I ran into something last night while I was trying to research something else. But I found part of it interesting and I want to share it with you. It’s part of an article on “black flight” from Philadelphia. I think it gives some important perspective on what it’s like to be black, well-educated, and affluent in this country.
She is one of the few women color in the place where she lives, but she expects to be joined by others.
“I know more people moving out this way now, African-American families, trying to get used to it, wanting the best place they can find to raise their kids; wanting to fit in,” she explained. “They’re making it work…”
Her husband likes to walk. Everywhere. When they lived in West Philadelphia, he walked. When they lived in a house in Overbrook Park, he walked. That’s who he is. He’s a walker.
“But, when he’s out late at night, walking everywhere; I remind him, ‘Look, Vino; there’s still a lot of little old ladies in this neighborhood who never met us; they don’t know that we live here, that we own this house. They aren’t expecting to run into you walking around after dark.”
When she says that, she looks a little exasperated. Yet, that’s still the reality of race in America. People of color have long been expected to live in certain placers and white people in other places. The fact that statistical and sociological reality has now upset these preconceptions changes very little on the who’s-that-walking-in-my-neighborhood level.
Edwards-Alexander and her family live in Havertown, in Delaware County. She is the director of Multicultural Life at Saint Joseph’s University. She is also funny and down-to-earth and just as grounded in big city authenticity as you might expect a former social worker from the Bronx to be. Before settling on Havertown, they also looked at houses on Lincoln Drive in Philadelphia, and in other suburbs like Ardmore, Glen Mills and Yeadon. In Philadelphia, they lived in different places in West Philly and Overbrook.
Now, they have a pretty single-family home, great backyard, nice neighbors, a neat driveway with off-street parking, a solid, slyly under-rated public school system, and a family of rambunctious foxes who decided to take up squatting rights in and near that backyard shortly after they moved in a few years ago. In other words, they are enjoying the hard-earned fruits of suburbia’s serene upward mobility.
They also represent one of the most socially significant trend from the last decade, one that has come to clearly define the early years of the 21st century in ways that are still being studied and understood: Edwards-Alexander and her family are highly-educated and quintessentially upper middle class people of color. To evoke that old marketing cliché – they could live and thrive anywhere, but they are choosing to live in the very same inner and (in some cases) outer ring suburbs that welcomed the millions of middle-class Americans who comprised the “white” flight of 40 years ago.
This middle-class flight is still taking place, but it is now significantly composed of high-earning African-American families who are also rejecting the diversity, the social ills, the high crime, the scarce jobs and the second-rate public schools of the big cities.
As Edwards-Alexander put it: “I can’t ever see living in the city again,” she said. “This works too well for us.”