Having a safe and serene place to call home has long been lauded as part of the American dream, but the location where that dream takes place is shifting for Black Americans. According to U.S. Census data, an increasing number of people of color are moving out of the inner city and into suburban neighborhoods. Some feel that living in the ’burbs comes with its own set of challenges.
Former Fishers resident Chris Sullivan began to question his housing choice when a note was left in his mailbox criticizing his yard with what he felt was racially charged language. “This isn’t the ghetto and your home looks trashy,” the note read. He wondered whether the community was the best place to raise his 6-year-old biracial son. A month later, after returning home from a night of playing basketball at a gym, Sullivan was stopped by a police officer outside of his home. The encounter caused him to fear for his life.
“He’s asking me questions like what am I doing here, who lives here, who’s the owner. I say I live here with my wife and kids. He asks me where my ID is; I say it’s in my bag. I had a gym bag on my shoulder with my shoes sticking out of it. When I motion toward my bag, he put his hand on his gun. I dropped my bag and put my hands up. I’m not taking any chances; it’s dark outside and this guy can say anything,” said Sullivan.
After his experience with the officer, Sullivan and his family decided to move out of Fishers. He says his new neighborhood in Indianapolis’ Pike Township has people from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. Sullivan expressed that it is difficult to find the perfect place to raise a family as a person of color.
“I live on the west side, and I see some stuff that makes me think, oh, what the heck is going on over here, I don’t want to go to that store, but at the same time, I think that culture aspect is a different feeling. It feels better to be around diversity. You have to weigh how far away from culture you want to be, and how safe or nice you want the community to look. It’s give and take,” said Sullivan.
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court declaring racial zoning unconstitutional in 1917, racially restrictive covenants and “redlining” kept Blacks out of majority-white neighborhoods well into the 20th century. The Federal Housing Authority, established under the National Housing Act of 1934, stated that, “If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.”
The past 50 years have allowed for much more integration. However, some reports suggest that Blacks moving to suburbs doesn’t mean that residential neighborhoods will become multi-ethic versions of 1950s sitcoms. In a report titled “Segregation, Suburbs, and the Future of Fair Housing,” Alan Berube, a deputy director at public policy organization the Brookings Institute, said that even though segregation has decreased steadily since 1970 that people of color represent 35 percent of the suburban population in major metropolitan areas, “moving out” doesn’t always mean “moving up,” and the challenges individuals faced in the inner city will simply be re-directed to suburbia, where the community is less equipped to confront those challenges.
Local realtor Janis Bradley and loan officer Diana Rice-Wilkerson say many of their clients are looking to move into suburban communities.
“I have quite a few people who want Fishers, Brownsburg, Avon. Mount Vernon is pretty hot because you get a little more for your money,” said Bradley. “I have been doing this for 30-some years, and I think (Black people) want to live wherever we want to live. A lot of times families might be looking for a good school system, or that type of thing. Township schools are important to families.”
Bradley and Rice-Wilkerson host a radio talk show on WTLC 1310 titled “The Home and Finance Show,” where they encourage African-Americans to buy homes rather than rent, and educate the community about the home-buying process. Bradley and Rice-Wilkerson feel that the majority of their clients who move to suburban communities feel safe and have a positive experience, but they also say potential homebuyers should research a neighborhood before buying a home to make sure the community is safe and offers everything their family needs.
“Even before taking a look at houses, clients have driven around the neighborhood at different times of the day, on the weekend,” said Bradley.
Sullivan points out that living in the city is getting increasingly expensive, pushing Black residents out of the communities they previously called home.
“My grandmother, she lives by the Children’s Museum, and she says all they do is come in, fix up these houses one at a time, and they raise the price, pushing people of color out of neighborhoods. Instead, we should be fixing those houses for people to stay. It’s always like, the Black people run to the suburbs and then the white people come back. They want to rebuild houses and charge crazy amounts so Black people can never live in nicer areas,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan would like to see more intentional efforts to educate the public on how to live and work alongside diversity.
“I shouldn’t have to be searched by an officer who feels uncomfortable,” said Sullivan. “Any type of publicity that comes from this is me trying to create a platform and spark conversations with neighborhoods and police officers about how they are trained to deal with people of color. I feel like I could be dead right now, easily, because I know he would have pulled that gun on me without hesitation. There needs to be more inclusion.”