because they wanted to be among people of their own language - their neighborhood culture - or because they were poor and had little choice. 


Sociologists used to say that America should not be a 'melting pot', where everyone learned the language and adopted American culture, it should be a 'salad bowl' where they each retained their own culture and language. So how is it possible to know if white people are truly fleeing or other parts of the salad bowl are just buying houses to create cultural enclaves? It isn't, but Kye found that levels of "white flight" and segregation were distinctly higher in suburbs than in urban neighborhoods - implying that families are making the most important financial decision of their lives irrationally, because an Asian or an Indian moves next door.  It's unwise to make sweeping conclusions like that and the results ignore the fact that there are also a lot fewer middle class white people in America than there were even 10 years ago, so they may not be moving up to whiter neighborhoods, they may be moving down and are simply being replaced by better educated and wealthier minorities who have white-collar jobs, rather than the skilled trade and union jobs that used to make up the middle class. 

A silver lining, Kye said, is that the level of suburban segregation for most minority groups stopped increasing and began instead to decrease from 1990 to 2010 - except for African American neighborhoods. Black ethnoburbs were the only communities to continue showing increases in segregation during that same time period. 

"This is alarming because although black-white segregation has generally declined over the past 30 to 40 years, blacks still remain the most highly segregated minority group in the U.S. today," he said. "The fact that levels of segregation for blacks continue to grow even in their middle-class communities raises concern about the decline of black/white segregation into the future, especially as America continues to suburbanize and ethnoburbs proliferate in number."