2010 September 19 Sunday
Blacks Try To Stop DC Gentrification Squeeze

The recent defeat of DC Mayor Adrian Malik Fenty by Vincenty Gray was driven by the abandonment of Fenty by black voters. This has the white voters in DC unhappy. DC denizen and mildly libertarian policy writer Megan McArdle is disappointed that Fenty went down to defeat.

Like a lot of Washingtonians, I'm disappointed about Mayor Fenty's loss in the Democratic Primary.  When it became clear that Fenty was going to lose, there was a lot of shock going around in the circles I live and work in--which is to say, mostly white professionals who live in DC's gentrified, or gentrifying, precincts.  After all, there's little question that things have gotten much better under Fenty, and not just for white people.  The truly abysmal schools are being reformed, parks are being built, crime is slowly improving, the city is getting streetcars desired by almost everyone except the folks who live directly on the tracks . . . so why did voters just kick him out?

I don't think you can quite explain it by saying that Fenty's modestly corrupt (too-expensive contracts have gone to friends, though those friends seem to have mostly done the work very well).  Marion Barry has remained quite popular here through much more serious violations, and in general, the corruption now pales in comparison to the pervasive corruption that has been uncovered in multiple city agencies, which long predates Fenty's administration.

Most people agree that this is ultimately a proxy battle over gentrification.  It's all rather nebulous, because of course Vincent Gray hasn't campaigned on rolling back gentrification.  He seems to support all the services Fenty has expanded, with the possible exception of the school reforms.  Instead, the theme of his campaign--and the more generalized opposition to Fenty--has centered around respect and process.

Gentrification: An area of the city improves enough in safety (especially) and in services that whites and Asian minorities (i.e. higher earning and low crime) move in en masse and drive up rents. This drives out blacks and anyone else who can't afford the high rents. So gentrification is an economic battle between races for territory. It is funny that this phenomenon is playing right there in America's capitol city while a supposedly (ha!) post-racial president sits in the Oval Office.

As Courtland Milloy makes clear in the WPost blacks clearly see Fenty's policies as improving DC for the people who will replace them.

And lordy don't complain about Rhee.

She's creating a "world-class school system," they text. As for you blacks: Don't you, like, even know what's good for you? So what if Fenty reneged on his promise to strengthen the city from the inside by helping the working poor move into the middle class. Nobody cares that he has opted to import a middle class, mostly young whites who can afford to pay high rent for condos that replaced affordable apartments.

Don't ask Fenty or Rhee whom this world-class school system will serve if low-income black residents are being evicted from his world-class city in droves.

It is curious to note that Mayor Fenty couldn't get Barack Obama to support his reelection bid. Fenty's chief of DC schools, Michelle Rhee, fired lots of teachers and closed so-called poor-performing schools (no mention of poor-performing students). Fenty and Rhee were executing Obama's game plan for education. Now that game plan is dead and we aren't going to get to use DC as an example of how that game plan will never work. The idea will live on as the great hope of liberal-left white school reformers. That's my own biggest disappointment about Fenty's loss. I wanted Michelle Rhee to spend the next 5 years executing her plan so that liberal policy dreamers could see the results. The NYC Bloomberg administration's failure to close the racial test gap needs more points of comparison to cities that tried even harder to close the gap.

Black voters in DC are more interested in high paying jobs in schools for themselves than in the quality of education delivered by those schools. Their attitude is pretty much "Michelle Rhee be damned". I bet Cornell didn't teach her to be prepared for this attitude.

Although blacks and whites recognize the importance of the public schools as a vehicle for educating their children, blacks also see the school system as a primary employer, providing jobs to thousands of teachers, school bus drivers, administrators and secretaries. When Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee laid off hundreds of teachers, many blacks saw something more than a simple purge of poorly performing educators. They saw an assault on economic opportunity.

"He fired those teachers, that did it for me," said Wilson Givens, a retired, black equipment operator who lives in Anacostia, in Southeast, and voted for Fenty in 2006. "Does he understand that a job is a family's livelihood? I didn't know anybody who was fired personally, but I can relate. I know how it feels, and I felt for those teachers and their families. That was it for me. Would never trust him again."

But back to gentrification: Gavin McInnes describes how blacks in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn keep their area 100% black.

Several of my friends have scoffed at this trend and traded their own yuppie hipster Williamsburg for Bushwick, an area of Brooklyn struggling to remain 100% black. Guess what. It doesn’t go well. When phenomenally naïve Canadian immigrant and long time drinking buddy Dan Morrison picked up the paper and saw $650 a month for rent, he jumped on the subway and headed over. He got off the train, paper in hand, and almost immediately, a woman in a phone booth interrupted her conversation, poked her head out, and yelled, “Oh I KNOW you ain’t moving to THIS neighborhood.” His two-block walk was littered with dubious glares and when he eventually got to the “For Rent” sign, a loiterer on the stoop cut all the pretense and bluntly stated, “Don’t move here.” Dan did an about-face and got back on the train.

Note that $650 per month. Really cheap rent. But if more affluent whites come in then they'll drive up the rents and the blacks will be forced out. Hence the evident desire of blacks to scare off whites who enter their territory.

In the case of DC imagine what it would be like if blacks could be promised that some areas would remain 100% black for an extended period of time (50 years at least). Imagine that some jobs would be reserved for blacks also for an extended period of time. They might become more willing to vote for candidates who promise to lower crime and improve services.

Does the DC gentrification trend have too much momentum for Mayor Gray to stop it? He might slow it down. But will DC become like NYC with a heavily upper class white and NAM electorate electing people like Mike Bloomberg as Mayor? If that happens then "good government" liberals in DC will be free to implement all the social experiments they learned at Ivy League colleges. I see that outcome as a plus for the United States because DC will become a laboratory demonstrating liberal policy failures. However, it will be years before the gentrifiers get a voting majority in DC. So the educational experimentation will shift elsewhere.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2010 September 19 11:24 AM  Cultural Wars Racial

MRM said at September 19, 2010 5:20 PM:

I wonder if the media will portray this odd voting anywhere near as negative as they do GOP insurgencies removing corrupt, establishment incumbents. You're right Cornell didn't prep Rhee for this behavior from black citizens in DC. At Cornell, the black students number less than 5% of the population and a large chunk choose to self segregate by living in Ujamaa dorm or the traditionally black fraternity-sororities. I went there, I know.

Mike said at September 20, 2010 7:01 AM:


Doesn't NAM generally refer to blacks and Hispanics? Did you mean to say whites and Asians are moving in and raising rents and driving out blacks?

Big bill said at September 20, 2010 7:40 AM:

How strange that the hi-yalla Talented Tenth elite like Milloy, having abandoned all the poor blacks in DC, now express such outrage for white folks. Having run off in droves to adjacent counties and states, dumping their brthren on social services, they deliberately left a festering sore in our nation's capitol. Now we see white kids taking up the Black Man's Burden right where the Talented Tenth dumped it in the dirt in their frantic escape to Prince Georges County. Yet rather than confessing their guilt and shame that white people are (yet again) doing what the Black Elite refuse to do, rather than thanking those white kids for helping bring order to the communities rich black folks shat upon, we have the curious example of Mr. Milloy, who long since fled to the safety of white communities outside DC. Having shaken off his black brethren like a traveller brushing the dirt off his shoes, he complains of the white kids because they are ... too white. Mr. Milloy, tell your wife, your children, your cousins, nieces abd nephews that if they really want to help they are welcome to move back and pick up their cross at any time.

John C. said at September 20, 2010 11:47 AM:

"In the case of DC imagine what it would be like if blacks could be promised that some areas would remain 100% black for an extended period of time (50 years at least). Imagine that some jobs would be reserved for blacks also for an extended period of time."

Imagine if they were given their own country - attendance mandatory - say Florida and Georgia or Oregon and Washington, they could have 100% of the jobs and housing. Once freed from the awful burden of white racism they could take their place among the leading nations of the world. The world could benefit from their achievements - the Black Space shuttles, breakthroughs in medicine, the example of good government and peaceful society they will provide. It will be a great loss to us, of course . . .

This is also YET ANOTHER cold splash of reality on the dishonest notions of the Republican and Conservative leadership who pretend to believe that once all that cultural nonsense is gone (i.e. once we achieve the final solution to the White Problem through mass immigration) non-white groups will make rational political decisions based mainly on economics. The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know, but being fundamentally heartless and bloodless the RepCon leadership can't understand this. These minorities will vote for their racial interests regardless of what it does to the society, economy, or nation. They think wealth comes from a magic white goose, they've been told that they have a right to the egg production, and will cut open the goose to get at the eggs if production slows down, as it inevitably will. It's worse than that - they'll vote destruction out of pure hate and envy, even if it doesn't benefit them. Like blacks in South Africa or white leftists in the West, they would sacrifice all just to see their enemies destroyed.

Randall Parker said at September 20, 2010 5:30 PM:

Mike, My bad. I fixed it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

not anon or anonymous said at September 21, 2010 1:27 AM:

In the case of DC imagine what it would be like if blacks could be promised that some areas would remain 100% black for an extended period of time (50 years at least).

If the blacks owned the low-rent housing in Washington DC where they reside, then they could either keep their house or cash out and move to a cheaper area. Alternately, the housing could be acquired by a community land trust (CLT) which would shield the current residents from sudden rent increases.

geschrei said at September 21, 2010 7:28 AM:

This post brings up an interesting hypothetical: if black voters in DC, who supported Fenty by a significant margin in '06, are capable of turning on him because they perceived him as not rewarding them enough for their support - couldn't the same thing happen to other prominent officeholders-of-color?

Could it be happening already?


Dragon Horse said at September 21, 2010 8:55 AM:

Rhee's fiancee is black, his name is Kevin Johnson, I'm, pretty sure he "hipped her" to what would "go down".

In any case, what you are really talking about is "African Americans" not blacks in general, because DC has a large East African community and the most conflict over housing and neighborhoods has been between African Americans and Ethiopians in Northeast and the very edge of Northwest, this has been going on for awhile, Hispanics are moving in too. There is a Washington POst (more than one) article about this. Not saying that white young married without kids people moving in and driving up property value is not an issue, but it is not the only issue. Most of these folks are not rich enough to send kids to a private school, so they keep these places for 5 years or so and move to a Virginia or Maryland suburb.

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