‘White flight’ promotes modern-day segregation, study claims

WASHINGTON — Racial segregation of school children has been unconstitutional since 1954. Unfortunately, researchers from the American Psychological Association suggests neighborhood segregation is still an issue due to “white flight” practices. Their study explains that Caucasian families and homeowners are still prone to packing up and leaving in the event their neighborhood diversifies. Such actions, coupled with lingering racial fears and other stereotypical beliefs about racial and ethnic groups, may help maintain modern-day segregation.

Researchers analyzed a nationally representative survey and six studies. That investigation led to the discovery that many white Americans consider a hypothetical situation in which a pre-dominantly white neighborhood undergoes a demographic shift toward more racial diversity as an active “threat” to their culture and way of life. More specifically, projected population growth of Arab Americans, Latinx Americans, and Asian Americans all caused the strongest feelings of “foreign cultural threat.” After that, projected population growth of Black Americans also evoked concern to a lesser degree.

“The more that white Americans perceived this foreign cultural threat, the more they reported wanting to move out of those communities,” says lead researcher Linda Zou, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, in a media release. “Racial segregation of schools and neighborhoods never ended. The country is growing more diverse, but those changing racial demographics may trigger heightened perceptions of threat among white Americans and contribute to the persistence of segregation.”

Do whites fear becoming a minority?

Latinx Americans account for over half of all U.S. population growth since the year 2000. Moreover, according to the U.S. census, American Caucasians will technically be a minority in the United States by 2044 — accounting for just under 50 percent of the entire population. For reference, non-Hispanic white citizens currently make up 58 percent of the population.

Study authors explain that people often see different races and ethnicities as threats due to various long-held cultural stereotypes. For example, Asian Americans are considered a greater threat to a hypothetical majority-white neighborhood’s “cultural character,” while African-Americans are feared more in terms of disrupting perceived safety and resources. Similarly, many Caucasian parents report feeling more culturally threatened by increasing amounts of Latinx students in local schools but aren’t as concerned about African-American classmates among their kids.

This research featured data collected by a 2000 nationwide survey encompassing 2,213 white Americans. Generally, respondents who admitted to feeling culturally threatened by different demographics were equally likely to oppose living in a neighborhood with Latinx Americans, Asian Americans, or Black Americans.

Where you were born makes little difference

More recently, researchers conducted six additional studies either online or in Seattle between 2016 and 2018. That research finds white Americans are more likely to move out from a neighborhood after seeing an influx of African-American or Latinx American families in comparison to Asian American neighbors. Despite this, most Caucasians are still more likely to consider moving in response to more local Asian Americans as opposed to no changes at all and the racial status quo.

It’s worth noting that Caucasian Americans still feel culturally threatened by Asian Americans and Latinx Americans even if such populations were born on U.S. soil.

While this research did not account for respondents’ political beliefs, Dr. Zou claims that even some white liberal parents have been hesitant to send their kids to integrated schools in the past. Dr. Zou explains that vocally supporting racial integration is a start, but many who support these ideas don’t always choose to send their children to such schools when the time comes.

Study authors stress that they need to do more research on this topic. This work is based on hypothetical neighborhoods experiencing demographic change. In the future, a study utilizing actual real-world data on such events is warranted.

The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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