Suburbs, and exurbs, really. Not that there aren’t racist assholes in cities, she says, two blocks from the city that perfected redlining. But the white-flighters are something else, not just racial hatred but the very specific fear of a black invasion of “their” neighborhood.
They’ve had stories handed down to them through two generations now about the beautiful places their grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in, that were “ruined” by “those people.” That those neighborhoods were ruined by deliberate and malicious government policies to devalue the property, that greedy real estate brokers and reptilian politicians are far more to blame, will never reach the ears of someone who drove past their mother’s house and saw a black family living there now.
They see litter on the streets and instead of wondering why their litter is picked up every night and this neighborhood’s isn’t, they cluck their tongues at closed doors without any idea who’s behind them.
“It was such a beautiful place,” they’ll say, “not like now.” And hey, it’s not like they’re using the n-word, right? It’s just … implied. Until it isn’t.
Until it’s wearing a pink polo shirt and pointing a gun at people marching in the street.
It’s astonishing how little distance there is from the kind of nice-lady racism that is so confused as to why “some of them” just “let their houses go” to the wild-eyed pistol-waving Chico’s kind of day Mrs. McCloskey up there was having.
I mean people have handed down these stories like they’re a secret language, and that language is one of war: This is what happened when “blacks” “crossed the line.” We thought such-and-such street would “hold.” You want to talk about the Confederate states holding onto their lost causes; ask a white man of a certain age in Chicago after a couple of beers what parish his mother belonged to. If only “they” had stayed down south where they “belonged.”
Yes, now Donald Trump is openly stoking the kind of paranoia that leads to front-porch displays of the kind of trigger discipline that would humiliate a bachelor party at the paintball range. But who primed these people to listen? Who made that a story they would find easy to believe?
Who told them everything they had could be stolen at any moment? Did they use an example? Was it their great-aunt’s house, where once you didn’t have to lock the doors, and now you couldn’t walk down the street without getting mugged?