‘Untenable’ Review: Community Strength Dissolved as Families Without Fathers Exploded

Jack Cashill’s latest book, Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight from America’s Cities, sets an important story straight: 

The author’s expertise on the subject of “white flight” did not come from a college course, a New York Times article, a documentary, or anything of that sort. As the son of an Irish police officer growing up in a working-class ethnic neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1950s and 60s–he lived it.

“Untenable” is Cashill’s 15th book, and his first autobiography.

His personal story is interwoven with the stories of dozens of other Newark residents of the same era who cherished their neighborhoods and were heartbroken when they were forced to leave.

Leaving the city meant leaving their close-knit, ethnic communities and no longer having everything they needed within walking distance. Cashill remembers a time in Newark when people walked everywhere with no fear of being robbed or molested.

The once thriving Catholic Roseville neighborhood, where Cashill grew up, was a multiethnic paradise in the early ‘50s, as the author remembers it. Italian, Irish, Jewish, Polish, and yes, a minority of African American families lived side by side, and for the most part, everyone got along.

Roseville Catholics went to the iconic St. Rose of Lima Church, and sent their kids to the excellent Catholic school. 

Mothers gossiped on their front stoops while their “free-range” children played all over the neighborhood. Everyone looked out for each other, and no one locked their doors.

Writes Cashill: “in a world without air-conditioning, people congregated on the stoops as soon as the weather permitted. The narrowness of the street encouraged adults to communicate with the neighbors across it. No one retreated to their backyards, as suburbanites famously do, because few of us had a backyard to retreat to. Besides, the front was where the action was.”

For his book, Cashill spoke with scores of old friends and acquaintances who fled the collapsing city. To a person, they regretted having to leave their precious, close knit neighborhoods to the suburbs where they were outsiders.

What forced them to leave their precious communities?

While speaking at an Obama Foundation forum in 2019, Michelle Obama suggested that white flight out of Chicago was a racist overreaction to “families like ours, upstanding families like ours who were doing everything we were supposed to do and better.”

According to Michelle, “As we moved in, white folks moved out. They were afraid of what our families represented.”

True enough, in the 1950s and 1960s, the proportion of African American residents in Newark increased and white residents decreased. There was an influx of black families coming from the South and a large percentage of them were headed by unmarried women.

“The family, it seemed clear, was the foundation of any community; the stronger the family, the stronger the community,” writes Cashill.

“The most overlooked variable in assessing community strength was the percentage of families headed by a married father. By 1982, that percentage was approaching zero in many Newark neighborhoods.”

The social fabric in Roseville started fraying by the late ‘50s. Cashill tells the story of getting mugged at age nine by three 11-year-old black boys.

My first official mugging was quirky enough to make The Newark Evening News “Dad Avenges $3 Robbery,” declared the headline. The opening sentence summed up the story, “Three 11-year-old boys were arrested by the detective father of a 9-year-old boy whom the trio stopped on the street and robbed of $3 yesterday in front of 55 Myrtle Avenue.

The public school eventually became a “blackboard jungle” antithetical to learning, and the formerly well-kept public housing project became a dystopian war zone.

Crooked politicians and terrible public policies played outsized roles in the collapse of black communities all across America. As Cashill notes, the breakdown of the black family was “unwittingly enabled in each case by well-meaning bureaucrats” and “encouraged by a complicit media.”

Newark also became infested by black radicals like Amiri Baraka and Ron Karenga, as well as white communists like Tom Hayden. Together, they poisoned the minds of young blacks and filled their hearts with anger and resentment toward “whitey.”

Crime increased, and so did random black-on-white acts of violence. Cashill tells story after story of muggings and  beatdowns at the hands of black assailants. By the mid ‘60s–less than a decade after children ran free in Roseville–white residents feared walking the streets alone.

This “revolutionary time,” as the anti-racists called it, culminated in the 1967 Newark riots, which obliterated large swaths of Newark, and accelerated the mass exodus of ethnic whites out of the city to the suburbs.

Cashill said in his conversations with the Newark refugees that he “was struck by how many made a point of exempting their black friends and neighbors from any responsibility for the riots.”

Unlike their suburban peers, however, they did not exempt the bad guys. As one friend tells me, “I had the guilt beaten out of me a long time ago.

Michelle Robinson-Obama should be able to relate.

The Robinson family fled their Southside neighborhood to escape the high crime rate in the early ‘60s. But, as Michelle acknowledged in her book “Becoming,” the neighborhood to which her family moved was not much better.

“As soon as Michelle settled into her new home, she was accosted by rough-edged black girls who accused her of speaking white,” Cashill notes. “At school, a black boy punched her hard in the face for no apparent reason.”

Michelle admitted: “Just walking around the block, you could get your butt kicked if you talked like a white girl.”

Given this background, Michelle Obama’s characterization of “white flight” as a racist overreaction to skin color is an abomination.

She knows damn well it was much more than that.

One of Cashill’s childhood friends–a Democrat–was the last to leave their block in the early 1970s. Cashill asked him why he and his widowed mother finally moved on 20 years after the first African American families moved in.

“He searched a minute for the right words and then simply said, ‘It became untenable,’” Cashill writes.

“When I asked what he meant by ‘untenable,’ he answered: ‘When your mother gets mugged for the second time, that’s untenable. When your home gets broken into for the second time, that’s untenable.’”

Cashill’s 488-page book describes in detail just how “untenable” the city became for thousands of beleaguered ethnic white residents during those years. The families who were uprooted from their beloved homes don’t deserve to be smeared by “anti-racists” who don’t know what they’re talking about, or by hypocrites like Michelle Obama who do.


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About Debra Heine

Debra Heine is a conservative Catholic mom of six and longtime political pundit. She has written for several conservative news websites over the years, including Breitbart and PJ Media.