"The "push-out' of Black poor and working class people over the past decade rivals the demographic devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans."
The "Chocolate City" appears to be passing into history, and with it the prospects for consolidating Black political power and ending the historical transience of African American life. The movement of white capital is by far the main factor in the dismantling of majority and near-majority Black cities, but corporate planners have gotten critical assistance from the Black misleadership class, which has often welcomed gentrification with open arms and upturned palms.
New census data show urban cores hemorrhaging Black population across the nation, most dramatically in quintessential "chocolate" cities like Washington, DC, and Atlanta, where the "push-out" of Black poor and working class people over the past decade rivals the demographic devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Black neighborhoods in virtually every older American city are under siege, as capital muscles its way back into the urban centers it abandoned two generations ago, bringing with it masses of affluent whites. The resulting Black dislocation to inner suburbs (and to non-inner city locations in the South) has created what I believe is a false impression of fading residential segregation in America, but is actually a snapshot of a phenomenon in transition towards the unknown.
As is expected in a society that views concentrations of Black and low income people as pro forma evidence of pathology, the breakup of African American urban neighborhoods is seen as benign, a sign of progress. Thus, the upbeat December 14 headline, "Black Segregation in U.S. Drops to Lowest in Century." The Associated Press piece reports that "Segregation among blacks and whites fell in roughly three-quarters of the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas as the two racial groups spread more evenly between inner cities and suburbs, according to recent census data."
However, some of us remember when places like East Orange, New Jersey, were lauded as precursors of a racially integrated future, with sizeable Black populations suddenly seeming to mix easily with long-established white majorities. However, this Seventies-era assessment was merely a snapshot of racial demographics in swift and decisive motion. By 2000, East Orange, population around 70,000, was one of the Blackest cities of its size in the country, at 90 percent, with whites only a residue of less than four percent.
Bye-Bye Black Majorities
Blacks will never be a residue of Atlanta, Washington (the two majority-Black cities with the largest white population growth), or Newark " for the simple reason that there is no Black-flight reflex " but all three Chocolate Cities are likely to lose their Black majorities before the next U.S. Census count, in 2020. Overwhelmingly Black Detroit is a different situation, since the magnet for affluent whites, capital, has abandoned the entire state of Michigan.
Some of the relative decline in heavily Black central cities will be due to immigration, but this largely Latino influx is very different from the challenge posed by whites: it does not threaten economic "push-out" of existing Black populations, as does white gentrification. Rather, new and existing Latino populations are under much the same pressures from capital as Blacks " which is why Manhattan is losing Latinos as well as African Americans. Theoretically, with gentrifying capital as the common enemy, Black and Latino inner city residents can maintain a mutually advantageous, if loose, political alignment " something that is simply not sustainable under conditions of white gentrification.
"New and existing Latino populations are under much the same pressures from capital as Blacks."
Gentrification is not simply white folks moving in. It is capital artificially boosting the value of its assets in land and buildings. In a racist country, that means clearing out the Blacks, whose very presence depresses the value of neighborhoods by repelling whites. When white people cease to racialize their habitation choices, then we can at least begin to discuss the prospects for a "post-racial" American society somewhere over the rainbow. However, with raging gentrification and push-out of Blacks changing the landscape of urban America before our eyes " essentially the same capital- and white-driven dynamic as generations ago, but moving in the opposite direction " discussions of post-racialism are ridiculous, if not outright insulting.
The very idea that integration is considered progress under any and all circumstances is inherently racist, as if Black people should have no higher goal than to endure all manner of dislocations, abuse and over-charging simply to be in the company of white people, if only for so long as it takes to finally be pushed out of town.
The prevailing, corporate line is that we are moving toward greater integration. For Blacks, the more general and profound trend is deepening insecurity and transience. A good example is Washington, DC, number two in the nation in gentrification, where white residents increased 25 percent in the 21st century while Black population declined 7 percent. According to a December 17 New York Times article, "Economic Boom in Washington Leaves Gaping Income Disparities," the nation's capitol is now home to more people with graduate degrees than with high school diplomas. Yet the "boom" has further isolated those African Americans that remained in the city. In 2000, 56 percent of Black adults held jobs; by 2009, only 49 percent did.
Take Back the City, Please
The white surge into DC was actively assisted by the mid-decade Black mayor, Anthony Williams, who early on declared that Washington could easily accommodate one hundred thousand additional residents. Almost everyone knew what racial and economic demographic Williams was beckoning to, and if they didn't, the city's development, education and policing policies would soon clarify the issue.
Atlanta's Black administrations have been hostile to poorer Blacks and welcoming to affluent persons of all races since Maynard Jackson became the first Black mayor in 1974. Under Shirley Franklin's administration (2002-2010), pell-mell gentrification as official policy (and the successful eradication of public housing) guaranteed that the Black majority's days were numbered.