Guess Where You’ll Find the Melting Pot Today?

It’s probably too much to hope that mere facts can undo the stereotype of suburbia as a redoubt of white-bread white folks. Nevertheless, this image has been overtaken by events. Analyzing data from the 2000 Census, a report by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban & Metropolitan Policy makes clear how heterogeneous the suburbs have become. Minority groups last year accounted for 27.3 percent of the suburban population in the 102 largest metropolitan areas; 47 percent of minority-group residents in those metros lived in the suburbs. In fact, says the report, “Minorities were responsible for the bulk of suburban population gains in a majority of the metro areas studied.” In the 102 metros, blacks last year constituted 8.4 percent of all suburbanites, Hispanics 12.1 percent and Asians 4.4 percent. Putting the matter another way, 38.8 percent of black residents in these metros lived in the burbs, as did 49.6 percent of Hispanics and 54.6 percent of Asians. Meanwhile, some major-metro suburbs lost white population during the 1990s. In several of these—including Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles-Long Beach—”the rate of white loss in the suburbs exceeded that in the central cities.” Marketers and other purveyors of pop culture give little sign of having noticed all these changes. (One suspects, for instance, that those who use “urban” as a synonym for “black” can’t do the best job of connecting with nonwhites who live in the burbs.) Why has the image of suburbia lagged so far behind demographic reality? In part, there’s a natural time lag in the minds of those city slickers who produce most pop culture. The last time they spent much time in a suburb was when they were kids—i.e., a decade or two or three ago. But there’s more going on than that. Too many urbanites have invested too much psychic energy in feeling superior to suburbia. For them, it must remain a nightmarish enclave of homogeneity—a Hartsdale of Darkness. The real suburbia of today is too complicated to satisfy this simple need.