Black Voices

New Book ‘Disillusioned’ Explores Racial Inequity, Tension in American Suburbs

New Book ‘Disillusioned’ Explores Racial Inequity, Tension in American Suburbs

The suburbs aren’t immune to the country’s issues around racial inequality.

While suburbs were once a beacon of the American dream, families have now realized suburbs failed to deliver equally on this promise, according to a new book.

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In “Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs,” author Benjamin Herold explores how five families across the U.S. experienced this reckoning firsthand.

The suburbs were built on the idea they’re a place where families can give their kids a better life, but as generations pass, Herold said, this doesn’t always hold up.

“Particularly the third, fourth, fifth generation of suburban residents, who are often families of color or lower income or immigrant families, come in really expecting and wanting that same dream,” Herold said. “Instead (they) are finding that they’re in places that weren’t designed for them.”

To tell this story, Herold focuses on five families, including the Adesina family in north suburban Evanston. Lauren Adesina, a multiracial mom, and her son move to the suburb, “drawn to the quiet streets and the racial diversity.”

Above all, the mother was motivated to move for the public schools the area offered.

This excitement around the quality education soured as her son was called a racial slur — and while Lauren Adesina advocated for her son, school officials were not remedying the situation. This, all the while the school district was having conversations around racism and how to fix systemic issues around it.

“What we saw in Evanston was a larger group of progressive parents really became very active in local politics and took control of the school board and really pushed racial equity to the center of the district’s agenda with mixed results,” Herold said.

Lauren Adesina ultimately made the decision to pull her son out of one of Evanston’s elementary schools.

Read an excerpt from the book below.

“Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs” by author Benjamin Herold.“Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs” by author Benjamin Herold.

The final straw came in March. Back at Dewey, Principal Sokolowski called for help responding to an incident involving a Black six-year-old at the school. From her perspective, she was following protocol, reaching out to a school resource officer who was an established part of the Dewey community and had a track record of helping deescalate difficult situations. Many progressives, however, saw a white school administrator calling a uniformed, gun-carrying police officer on a young Black child. The split left Sokolowski and others feeling like the push for justice and equity in Evanston schools was alienating the educators upon whom it depended.

“It became more difficult for staff to really want to continue the work and be open about it, because they saw how I was being viewed,” she told me.

Tanyavutti, meanwhile, began publicly questioning the need for any ongoing relationship between Evanston’s police and public schools, prompting intense discomfort among liberal parents far more worried about their children being hurt by school shooters than by local cops. Goren scrambled frantically for a solution that might satisfy everyone. But it was too late. In April 2019, the District 65 board gathered for a meeting. Unaware of what was coming, Goren began sifting through papers, then hit send on a text message. Tanyavutti opened her laptop and announced that she had a prepared statement to read.

“As a board, we can set our vision,” Evanston’s progressive champion said. “But the execution of that vision is the responsibility of our one employee: the superintendent.”

A look of surprise crept across Goren’s face. Two months later, he’d offer his resignation. By then, Lauren Adesina had already sent her third and final major email of the 2018-19 school year. This time, she stated her request as a settled fact.

After much consideration, I have decided that a transfer to the two-way Spanish-immersion magnet program at Washington would be in my son’s best interest.

Reprinted by permission of Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Excerpted from Disillusioned: Five Families and the Unraveling of America’s Suburbs by Benjamin Herold. Copyright 2024 Benjamin Herold. All rights reserved.

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