Black Californians Leaving the City and Reshaping the State

Hundreds of thousands of Black Californians are moving away from urban areas, opting for the promise of abundance and opportunity offered by suburban communities, a trend referred to as "California's Black exodus."

2 minute read

July 21, 2020, 8:00 AM PDT

By Lee Flannery @leecflannery


brad lindert / Flickr

Since the late 1980s, 275,000 Black Californians have moved away from expensive coastal cities like San Fransisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Compton, in a shift that Lauren Hepler describes as "California's Black exodus." In large numbers, ex-city dwellers have sought the opportunity and security of suburban communities in areas like California's Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta. Hepler points out that those who move to new cities face a different set of challenges and opportunities than those they left behind. "While a version of this geographic scramble is playing out for working and middle-class people of all races, the distinct obstacles that Black residents encounter in new communities raise the question: How far do you have to go today to find opportunity — and are some things ever really possible to leave behind?" writes Hepler. 

As larger numbers of Black Californians make move from city to suburb, new forms of discrimination have emerged. Predatory lending practices and job discrimination are still unfortunate aspects of everyday life in the new hometowns of Black Californians. According to associate professor of geography and urban planning at Arizona State University Deirdre Pfeiffer, in some communities, the trend of upward mobility, opportunity, and security of experience during the "Black flight" in the '80s and '90s has not continued. Now, at the intersection of pandemic anxiety, political discord, and a profound wave of protests reckoning with systemic racism in the United States, "at issue is whether these overlapping crises will accelerate California’s Black exodus or force a reckoning both inside and outside major cities," says Hepler.

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