Rachel Woldoff (West Virginia Univ.)
Award committee assessment:
Rachael Woldoff’s White Flight/Black Flight makes an important contribution to the field’s understanding of neighborhood transformation. Her ethnographic approach, with more than 90 expansive personal interviews conducted over three years, gives voice to neighborhood residents—elderly whites, pioneer blacks, and second-wave black arrivals. The result is a nuanced portrait of a neighborhood suffering a downward trajectory that differs in important ways from more conventional analyses that have focused on black-white hostilities. Woldoff recognizes the role played by prejudice and white flight. But her research reveals previously overlooked elements of health in transition neighborhoods, including patterns of respect, neighborliness, mutual assistance, and friendships across racial and generational lines.
Woldoff also documents intragroup tensions, tensions, for instance, between the elderly white stayers and their adult children who beg them to leave. She further describes the tensions that result from cross-cutting class and racial identities, observing how the social distance between black pioneers and second-wave black arrivals has increased the pressures underlying black flight. Her work reveals a continuing clash in perspectives between African-Americans who value living in a racially integrated community and those who have come to accept the realities of class as well as racial segregation.
Woldoff weaves a story that moves fluently between broader theoretical concerns and the specifics of people’s lives. She also raises important questions of public policy, especially regarding the detrimental impact that seemingly beneficent school and housing policies have had on neighborhoods experiencing class and racial transformation. Rachael Woldoff has written a highly readable book that also meets academic standards and yields new insights into the process of neighborhood transition.
Chair Cynthia Horan (Yale Univ.), Katrin Anacker (George Mason Univ.), Tia Gaynor-Rouse (Marist College), Myron Levine (Wright State Univ.), Kathe Newman (Rutgers Univ.), and Annette Steinacker (Loyola Univ. Chicago)