White (Privilege) Flight?

The world awaits the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial. It is a trial in which American justice itself is in the dock. But since George Floyd’s death at the knee of Derek Chauvin, there have been numerous other killings of African-Americans at the hands of police. And then there are the mass shootings–the new ‘American way’. Can’t get a date? Kill people. Unhappy at work? Kill people. Can’t hold a job? Kill people. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use a simple handgun–use an assault rifle! More deaths per magazine! The trouble with leaving the US is that the news follows you. And it continues to be bad news, which is not surprising, but it is depressing. (Another mass shooting just popped up on the screen while writing this!)

My wife and I returned to Europe after just 3.5 years in the US (this time!). And we have no intention of returning. To add some context, I grew up in the American South before leaving to live most of my adult life in England. Back in the 1960s ‘white flight’ referred to whites leaving the cities when blacks, Asians, Latinos and others began moving into older, established city neighbourhoods. Churches, commerce and education followed suit and moved to the suburbs. Urban decay set in. Not because of ‘peoples of colour’ moving in, but precisely because faith groups, schools and businesses moved OUT. African-Americans and other minorities were not well-enough enfranchised economically to succeed in the relative monoculture left behind. And they, of course, were blamed for the urban poverty.

So here I sit in rural France wondering whether I have enacted another form of ‘white flight’? Here’s what I mean. The two times I moved (unsuccessfully) back to the US, white privilege became apparent to me as it had never done so before. Being white means one does not have to ask for privilege: it is simply a given. The difference between racism in America now and in the 1960s is NOT that it is being filmed, as Will Smith has reputedly said. Racism was filmed in Little Rock, the Montgomery bus boycott, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and scores of other places fifty and sixty years ago. Under Jim Crow, whites were assumed to be in agreement unless they broke ranks and became ‘n—-r lovers’. Jim Crow was the water in which we all swam. What has changed is that nowadays whites have to use their own version of ‘signifying’ in order to communicate their racism and to see where other white people stand. I am almost embarrassed to write some of the things that white people said to me and/or my wife to see if we were ‘on side’. Here are a few: “We have bright days ahead. We won’t have to apologise for being white much longer.” “Have you ever noticed how all black people smell funny?” Frankly, that’s enough. It gets worse–much worse.

We left America simply because of white people. Ironic, ain’t it? We left because of white hatred, white racism, white supremacy, white fear, white recruitment into violent hate groups/militias and white people with guns. Our values as human beings and Christ-followers were almost in daily conflict with the culture around us. We felt under assault. Now lest you think we have moved into a monoculture here in France–far from it. There is a very large Turkish community in our town, two large Gypsy/Traveller communities, there are Africans from all of the former French colonies and overseas departments and more. Europe is far more multicultural than the US.

In sum, we were not about to join the “In Guns We Trust” brigade, nor could we change our skin colour. So we changed our country of residence. We have no regrets.

One thought on “White (Privilege) Flight?

  1. Too true, Jack. At least the man has been found guilty: thank goodness. The prospect of the alternative is too horrible to think of All best wishes M and D

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