Lateshia Beachum, Washington Post, October 30, 2019
Former first lady Michelle Obama shared painful memories of growing up in Chicago’s South Side and gave a reminder to white people in attendance at the Obama Foundation Summit on Tuesday: “Y’all were running from us, and you’re still running,” she said.
Obama was talking about the white flight she experienced growing up in a South Side neighborhood. “White flight” is when white people leave increasingly diverse areas in large numbers.
Obama, whose mission was all about fitness during her time in the White House, said she noticed white families packing up their bags and heading for other parts of the city and state of Illinois to be away from black people.
With her brother, New York Knicks executive Craig Robinson, by her side, Obama said their family was doing everything they were supposed to do and sometimes better. “As we moved in, white folks moved out, because they were afraid of what our families represented,” she said during the Chicago event.
In 2010, Chicago had the fifth-highest combined racial and economic segregation in the nation and the 10th-highest black and white segregation, according to a 2017 study from Chicago-based Metropolitan Planning Council. Chicago is now ranked the fourth-most segregated city in the country, USA Today Money reported in July.
White flight reduced the city’s capital for schools, infrastructure and other community resources, something Obama noticed when she was growing up. She said she felt a sense of injustice as a child because she could see and feel that people were running from families like hers. She noted that she and her brother had friends of all races when they first moved in.
The former first lady said she’s still noticing patterns of white flight in Chicago as immigrant families arrive.
“You were running from us, and you’re still running, because we’re no different than the immigrant families that are moving in, the families in Pilsen, the families that are coming from other places to try to do better,” she said to applause.