Reconfiguring Belonging in the Suburban US South: Diversity, ‘Merit’ and the Persistence of White Privilege


In the past few decades, a diverse body of scholarship has complicated the image of American suburbs as spaces of white, middle‐class homogeneity. Revisionist suburban histories and accounts of African American and immigrant suburbanization have drawn attention to the longstanding presence of non‐white others in US suburbs. Yet despite diversification, white privilege remains deeply entrenched in suburbia. This article explores the shifting character of white privilege in the US — especially in the US South — and asks how whites interpret diversity and identify those with whom they are, or are not, willing to share their privileges. This article uses the results of a pilot study in a subdivision near Columbia, South Carolina, to explore how white suburbanites articulate belonging in neighborhood space. This discussion highlights the ways in which respondents reject the pre‐civil‐rights order marked by overt racial discrimination, but also reveals the ways in which they evaluate the relative merit of minority groups and identify certain differences as unacceptable. While limited in scope, this study encourages scholars to further explore the ways in which shifting configurations of race become intertwined with processes of contemporary suburban change.