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Groupings vs. Flight By: Thomas Sowell
Washington Times | Wednesday, November 30, 2005


"The New White Flight" was the title of an eye-opening article in the Nov. 20 Wall Street Journal.

It was about a high school in Cupertino, Calif., where a growing Asian-American student population is causing rising academic standards -- and causing many white parents to withdraw their children from the school and some to move away. 

The school has some of the state's highest test scores. Though everybody favors high academic standards in the abstract, not everyone favors struggling to meet them. 

One white mother taking her son to an after-school soccer game noticed all the Asian-American parents arriving to take their children to an after-school study program. A few years of her son playing soccer while the Asian kids were hitting the books would be bound to create academic disparities. 

The phrase "white flight" is completely misleading. All over the world and throughout history, groups have collected together with people like themselves, whether by race, income, education, religion or any number of other characteristics. There is nothing unique when white people do it. 

A century or so ago, when Polish immigrants began moving into various Detroit neighborhoods, blacks began moving out. The research of pioneering black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier showed long ago that Harlem and other black communities were internally divided, with people of different income, education and behavior patterns in distinctly different zones. 

When Eastern European Jewish immigrants began arriving in the United States and some began moving into German Jewish neighborhoods in Chicago, the German Jews began moving out. Similar patterns have been found among all sorts of groups. 

When blacks move into a neighborhood and whites move out, that is visible to the naked eye. But there is nothing unique about such "white flight." The phrase is misleading for the same reason that saying white people have toenails would be misleading. It is true in itself but suggests something unique that is in fact common to human beings of all sorts. 

People sort themselves out in many ways, not residential patterns. People tend to marry other people with similar IQs, even when they don't know what those IQs are. They just tend to gravitate to people with similar levels of understanding. 

Cliques form in all kinds of places for all kinds of reasons. Chess players, jazz fans and gamblers tend to hang out with others who share their interests. 

The fact people sort themselves out in many ways is not usually a big problem -- except to those who cannot feel fulfilled unless they are telling others what to do. Government programs to unsort people who have sorted themselves out have produced one social disaster after another. 

Decades-long attempts to mix black and white school children through school busing produced no real educational benefits but much racial polarization and ill will. The same continues in colleges in the name of "diversity," with the same bad results. 

Among the most unconscionable attempts to unsort people who sorted themselves out by behavior are government programs to relocate people into neighborhoods where they could not afford to live without subsidies. Often the people in those neighborhoods have sacrificed for years to live where they could raise their children in decent surroundings and not in fear of hoodlums -- only to have the government import the bad neighbors and hoodlums they tried so hard to escape.

Both kinds of people may be of the same race, but that does not make the consequences any less painful or the resentments less bitter. Blacks as well as whites have objected to having problem people thrust into their midst through housing subsidies or government projects in their neighborhoods. 

Almost never do the social experimenters relocate dysfunctional and dangerous people into their own elite neighborhoods. They unsort other people's neighborhoods and embitter other people's lives.

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Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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