Polite White Flight: coming to a Croydon suburb near you?


By - Tuesday 14th July, 2015

Jonny Rose contemplates the subconscious segregation of Croydon


Birds of a feather flock together.
Photo by John Haslam, used under Creative Commons licence.

Recently, I asked the question, “Do you know your neighbours?”. Today, I want to ask, “Do your neighbours look like you?”.

Because according to the research of Dr Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck University if you’re an upwardly-mobile white Croydonian living in the suburbs, the answer is likely to be “yes”. For better or worse, you may be caught up in what’s known as ‘polite white flight’.

Polite White Flight

‘Polite White Flight’ refers to a particular phenomenon whereby affluent white liberals (or ‘metrolibs’) on one hand espouse the virtues of multiculturalism and yet live (or move to) areas that are highly undiverse.

Anyone with a keen eye on sociology and history will know that this phenomenon is not particularly new. But the speed at which it is happening now, in London, is particularly notable: some outer London boroughs – including Enfield, Waltham Forest and Redbridge – have seen their white British population drop by as much as a quarter over the past decade.

Research suggests that both liberals and conservatives like to live around people like them.

Kaufmann’s research suggests that white liberals don’t aim for segregation but that there is a tipping point where they start to leave an area; when the minority population rises above 10 per cent. Unlike traditional permutations of ‘white flight’, polite white flight is not specifically about race, it’s more to do with living with ‘people like us’ in an area with a strong sense of community. And, for better or worse, ‘people like us’ do tend to be those from similar backgrounds.

What about those who stay?

The more affluent people are the more tolerant they can afford to be because the more like them any minority who moves into their very expensive area is going to be; cultural and social differences tending to vanish as we move up the scale. But what about those who are unable to join the polite white flight?

Last November, Croydon community worker Clive Locke incurred the wrath of many locals for retweeting a tweet suggesting that Muslim immigrants and asylum-seekers were “invaders”. In 2013, a drunken Croydon woman named Emma West made global news when her racist rant on a tram telling a number of passengers on the tram “you’re not English”, “none of you are English” and “get back to your own countries” was captured and publicised on YouTube.

Across the landscape, there seems to be a change in the air whereby poor whites feel abandoned by insular political classes to languish in a challenging world of political correctness, diversity quotas and multiculturalism. Politicians are often accused of silencing debate about immigration whilst being largely insulated from the rapid changes it is affecting upon some sections of society. Throughout the general election, UKIP was roundly mocked for being a reactionary political party yet only the most tone-deaf could ignore the recurring message that white working-class voters are feeling disenfranchised and abandoned by both major parties.

The ethnic composition of Croydon is changing rapidly

Croydon is going through some seismic changes right now. This is no less true for the ethnic composition of the borough. White Brits now make up less than half of Croydon’s population according to data from the 2011 census, which shows 47.3 per cent – 171,878 of the borough’s 363,378 population – describing themselves as being “White British”. In 2001, the figure stood at 63.7 per cent.

When it comes to multiculturalism, it’s a case of saying one thing and doing another

Whether the denizens of Selsdon, Kenley and Coulsdon will find themselves suddenly victim to an influx of impeccably right-on London liberals remains to be seen, but whatever the racial composition of our neighbourhoods we could all benefit from proactively getting to know the people who live, work and play alongside us. There’s no better time to start than right now.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

More Posts - Twitter





  • Anne Giles

    We are very lucky in Selsdon, because we have quite a mix of people. In my street we have two Afro-Caribbean families, one from Hong Kong, one from India. The rest are white, but some middle class and some working class.

  • moguloilman

    Thanks Jonny.

    Although you have written from the angle of polite white flight, I would be interested in seeing how the non-white groups move. Younger people tend to choose to live in more urban areas, closer to transport and entertainment, moving to suburbia as they acquire spouse and children.

    Given the Croydon age/ethnicity profile and geographical distribution (white population is generally older and more suburban) we would actually expect to see younger urban-living white people migrating to suburban (and currently whiter) areas as they get older. But what we should also expect to see is younger non-white urban-dwellers doing the same. If they are not then that is probably at least as important to understand. It may be as much or more about non-white stayers as about white movers.

    Good idea to talk to the neighbours in any case.

  • moguloilman

    Thanks Jonny.

    Although you have written from the angle of polite white flight, I would be interested in seeing how the non-white groups move. Younger people tend to choose to live in more urban areas, closer to transport and entertainment, moving to suburbia as they acquire spouse and children.

    Given the Croydon age/ethnicity profile and geographical distribution (white population is generally older and more suburban) we would actually expect to see younger urban-living white people migrating to suburban (and currently whiter) areas as they get older. But what we should also expect to see is younger non-white urban-dwellers doing the same. If they are not then that is probably at least as important to understand. It may be as much or more about non-white stayers as about white movers.

    Good idea to talk to the neighbours in any case.

  • Stephen Giles

    If you are having problems sleeping, this kind of drivel is a wonderful cure!

  • Peter Ball

    I wouldn’t totaly disagree with you but I think that the statistics are distorted by gross simplifications forced by crude classifications on the census and other data collection.

    This completely ignores the melting pot effects of different groups mingling across the generations. Most people would see me as “White British” but I never answer as that my mother came to Britain as a refugee, my wife is european, I am entitled to 3 nationalities. I only have a British passport and British/European liberal would broadly describe my values but I self classify as “White – Other” or “Refused”. Many other people with a very similar background to me would self classify as “White British”.

    I am only one case but large numbers of my friends and people I know come from every sort of mixture of race, nationality or culture regardless of the obvious colour of their skins. This doesn’t show in any accurate way in the statistics because they are too crude. In a city as mixed as ours the statistics are only accurate in areas where people don’t mix across the generations because of Religious and cultural barriers.

  • Michael Badu

    ..and ethnic minorities tend to go where people will look like them also. I’ve never liked this much ether, this ‘ghetto-isation’, creating countries within countries. The problem isn’t so much the hypocrisy of white liberals when to comes to multiculturalism (I think this is grossly overstated in this context, perhaps more relevant in the context of work and careers), or that White Brits account for less than half of the population. The problem is that England is becoming another country (or countries) and these ‘White liberals’ want to live in England…(as do I). We need a shared culture, a shared basis for social cohesion. We need English/British versions of the cultures / religions that have been imported (with great success I might add). We need proper assimilation. This started to happen when I was a kid, but now the pace of change is too great. If I have a problem with White liberals in the context of this argument, its with the ones that have always lived in places like Hampstead Heath which are entirely insulated from immigration and experience it like it was some kind of award winning arthouse film!

  • Robert Ward

    Part of being human is liking to be around ‘people like me’. The question is how much ‘people like me’ is defined by race, which in the Britain of fifty years ago wasn’t an issue..

    Alongside that we have a parallel issue of what does it mean to be English. The Scots defined themselves for many decades as British but not English. The English, along with many Europeans thought English and British were the same thing. Now the Scots have become more assertive and more left wing (which still imo has a strong element of if-the-English-are-Tories-then-we-are-the-other-one) the English struggle for a sense of identity.

    I see these issues as solvable, but the speed of change has been too fast for this to be comfortable.

  • andyrwebman

    It’s simple, and it;s just like mixing the ingredients together in a recipe.

    Mix them gradually, and they’ll blend in to a smooth homogeneous mass.

    Mix them too rapidly, and the ingredients will cluster together into clumps of like ingredients, which then prove very difficult to mix.

    The evil of immigration is not the fact of it, but rather the rate at which it has been attempted, and the carelessness of the execution of the task.