‘Nouveau-Columbusing’ in D.C.

October 8, 2012

It’s true — there wasn’t any good pizza here before Columbus arrived. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Here’s your holiday must-read from Clinton Yates, on the phenomenon of “nouveau-Columbusing” — that is, “showing up someplace and acting as if history started the moment you arrived.” White people do it, black people do it and everyone ends up talking past each other:

Native Washingtonians need to stop being so naive about the extended history of the city for the purposes of making a political point. There was a time when Anacostia was primarily all white and Georgetown had a thriving black community. Obviously, things change.

And though the the burn felt from years of neglect and disinterest is impossible to ignore as white faces move back into communities, you can’t just ignore the past. The multitude of motivations for how the most recent chapter of the city has unfolded are too complicated to pigeonhole as a matter of black versus white.

The folk history driving the resentments of gentrification tends to extend back only about a generation or two, of course, thanks to the limitations of the human memory. I’d suggest the past 15 years in D.C. have seen deeper resentments than previous periods in the city’s history thanks to the 30-year lull in neighborhood investment that ended in the late 1990s. Investment is what drives change, and there’s an entire generation that saw little positive change in the city’s neighborhoods — only white flight followed by black flight, of both people and money. Today, the people are coming back and they’re the richest Columbuses the city’s ever seen.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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