Black People Who Like Each Other


This is a really cool piece on Prince George's County, Maryland. It gives us the other side of the common"ZOMG!!! POOR BLACKS!!! GENTRIFIYING HIPSTERS!!!!!" story we seem to see rather regularly. Once the reporter gets past the rather slippery statistical set piece, there's a really cool narrative at work.

Here's some thoughts on why black people often choose to self-segregate:

"They enjoy interacting with other blacks," Karyn Lacy, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, wrote in her book "Blue-Chip Black," for which she interviewed dozens of parents in Prince George's. "Scholars have focused so much on the burden of blackness that they have devoted scant attention to the possibility that there is something enjoyable about being black and participating in a community of blacks.

Residential integration is not a goal, particularly for younger black professionals born after the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, said Bart Landry, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who has returned to Prince George's for an update to his 1987 book, "The New Black Middle Class." 

He said many residents find comfort, after spending the day in a predominantly white workplace, returning to a home where all their neighbors are other professional African Americans. "They're where they want to be," Landry said. "They're not thinking about integration. It's not on their radar screen. . . . Their goal is to live in a community of like-minded, like-valued people, and these are other middle-class blacks."

Last year, for the first time in my life, I moved to a neighborhood that wasn't predominantly black. Let me take that further. For my entire life, every neighborhood I lived in was somewhere in the range of 85-100 percent black.There are some cool things in the new spot --no gun-shots, farmer's markets, being able to take my run without comments, not having to walk around with the shield, and the general sense that most people actually have somewhere to be. 

But there are many things which I miss, thing I can't even name. It's almost as if the air is different here -- and by different I don't mean better or worse. Just different. When I lived in Harlem, and went out to run, I could never just run. There was a comment almost every four or five blocks. Sometimes people would straight stop you for conversation. But those same people were the very reason I felt safe in Harlem. If something happened to me, or my son, or my wife, they would see it and they would say something.

There should be instruments to measure this sort of thing -- something that calculates the effect on black people's vital functions, of not giving at least one person a pound every day. That, then, should somehow be compared with incidence of violence for black men. For a solid 20 years of my life, I shook hands with at least five black men every day -- some of them more the once. 

A pound is a way of saying "I have love for you." And "having love" for a brother -- or a sister -- is a particular thing, different from "loving" or "being in love," and not easily duplicated in every scenario. It requires an ambient threat of violence, and a sense of collective defense -- be that from racism, or from physical violence. I love many people. And like a lot of people in my new community, here. But there is almost no one whom I "have love" for in my new community. There really is no need for such a concept. 

And yet I miss having that feeling on a regular basis. It's a hole in me. You would think that living in a neighborhood, for the first time ever, where there is relatively little violence would make the math definitive. It's funny how things work.

My wife and I often talk about moving down South. Kenyatta hates Tennessee. But she's got love for Covington. 

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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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