The Whitening of Chocolate City

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Before the next U.S. Census, several great American cities will lose their Black majorities, an historical development welcomed by some as encouraging racial integration. The author believes otherwise: that Black urban dislocation has created a false impression of fading residential segregation in America, but is “actually a snapshot of a phenomenon in transition towards the unknown.” There is nothing progressive about gentrification, which devalues and expels Black population concentrations as unfit for the “new” city. The great shame of it all is, “Black urban mis-leadership has for decades been attempting to dis-empower their own constituents.”


The Whitening of Chocolate City

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

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.

Clearly, Franklin and Anthony Williams and countless other Black urban executives over the past four decades were not interested in establishing or maintaining Black political power, or else they wouldn’t have methodically undermined the population base for Black power. The best that can be said of them, is that they are loyal to their own tiny but crafty class of Black hustlers, for whom the masses of African Americans are simply pawns, marks and suckers, eminently unworthy of self-determination or even simple protection.

Black urban executives were not interested in Black political power, or else they wouldn’t have methodically undermined the population base for Black power.”

The Black mayor’s primary job was to convince white capital and white people to return to the city, to save Black people from each other. As I wrote in Black Commentator on August 14, 2003:

Big city mayors have been reduced to a bizarre class of beggars, lining up at corporate doorsteps with gifts of public resources. Urban executives extend permanent invitations to private capital managers to do whatever they want with constituents’ property and futures, but please do something! Rarely do they have anything resembling a plan of their own, beyond a firm determination to accept whatever capital offers, and a willingness to out-grovel the next mayor in line.” – Wanted: A Plan for the Cities to Save Themselves, Part I”

Capital, for its own reasons and on its own schedule, decided to take back the cities – and boost the value of urban assets by importing white people and expelling Blacks. In a real sense, Black urban mis-leadership has for decades been attempting to dis-empower their own constituents.

The Left Lives in Detroit

This process bodes very ill for progressive politics in the U.S. The whitening of Chocolate Cities will disperse the most reliable progressive constituent group in America, depriving left politics of its only tightly concentrated voting blocs. Back in 2005, the leftish Bay Area Center for Voting Research surprised itself by discovering that the populations of the 25 most “liberal”-voting cities averaged a little over 40 percent Black:

The list of America’s most liberal cities reads like a who’s who of prominent African American communities. Gary, Washington D.C., Newark, Flint, Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Birmingham have long had prominent black populations. While most black voters have consistently supported Democrats since the 1960s, it is the white liberals that have slowly withered.”

Therefore, the answer to the question, Where does the Left live? is: in the Black cities. When those places are diluted, where will the Left live, then?

No Black person should be smug about the curtain being drawn on Black urban power. We are forced to ask, Is there really any prospect of any other kind of Black power? And, in the absence of concentrated populations of African Americans who possess the capacity to, at the least, be disruptive en mass, what is the true political weight of the Black America?

In his new book, The Black History of the White House (p. 308) author Clarence Lusane reminds us that “radical theorist James Boggs argued that the city had become the black man’s land, a reconfigured zone where blackness could contend effectively and forcefully with white power.” Boggs wrote his influential article The City is the Black Man’s Land in 1966, when population experts were predicting Black majorities would emerge in 50 of the nation’s largest cities by 1970. “We must struggle to control, to govern the cities,” Boggs wrote, “as workers struggled to control and govern the factories in the 1930s.”

Of course, American workers never achieved any significant level of control over the U.S. means of production, ceding that to capital. A corrupt and venal Black misleaderhip class enthusiastically ceded the great cities to capital, which will now reconfigure them in ways that are hostile to the presence of Black people in numbers that can make any difference.

At least, that’s the plan.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].