"Blacks' majority status slips away" is a stunning headline to wake up to in the nation’s preeminent "Chocolate City." But Washington, D.C.-based poet E. Ethelbert Miller nailed the inevitability of this morning's headline when he told The Post, “Well, chocolate melts.”
Over the past decade, the city’s African American population fell by more than 39,000. That's a 9 percent drop. Blacks are either at 50 percent of the total population or bobbing just below it. Either way, there's a dramatic demographic shift happening, and more than a few people aren't happy about it. Former mayor and current D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) crystallizes the anger. “We’re going to stop this trend — gentrification,” he said. “We can’t displace old-time Washingtonians.”And this would defy logic and history.
Think about it. What group has stayed permanently rooted in a neighborhood or city if and when the opportunity to move someplace better (however that's malevolently or benevolently defined) presented itself? As Marion Griffith told The Post, “People just want more value.” He’s a native Washingtonian who moved with his wife to a larger, more affordable home in Prince George’s County in 2001. The Weequahic section of Newark, N.J., the neighborhood where I lived during my last two years of high school, was a Jewish neighborhood before it became a black neighborhood in the 1960s and ’70s.
The Chelsea section of Manhattan, where I lived for four years in the mid- to late-1990s, was largely Latino and black until the late 1980s or early 1990s, when gays swept in on the cheap and run-down neighborhood. But in what has become the urban cycle of life, after the gays sashayed away to another (read, affordable) neighborhood once it got prohibitively expensive in Chelsea, straight couples and families swooped in. And so it goes.
Explaining how to maintain Washington’s black majority, Barry said the key is “jobs, jobs, jobs for black people so they can have a better quality of life in neighborhoods in the city.” Sure, more jobs would be great. But they won’t stop the inevitable demographic shifts in Washington. With those jobs comes economic security and freedom of choice. And as we have seen over the past decade, African Americans, just like everyone else, will go off in search of the American Dream — however they define it and wherever they can find it.