Census Shows Blacks Leaving Big Cities
Glen Ford: Gentrification is a major factor pushing Blacks to older suburbs and to the South
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Across America in the major urban centers, blacks are leaving town. Is this a sign of success, moving to the suburbs because of economic moving ahead? Or is this actually all about gentrification? Now joining us to give us his take on this is Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. Thanks for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: So there was a new census report. Tell us a little bit about what it showed us, and then tell us what you think of it.
FORD: Well, what was so striking about the new census data–people are analyzing it and coming up with their conclusions, and this was part of the dribbling out of of information. What was so striking was the jubilation that corporate media showed in its flurry of stories about the fact that so many big cities are losing black population, and some of the cities that we traditionally called the quintessentially chocolate cities–Washington, DC; Atlanta, Georgia–are very, very, very close to losing their black majorities, and Washington may have lost its black majority already. But, again, the striking tone of the articles was what got to me, frankly. It was as if this is a good thing, and that the movements–and the movement has been to the suburbs–that’s a long-term, ongoing movement of black folks–and to the South, which has also been occurring for the last several decades, was also a good thing.
JAY: So why is this supposed to be good?
FORD: Well, I believe in certain white eyes it’s good when you reduce black concentrations, and that feeling that black concentrations are bad on their face is something that’s taken for granted. It’s not taken for granted that white concentrations are bad on their face, but when we talk about black concentrations, somehow that is surrounded with pathology. And so any movement of black people away from a majority is a good thing. We of course dispute that. Black folks have wielded in recent decades political influence probably in excess of the 12 or 13 percent representation in the population because we have been clustered and concentrated in the great cities of the country. So, now, whether that’s a good thing or not is a complicated question that should be debated vigorously within the black community, not necessarily a good thing. But what was really fascinating about the coverage of this phenomenon is that in the first several articles, at least, the word gentrification was not used once. I poured over article after article and could not find gentrification. And yet we know that in New York City, which remains the largest concentration of black folks in the country, gentrification has been brutal, has been emptying Harlem, of all places, of black folks.
JAY: Just in case somebody doesn’t know who’s watching, describing what the process is. How does gentrification–how’s it taking place in Harlem, for example?
FORD: Well, lots of people think of gentrification as white people moving in, but that’s just the end result of gentrification. Gentrification is capital deciding that it’s going to increase the value of its assets, land, and buildings. And to do that, it has to move out black people–black and poor people, but especially black people, because in a racist society the presence of black people brings down property values. So gentrification, the changing of a neighborhood from poor and working class, like Bed-Stuy and Harlem and Chicago South Side as we traditionally knew it, to areas in which the rents are much higher and black folks are more scarce, that’s basically a finance capital project, which does result in black folks leaving and white folks coming in.
JAY: So what are the numbers in terms of the census and what you know? How big is this migration out of the cities–forced migration, I suppose one might call it?
FORD: Yeah. The movement back down South has been going on for, oh, at least for the last three decades, and the South has regained its status as the place of habitation for a majority of black folks, oh, three decades ago. Movement to suburbs is also an ongoing process, and usually with black folks, almost uniformly with black folks, that’s a movement to the inner suburbs, the ones right across the city line. They’re older. And white folks are leaving those places as well, just as they left the inner cities.
JAY: I think in your article–and I’ll plug it again, BlackAgendaReport.com–you mention that 17 percent of blacks who have returned to the South are coming from New York City.
FORD: From New York City alone, which shows the brutal nature of gentrification in New York City. New York City in Manhattan lost Latino population, even as the Latino population across the country and in New York state was increasing exponentially. That was solely because of gentrification. Parts of Brooklyn that are closest to Manhattan are being rapidly gentrified, and the white population is increasing, and blacks are leaving. And when you are forced out of New York, where families may have lived for three or four decades, where do you go? Well, the South is cheaper, and people, most black folks, even if they’ve lived in New Yorks and Chicagos for generations, do have relatives down South. So you move out because of economic reasons and you move down South because it’s cheaper and more comfortable. But please don’t say that that is a voluntary exodus from the city.
JAY: What’s the solution?
FORD: Well, the solution is to make affordable housing in the big cities. But that’s not what the banks are about; that’s not what the finance capital is engineering, gentrification in center cities all across the country. That’s not what they’re about. They’re about increasing the value of their assets, which is what finance capital always does. That requires removing these thick black concentrations.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Glen.
FORD: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And you can find more of Glen’s work at BlackAgendaReport.com. Thanks for joining us.
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