Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 10.43.22 AMA fellow Black writer Danielle Small recently published an article about how her upbringing in rural White America left her feeling inauthentic around Black folk. She is not alone. It is increasingly common to hear these stories from Black youth moved to “whiter pastures” in the name of safety and privacy and opportunity. On paper the justification makes sense. Enclaves like the White American suburb are in many ways a handbasket for the American Dream. They define luxurious life in the West away from cantankerous cities and metropolises.

However the siren’s call of a better life also has hidden pitfalls for Black people. What is promised in material good is often lost in other forms of capital.

Here are five ways moving your Black Kids to the white suburbs can be a big step in a very wrong direction.

1) Identity
Perhaps the biggest danger of displacing a social minority into the statistically white suburbs is the eternal conflict of assimilation versus self-love. It doesn’t take long for a Black youth to recognize they’ve been removed from the social education of their “tribe” and are essentially aliens in a foreign environment. The result is often enough an identity stuck between worlds with no way out. The quip “either love or leave it” is a false option for a Black youth moved to a land of fruit festivals and coffee shops. The only alternative to participation is non-participation, but there is no leaving involved.

2) Cultural Isolation
One fuel for identity conflict is cultural isolation. Suburbs don’t have a reputation as rich cultural centers and for good reason. Aside from the occasional strip mall and church steeple there can be very little to remind impressionable Black youth that there is diversity abroad and there are other constructive ways to see themselves reflected in the world. The television doesn’t count. There is little substitution for real life peers and activities when it comes to actualizing a healthy sense of cultural belonging. When extra-curriculars offer line dancing but not breakdancing that’s a good sign some sacrifices of youth and cultural opportunity are about to be made.

3) Limited Autonomy
Cultural isolation is further exacerbated by limited autonomy of the suburbs. Even if a given suburb is more diverse than others it is very easy to find yourself confined to the house or local neighborhood if you are without a car or are unable to drive. Suburbs simply don’t have the public transportation infrastructure to allow high levels of mobility. There’s no subway or public bus routes and it’s just as rare to see a taxi. That hip-hop concert or African-American book club featured in the big city is only accessible via the benevolence of driver licensed friends or family members. If you can’t find a ride, well, Tim and his acoustic guitar down at the coffee shop will have to suffice.

4) Thin resources
One of the most over-suggested remedies for cultural isolation and limited mobility is reading. Don’t get me wrong, reading is a terrific idea, but it can often be the quickest way to realizing how thin your information network really is. When information that is important to a Black child’s heritage is absent from school curriculums and church sermons the next biggest challenge is knowing what information to look for and having an idea of what questions to ask. A suburban library will likely service a predominantly white demographic so before the age of the Internet the library could be a surprisingly unhelpful place for a Black youth. Thankfully the Web has somewhat matured as an information resource and what used to require ordering books from branches hundreds of miles away is now attainable with a Google search. Still, being alone with your head in the virtual clouds (or books) can breed it’s own psychosis without real-world forms of release.

5) Emotional constriction
A natural and not uncommon consequence of trying to reconcile all of the above is emotional regression. It should be expected that a Black child will develop defense mechanisms to an environment that dishes out more negative feedback than positive, or simply disallows deep emotional connection. The dynamics of assimilation and what that actually means for a perceptive Black child in a White environment are not cut and dry. Cognitive dissonance can be both real and debilitating in ways a youth may be unable to articulate in the moment. They will feel the incongruity of their predicament even if they don’t have the information or resources to make sense of it all.

Image Credits: Getty Images/Salon

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  • D1Mind

    Answer: Build prosperous black communities: rural, urban and suburban.

    Problem solved.

    But unfortunately this option is the last on the list of those who want assimilation and integration.

    The point being that if black folks in 2015 feel that the only way for them to have better anything is to go to someplace mostly white, then things are not getting better. Which makes for the main reason for not moving to white suburbs: the illusion of progress.

    • CoolChic


    • Mico

      Was going to say something similar, but you said it so much better. The only thing i’d like to add is that when you’re trying to raise a family and buy houses, do your research to see what if any black or multicultural communities already exist in that area.

    • Great advice Sister.

    • Exactly.

    • BillipPhailey

      Prosperous communities will have to self-select. How many of us are willing to do that?

  • I’m in Cali so Black people are everywhere we even have our own Beverly Hills ( Ladera hts lol) but if I moved to another state no I would NEVER have my kids live around all white people- I just couldn’t do that to them.

  • Disagree with you parental decisions your generalizaitons reflecting culture is irrelevant reason relocations. Parents endure reality disunity among so called “Black
    Lives Really Don’t Matter” opposite apathy, gangs and poverty. Blacks fail to understand non-Black communities established principles rather not allow deviation
    problem false. Welcoming to allow whom? Black folks yolk stereotypcial many Blacks” continue bring arrogance forcing cultural opinions. Shielding relatives whom
    trashing members of gangs and narcotics moment speak upon this. Your racist, think if parents successful career wise aware systematic policies benefit children learn form others no one. Take your identiy if dispute me “Gangs New Black” matter
    fact Hip hop biggest enemy. Demise of acknowleding Black men insult remain in Hood this misunderstood there not your people. Remembrance of what tell us your wrong segregating future generation to late to polorized economics agenda moron!

  • Ashley N. Jenkins

    My husband, three kids and I just relocated to Detroit after having lived in a, white suburb for two years. Our oldest daughter who just started Kindergarten would frequently come home saying that “white people were better.” She would even go as far to root only for white contestants on TV shows and asked for her natural hair to be straightened like her white classmates. As a mother, I was heartbroken. We were so grateful that she was accepted at a premiere school in the city so that we could relocate and reestablish some connections for her. I agree with your point on cultural isolation and have experienced it myself! I hope that when she sees her peers and educators mirroring her family, she will have a change of perception.