Whiteness as Property and Resistance to Demographic Change

Much of the research on district and school community responses to demographic change examines how educational leaders, teachers, and even families may espouse color-evasive perspectives that downplay the significance of race, or claim that they “don’t see color or race,” but their actions are very much so racialized (Cooper, 2009; Evans, 2007a, 2007b; Turner, 2015). Some of these racialized responses came in the form of educational leaders avoiding any forthcoming discussions about or deeply wrestling with race as a district or school community and instead implementing superficial initiatives like multicultural programs and celebrations, or one-off diversity workshops or professional development that was never applied to practice (Cooper, 2009; Welton et al., 2015). We interpret these types of responses to demographic change where educators and community members avoid addressing race as one form of resistance to change that allows the status quo to safely remain intact. According to Gorski (2019), these experiential diversity initiatives are one way in which white people can “opt out” of having to learn about racism and instead do what is most comfortable to them (p. 59). So, then, white people “opt out of considering racial justice while deriving social and cultural benefits from diversity awareness. It creates the illusion of appreciation while entrenching inequity” (Gorski, 2019, p. 59).

However, much of the resistance to demographic change documented in the research is what could be considered as whiteness as property, where the growing numbers of racially diverse students and families joining a district and or school community are seen by white, upper middle-class, and affluent families as a potential encroachment on their property rights (see Harris, 1995). This whiteness as property has manifested as white flight, where white families of economic means see the increase of students and families of color in their communities as a sign that their schools and homes will soon be devalued (Holme, 2002; Holme et al., 2012). Moreover, in recent years, white families have resurrected a tactic once used post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) to avoid desegregation—school district secession—to once again resist racially diverse school settings. In school district secession, white and affluent families siphon themselves off from larger, county-wide school districts in their communities to create their own districts under the race-neutral guise of local control and greater autonomy over decisionmaking (Siegel-Hawley, Diem, & Frankenberg, 2018). Yet, research shows that school district secession and the creation of new school district boundaries is contributing to increasing levels of school segregation (Frankenberg, Siegel-Hawley, & Diem, 2017; Taylor, Frankenberg, & Siegel-Hawley, 2019).

In our case study on the suburban school district in the San Antonio metropolitan area, as some schools in the district became more racially and socioeconomically diverse, white and middle-class families would move out of the area to neighborhoods with more affluent schools (Holme et al., 2013). Some of the more affluent schools were even located in neighborhoods within the district and as white families continued to move north, the district would build new schools to accommodate them (Holme et al., 2012). School choice also precipitated white flight. White and middle-class families would use open choice to transfer to a different school, especially if the neighborhood school’s demographics changed to a Title I designation. As a PTA president of an elementary school in the district described:

I think just the wording of it, Title I scared them that they needed to move out of that area.. .Or they have done School of Choice. I know they pretty much can’t sell their homes right now, but I know that some of them have done you know, changed [using] School of Choice. And it’s not—and all of them said it’s not anything to do with a bad experience as far as teacher wise or anything, but [it’s] demographics.

(Holme et al., 2013, p. 125)

However, white, middle class, and affluent families aren’t just fleeing low-income, racially diversifying school communities; now there is also evidence of white flight from middle-class, racially diversifying suburbs, coined as ethnoburbs (Enjeti, 2016; Kye, 2018). For example, Enjeti (2016) described the sentiments of white community members who fled an ethnoburb in suburban Atlanta that over time had an influx of Asian families. The district was strong in terms of its academic offerings and resources, but still white parents, based on the minority stereotype of Asian students, feared the competition their children would face as a result of the growing Asian student population. As one parent candidly shared, “The high school is too competitive, my kids won’t get into a good college because of all of the Asians” (Enjeti, 2016, para. 10). As a result, white parents fled well-resourced schools because they were threatened by what opportunities students of color and their families might take away from them.

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