Popular Culture In The Age Of White Flight History Essay

1590 words (6 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 History Reference this


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White flight refers a phenomenon where upper and middle class move from the cities to the suburbs. The practice started after the second war when African Americans started to settle in the cities. The whites were opposed to the practice and thus they started to vacate the cities and moved to the suburbs. In the United State, white flight has been taking place since the 1950s and some of the most affected cities include New Orleans, Detroit and St. Louis having lost almost half of their population. White people moved from inner core cities for fear of crimes from ethnic minority especially the Blacks. Others migrated because they thought that the new suburbs were a favorable environment to live in with their adequate housing and schools. Regarding White flight from Los Angeles in Southern California, it was caused by racial tension as well as increased housing cost (Rushefsky, 2007). With departure of white residents, inner city life deteriorated seeing that even garbage collection was halted. In the book, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles, Eric Vila provides a compelling analysis regarding the restructuring of urban space within two decades after the Second World War. He also explains the political implications the new suburban regions had on the United States. The text vividly explains Los Angeles culture from 1940 to 1970 as it traces the departure of the Whites from Older American cities to Southern California (Avila, 2006). The objective of this paper

A white Society

At the commencement of the twentieth century, Los Angels fantasized about a city that was predominantly white. They wanted to develop a white middle class suburb which is likened to Disneyland. In his study, Avila depicts why this fantasy remains so entrenched in culture and policy even a sit fails in practice. The city life appealed to whites only and minority groups were recognized only as a source of cheap labor. After the Second World War, Los Angeles experienced demographic as well as economic growth with the rise of new Suburbs. According to Avila, this marked the start of a new generation of whites which was depicted in popular cultures including film noir, Dodger Stadium, Disneyland ad Hollywood. He further explains that these cultures reveal the segregation of Los Angeles and they also reflect the rise of a new political attitude that was against the New Deal idea and it instead supported the New Right. The new culture is manifested in diverse aspects including music and art (Avila, 2006).

In the Better City, Dana Bartlett depicts an ideal city for the whites. She describes a quite city away from modern rush and its occupants are entirely white. Dana praises the city’s friendly climate and the availability of affordable and ideal homes for working class men. The Progressive vision for the city also emphasized domestic and family life and through suburban decentralization they were able to ensure that only perfect families lived in the city. According to Dana, the city would have no slums hence only wealthy families were expected to live in Los Angeles. What’s more, antivice measures were introduced in order to reduce the adverse impacts of alcohol, prostitution as well as gambling (Avila, 2006).

Avila explains how the modern Los Angeles was constructed based on urban and race vision. In the 1930s and 1940s, the New Deal emphasizes the construction of the Noir city such as the modern New York City. The Noir City was overcrowded, polluted, insecure and racially and culturally mixed. Given that most Los Angeles pioneers were born and raised in small towns and suburbs, they were opposed to the idea and thus they migrated to Los Angeles. They constructed an orderly, secure and clean city which was predominantly white. He uses popular public culture to show how this postwar vision was achieved as these cultural aspects provided an orderly entertainment for the public. At the same time, Los Angeles was undergoing spatial segregation seeing that the people did not want to mix with poor and racial minority. Consequently, the Hispanic community was displaced from Chavez Ravine by the Dodger Stadium. Furthermore, the city abandoned public transportation and in its place car centered network transportation was introduced. The highway system allowed the Suburban dwellers to pass through other cities without encountering poor or minority individuals (Avila, 2006).


One of the major causes of white flight is blockbusting. It refers to a phenomenon where real estate agents help Black families to acquire a house in a white neighborhood. The white agents buy a house and resell it to the African Americans and this is likely to cause panic among the white community. On one hand, they are afraid that a black neighborhood is not secure and on the other hand they fear that the value of their property is likely to reduce. As a result, they sell their property in large number which in turn causes a drastic drop in prices. The agents sell the houses at a high cost and with time the neighborhood would have a high number of minority groups. Avila give a compelling analysis of block busting using the film noir in which the whites went against public housing. Those who migrated into the suburbs supported the principle of private ownership.

Los Angeles introduced policies in order to minimize cultural diversity. South Carolina immigrants were referred to as immigrants from city problems and the city boosters used different methods including land ownership restrictions as well as zoning policies to develop white neighborhoods. With the help of house developers and other reformers, the migrants created an ideal white city for the first three decades of the twentieth century. However, the haven was disrupted by the Second World War with the coming of the Japanese community into the region. The presence of the Chicano youths on the other hand threatened the peace of the community and by 1940s the Black community had increased significantly. The racial diversity dashed South California hopes of white supremacy but the whitening was reinforced again after the war. However, the population of African American, Mexicans and Japanese was very high and different measures were introduced to reduce racial discrepancy. For example, the Immigration Act of 1924 and the Alien Land Act of 1913 which prohibited immigrants from owning land. It is equally notable that Black women were exempted from Women’s Suffrage league and immigrants were required to adopt local culture and social life. The city boosters wanted to avoid what was happening in New York, San Francisco and Chicago seeing that these cities promoted cultural diversity and there was a significant presence of immigrants and ethnic minorities. The federal government played a significant role in privatization of land by allowing municipal government to purchase land and sell it to private developers. The media used Los Angeles as an example of a city which had resisted the impacts of urbanization (Avila, 2006).

Political implications

As a result of white flight new municipalities outside the city jurisdiction were formed. The new municipalities were not required to maintain the existing infrastructure and they introduced zoning restrictions to ensure that poor individuals did not move into the suburbs. From the text, it is clear that the current political culture of balanced budget conservatism developed from postwar suburbs. Avila draws from George Lipsitz’s work, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness which explains the impact of the New Deal concerning political views as well as space alterations. The construction of urban highway in South California resulted in political unrest in the 1960s as working class Blacks, Angelenos and Latinos protested against the construction of freeway which was adversely transportation in the inner city. However, city planners and engineers collected data to reinforce the importance of the construction and with this they ignored political implications. In the 1950s and 1960s the city life deteriorated and the 1967 Detroit street riot was the worst reaction to poor living conditions in the United States. The federal government provided subsidized homes for well to do families and they could also access subsidized transportation to the cities seeing that most of jobs were in the cities. In addition, the government changed code tax to benefit suburban regions while inner cities were denied access to basic goods including education and housing (Avila, 2006).


The text gives a remarkable analysis of white flight and how it shaped Los Angeles. Avila focuses on Los Angels which provides an ideal case for studying post war formation of suburbs and their popular culture. The author further explains that the reason behind white flight was to create a city predominantly occupied by white people. The city was developed based on family values and whiteness principles and this culture was reflected in popular culture including Disneyland and Hollywood. However, the city did not last for long seeing that currently Los Angeles is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States. What he fails to admit is that the whites were discriminating against African Americans and other ethic minority seeing that they did not allow them to live in the suburbs.

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