A Modest Proposal, Cont.

Over at All-City New York, there's a request to broaden the narrative of demographic change:


As I've written here before, I appreciate Sam Roberts and the NY Times' demographic coverage, which is much more intensive and in depth than you find in most other large papers. That being said they very, very often report with a strange set of blinders on. 

First of all, the Times completely misses a gigantic factor in both these stories, which is the growth of the Hassidic population in Northern Bed-Stuy between Myrtle and Flushing, in favor of their general gentrification narrative. But more importantly, the Times seems to think the story of the city is that of young, white people with disposable income and their varying migration patters, and the impact of these migration patters on the rest of the city (the flaws of which I wrote about here). 

While this is certainly A story, it is not THE story. It is not even a large story. Check out the map showing white population change in the last decade. The areas where there is high growth of the white population are small and very specific parts of the city, limited to about half of Manhattan, a quarter of Brooklyn, the south shore of Staten Island, and a few other isolated census tracts. 

And many of these have nothing to do with the traditional Hispter/Yuppie gentrification pattern - they're growth in the Hasssidic, other religious Jewish, Eastern European, Central Asian or other populations that are pretty far from the MacLaren stroller-pushing couple or fixie-riding hipster that the Times seems to think are so important. 

I would love the next story about Demographic change in the city to be about the growth of the South Asian community in Ozone Park and East New York, or the Korean population in Bayside, or the diversification of the North Shore of Staten Island or Jamaica Estates or Bensonhurst. Or just something other than this same old story.

So would I. 

I've said his before (thought not with this sort of detail) there is a rather weird fascination with the "poor blacks vs.hipster whites" dynamic that pervades the conversation well beyond the Times. As I alluded to in the last post, I think this because of lengthy and particular history of social engineering directed at African-Americans. We would like to believe that blacks have the same sort of purchasing power as their fellow citizens. Confronted with the fact that they don't, and our own socio-political paralysis, we react with a mix of guilt, frustration, and nostalgia. 

The impulse, I would argue, is largely positive. At the same time, just as I think it's important, when discussing poverty, you visit the Dakotas and Kentucky, as well as Detroit, I think it's equally important, when discussing displacement, to visit Canton and Locust Point, as well as Harlem and Columbia Heights.

I realize I am asking for many things at once here, but I actually think, at the root, I'm asking for the same thing -- context. On the one hand, I'd context across time, which is what I tried to outline in the previous post. On the other, I'd like context across space, which is what All-City New York references here. So just as it's worth understanding the roots of the wealth gap, and how it affects housing, it's also worth understanding when a story about housing echoes deeper issues which we see across race.

I hope that makes sense. Also, forgive the odd posting hours. I'm touring Gettysburg over the next few days for the magazine. I'm trying to offer meat for the Horde to chew on.

Finally, I want to thank all of you who've read and responded to my thoughts in this series. It may not look like it, but I'm actually nailing down what I truly think.

MORE: All-City plumbs a bit deeper into Bed-Stuy, the Census numbers, and the Hasidic Jewish community. What we get is some context for and critique of what we mean we say "white" and "gentrification."
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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