A week ago, the block I live on in Windsor Hills hit a turning point for me and more importantly for the changing pattern of race in America.
The turning point is that I and the other blacks on my block are now in the minority among the homeowners on the block. The change came when three homes on the block were recently sold or leased to whites.
I now see young whites walking their dogs, pushing baby strollers, jogging and walking on my block and surrounding blocks. Now here’s the personal history this change has marked.
I was born and grew up on Chicago’s Southside in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was an exclusively black neighborhood, not by choice but for the most part by law, custom, and the threat of and actual use of violence to and against blacks who moved outside Chicago’s Southside.
During those years, the only whites I ever saw were the small mom and pop neighborhood store owners, and an occasional bill collector. It was a totally black world.
In the mid-1960s, when my family relocated to Los Angeles and rented and then bought in Leimert Park, within a short period of time, it was Southside Chicago all over again. White flight quickly flip-flopped Leimert Park to an almost exclusively black neighborhood — working and middle class as was the Southside Chicago, but still black. In later years, I bought a home in Morningside Park in Inglewood.
It was the same again, white flight, and a quick transformation of a neighborhood and my block from white to virtually all-black. Three different neighborhoods, and three shifts to neighborhoods that were re-segregated.
Now to the fourth neighborhood, Windsor Hills, it was the same pattern again. Albeit with two exceptions. One was that there were whites who did not join the mass exodus from the neighborhood during the transition years of Windsor Hills from exclusively white to increasingly black.
The other was that Windsor Hills and adjoining View Park still maintained the gloss and allure of a chic, pricey, mid to upscale black enclave. Still, both Windsor Hills and View Park were still widely regarded by both insiders and outsiders as a black neighborhood. Showcase, yes, but a black neighborhood nonetheless.
Given the hard lines of race and class in much of American society, residential segregation in America’s central cities and even areas such as Windsor Hills and View Park appeared to be a permanent feature of American life. I’m guessing that few others in my age group ever dreamed that they would see a day when that would change. I know I didn’t. That is that whites would flee back into the same neighborhoods they fled from decades earlier. But it has happened.
In the past decade, gentrification has been the buzz word in American housing and neighborhood demographic patterns. In the worst-case scenario, it connotes driving legions of poor black homeowners and renters out of central city neighborhoods, skyrocketing home prices and rents, and at its worst, the ripping apart of the social, cultural and economic cohesion that was the upside of enforced neighborhood segregation.
In the best-case scenario, it connotes neighborhood revitalization, a bonanza in home prices, better schools and neighborhood services and a diverse, racially mixed neighborhood. Which scenario one embraces depends, like much else, on which side of the fence, or more particularly, whose interests, are best served.
The transformation of Windsor Hills is hardly unique. Gentrification has transformed dozens of former and historic black neighborhoods from Harlem to San Francisco’s Hunters Point from majority black to majority white in the past decade.
Some neighborhoods have been transformed so rapidly that they are nearly unrecognizable. The New York Times recently calculated gentrification rates by determining which cities have seen the biggest influx of recent college graduates between 2000 and 2012. Places like Houston (50 percent uptick), Nashville (48 percent), Denver (47 percent), Austin, Texas (44 percent), and Portland, Oregon (37 percent), top the list, with D.C. (36 percent), Buffalo, New York (34 percent), and Baltimore (32 percent) not far behind.
Some of my neighbors grumble about and decry the loss of “identity,” meaning black identity of the neighborhood. I understand their worry.
But I am not or ever have been an advocate of all-black neighborhoods, no matter how upscale, toney, pricey, or showcase billed. Market forces and an individual’s right to buy and live whereever they choose can’t and should not be abridged.
I fully believe in and support multi-racial inclusive and open neighborhoods. That is the world we live in and neighborhoods should reflect that reality. The bigger issue is creating more affordable housing in cities and providing support and opportunities for accessibility to that housing.
That is the seismic policy sea change I want to see. It will take increased initiatives, incentives and lending as well as changes in housing and land use policies by government agencies, banks and housing developers. That is the best guarantee that neighborhoods are not black or white but affordable and accessible to all.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles” (Amazon Kindle) He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.