By Sonya James
Posting in Cities
What will the gentrified future of Washington, D.C. look like?
Natalie Hopkinson, author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City, points her readers to another important city in flux: Washington, D.C.
"Ever since Washington was carved from two slaveholding states in 1791, it has been a special place for black Americans," Hopkinson writes for The New York Times.
Nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln freed the slaves in Washington. It was the birthplace of Duke Ellington and Zora Neale Hurston. It incubated the great tradition of go-go music. More to the point, it was the country's first city to have an African-American majority.
But "the once-majority-black city immortalized in George Clinton’s 1975 funk classic “Chocolate City,” has lost its black majority," writes Hopkinson.
Although the hard demographic numbers only came out last year, Hopkinson says Washington has been in the midst of an identity crisis for some time.
"Black privilege has always been relative. The city’s median black household income is $36,948; for whites it is $99,401. This demographic reality creates a crude, ethically charged math, and everyone who owns a stake in Washington calculates with it. The presence of white faces is the most reliable sign of the quality of a school. The more white people move in, the higher the property values go. The city’s population is growing, but each black family that leaves a school or neighborhood makes it richer."
But the troubling picture of urban change Hopkinson describes is not as bleak as it sounds. As an African-American woman who arrived in Washington as a freshman at historically black Howard University, Hopkinson remembers the presence of African-Americans participating in all levels of civic and cultural affairs.
"Some days, walking the streets of Washington, a seemingly colder place where people don’t always exchange greetings, I feel nostalgic for the days of black privilege that George Clinton crooned about," writes Hopkinson. "But given the warmth of many of my new neighbors of many races, I would like to see the transformation around me as racial progress. The change in attitudes that caused a generation of whites to release their fears and return to the urban centers their parents fled a generation ago is the same change in attitudes that allowed millions of white Americans, in the quiet sanctity of the voting booth, to vote for a black man named Barack Hussein Obama."
Read the full op-ed piece here.
Jun 24, 2012
Anyone who's lived as a member of an ethnic minority in the USA can appreciate the comfort of living among people of their own group. It's not as good, though, as living in a larger community where ethnicity doesn't matter. Polls report that younger people - Generation Y - are more comfortable with diversity than their elders. So if Chocolate City is dying, then long live a diverse DC. Much more appropriate for the capital in the 21st century.
There are so many long standing problems in DC that have nothing to do with race. We as a nation should be embarrassed by the poverty, crime and pathetic public schools so prevalent in our nations capital.
The "gentrification" of historically black cities and neighborhoods is not new. New York City's Harlem is a prime example. There are a number of causes including upwardly mobile whites and Asians moving to fashionable black neighborhoods, especially celebrities who for example, have been buying up real estate in Harlem. This drives up the real estate values and rents, driving out low or middle income residents. At the same time, upwardly mobile blacks have been leaving historically black areas, seeking better property deals and schools in traditionally white suburbs. I believe that the author makes a good point but she should also be aware of the larger picture of demographic evolution of the US urban and suburban environments. New immigrants and shifting ethnicities will continue to shape these demographics while "Chocolate City" may become a historical curiosity, cultural preservationism notwithstanding.