WhitePeopleAreCrazya friend of mine shared this article from the American Prospect on the growth of exurbs in America.  it’s sardonically entitled “refugees of diversity”.

the role of white supremacy is a familiar theme when discussing both the suburbs and exurbs.  i don’t have the numbers, names and dates on hand, but i’m pretty sure the white supremacist relationship between the suburbs and city/urban centers began during the era of Black Revolts in the 60s & 70s; a phenomenon known as white flight.  as black workers and other people of color began demanding higher wages, better working conditions, and in some cases control over the work place, they also began confronting the cops and the other strong arms of white, capitalist society, and as a result white society retreated.

red-lining, then, took on an added dimension.  whereas when traditional Jim Crow ordinances were the standard, the banks could keep black folks and other people of color from getting housing in white neighborhoods.  the destruction of Jim Crow by the Civil Rights movement and Black Power left those crackers with really only local police forces to harass, bully and attack people of color who left the cities and ventured into the suburbs.  at least this is what i remember growing up in Detroit.

again, from what i remember in Detroit, the growth of the exurbs really took off in the mid 90s.  the white supremacist attack on inner-city infrastructure, particularly schools left people of color families with really the only option of moving to the suburbs if they wanted their kids to get a decent education.  this was, of course, the other part of white flight: not only did white people leave, but they took with them all the wealth and capital that gave inner-cities their dynamism.  so now those crackers moved out of the suburbs to the exurbs, initiating another wave of white flight.

this conversation is important for thinking about how white supremacy contributes to ecological destruction by increasing the antagonistic relationship between the city and the country.  in light of the working class character of the Black Revolts, it also raises the centrality of working class, anti-capitalist struggle to the ecology movement.  after this era of revolt, capitalist society was able to restructure itself and continue its attacks on people of color, and environmental destruction.  as the saying goes, it’s either socialism or barbarism.

more accurately though, i think the dynamics of race and class contribute more to what Murray Bookchin calls urbanization.  by urbanization Bookchin means that both the city and the country are being erased, and replaced with vast stretches of homogenous forms of land use.  he argued that the city and country could potentially – and have in the past – foster diverse, democratic, free and ecological aspects of each other.  the relationship between the two represent a form of unity in diversity that is characteristic of the development of free life.  both the city and the country are necessary for a free, and therefore ecologically sustainable society.  the bulldozing over of unsettled wildlife by the suburbs and the exurbs is obvious to many, but Bookchin adds that the diversity of social life in cities and the geographical limits to direct democracy are being destroyed by bureaucratic rule from above.

another point the article touches on – which is very important given the current political climate – is the social ideology behind this form of white flight. the author points to an ideological vacuum for many whites, arguing that churches, political parties and government no longer hold much legitimacy for many whites.  this is due to the period of reaction we’ve been living under; also called neo-liberalism.

since the early 70s the rulers have been steadily advancing their attacks on basic forms of social solidarity that the working class has built, from union movements to the Black Panthers and other fighting organizations that were big during the revolts of the 30s, 40s, 60s and 70s.  part of the attack has been an attempt by the capitalists to stave off the falling rate of profit by cutting funding to the demands and gains made by women, people of color and other layers of the working class, which has included public education and health care, among others things.

while this attack has no doubt been directed women and people of color, the white working class has not been spared.  through white supremacy, capitalism has traditionally been able to buy off white workers and turn them against people of color which breaks working class solidarity.  but with capitalism no longer able or willing to fulfill its end of the deal white working people are looking elsewhere.  the election of Obama was just one definite sign of cracks in system.  the rulers swore that white working people would not vote for a black president, but they were wrong.

there are definitely potentials for multi-racial working class solidarity that might not have been possible ten, even five years ago, but there are also possibilities for white workers to go in the other direction.  the protests surrounding the health care debates this past August are one example of the potential for white populist movements from the below.  this is no doubt a step towards fascism.  the growth of the exurbs are another social and geographical manifestation of the same phenomenon.

of the 245 US counties that qualify as exurbs, McCain’s presidential campaign, which included a heavy dose of white populism, a.k.a. Sarah Palin, took 209 of them.

the article also pointed to the class tensions within capitalist society that give content to the struggle for an ecological society.  i’m still thinking about the consequences of this, so i’ll just post it for now:

Other Whitopias are boomtowns, entrepreneurial hotbeds that lure a steady stream of businesses, knowledge workers, and families. In these low-tax, incentive-rich places, the costs of living and doing business are cheaper than in the big-shot cities (even during the present recession). Finally, there are dream towns, Whitopias whose shimmery lakes, lush forests and parks, top-notch ski resorts, demanding golf courses, and deluxe real estate attract the upscale whites who just love their natural and man-made amenities.

something else to note: the article posts a 6% growth rate in US exurbs since 2000.  in a previous post i provided the numbers for land use in the US.  it listed urban centers using only 2.6% of the land in the US, but only areas with 5000 people or more count as urban centers.  no doubt the exurbs, and even some suburbs would change this number, although i’m not sure by how much.

finally, the article ends well, noting how the growth of the exurbs are particular to the current moment of ideological recomposition, crisis among ruling class legitimacy, and capitalist contraction.  all of these things the ecology movement needs to think about.

Two prolonged military conflicts abroad, a domestic values war, a volatile economy, bitter political partisanship — and decades-old percolation of transience, isolation, and sprawl — have created a perfect storm of anxiety and social dislocation among many white Americans. If these conditions aren’t the best lubricants for white racial tribalism, anti-immigration sentiment — an existential crisis, even, in conservative white America — I don’t know what are.

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