A record number of Detroit-area blacks have achieved the American dream of reaching middle class status as defined by income, education, lifestyle, attitude and a sense of accomplishment. Although well-educated, well-housed and well-heeled, they have a relatively low profile — for two reasons: They have been upstaged by the negative behavior of the black underclass. And they have hastily and quietly abandoned the city to greener pastures across 8 Mile Rd. and the western suburbs.
The civil rights movement spawned their debut. As opportunities opened up in the 1960s, many blacks seized the moment and moved upward and outward.
Their out-migration from Detroit to the suburbs was primed in part by the desire of better-off families to escape the social distress of the poverty-stricken “hood.” That included often-justifiable fears that children from disadvantaged families might be a bad influence – or threat – to their children. As a protective measure, they elected to limit their children’s exposure to the less savory aspects of core city life by voting with their feet.
As a rule, though, blacks still tend to huddle together; prefer the company of one another, whether in the city or suburbs. Upwardly mobile blacks are increasingly the exception. More than others, this group discovered a downside to black unity, like, for example, the proliferation of black criminals.
Their newly acquired status gave them the choice of either merging into white communities that offer a wealth of opportunities and amenities, or remaining in city neighborhoods in decline. Some split the difference and opted for predominantly black suburban enclaves where they face another set of issues.
When suburb-bound blacks reach a critical mass, as in say, Oak Park or Southfield, whites tend to pack up and leave. Some of that flight is the result of long-held stereotypes and prejudices. Suburban black communities also carry higher social service costs than predominately white ones due to their predisposition to attract lower-income residents and renters. Home values also tend to dip. Undisciplined poor students from Detroit contribute to a decline in school quality.
Within a period as short as a decade, the suburban black enclave is again threatened by enough reprehensible behavior to cause families to move to a predominantly white community to get ahead of, if not escape, what is almost certain to be another influx of disorder. Here, they secretly hope to avoid, and in some cases discourage, “too much” neighborhood integration.
The new standard of success may be the ability of financially successful blacks to effectively “blend in” with their white neighbors while making a decisive break with their heritage. Living in two worlds and mastering both can prove challenging.
After all, those who have “moved on up” frequently leave close friends and relatives in their wake. As high achievers flee, a chasm opens between those who have “made it” and those who struggle to eke out a meager existence.
Their departure is the subject of much debate. City leaders are prone to play the “guilt” card in an effort to get them to return and “give back.” But is there still such a thing as a “black community?” If it exists, is it identified on the basis of color or class? Does it even make sense to quibble over such trivial assessments?
Apparently the black middle class has rejected any suggestion that it should carry on its shoulders the responsibility for concentrated black poverty. Rather than remorse, I see indifference. This leads me to believe their abandonment of the inner city is a permanent estrangement.
We have reached a point where the largest black middle class and the largest black underclass are speeding in opposite directions. This may also be a time when successful blacks accept that they now have more in common with their white suburban counterparts than with the inner-city poor wasting away in predictable misery.