By Ryan Velez
Over the last few decades, many have noticed a dark cycle regarding Black communities across the country. As Black populations grow, the phenomenon of “white flight” takes over, resulting in a majority Black community that often falls into the stereotype of the poor ghetto. However, we are now starting to see the other side of that cycle. Outside interests begin setting up in the community. Richer, often white outsiders start to set up shop, and those same Black residents have to choose to adjust or leave (if rising house prices even give them a choice). As this process begins to take place in the nation’s capital, we get a chance to see how the black identity has become appealing for those same white millennials.
Many have seen the Black identity and experience as a marketing tool in the music industry, but yes, it now can even extend to real estate. For example, inner-city real estate developers are invoking the names of African-Americans like Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and Marvin Gaye. This is one major difference between modern-day gentrification and that we have seen prior to the last decade or so. Rather than abandoning its Black history, it is starting to become more integrated.
Why is this so? Despite the efforts of many, Black and white, to try and counteract the ghetto stereotypes, it is this same thing that is drawing others in. The perception of danger, grit, and excitement has served as a stark contrast to the overly safe and dull suburban and center city experiences many people of means have been raised in. In a sense, this is a more subtle variation on the racism that drove white people from these communities in the first place.
However, as in the case in many communities, if the Black identity is going to be used as an appeal, those same Black people need to benefit. In 2011, the city’s former mayor, Marion Barry, declared, “We’re going to stop this trend of gentriﬁcation. We can’t displace old-time Washingtonians. The key to keeping this city Black is jobs, jobs, jobs for Black people.” These low and medium-income jobs are a major part of that, and the city council endorsed a minimum wage policy in 2016 designed to lower the income gap.
Another potential option is leveraging the community itself, with organizations designed to integrate these different populations in neighborhoods in the midst of gentrification. “Community organizations that bring people of various backgrounds together for shared activities, such as neighborhood gardening efforts or other community improvement projects, or even a meal, to build social capital might be critical to reducing tensions and conflicts,” Nextcity explains.