For nearly a century, Harlem has been synonymous with black urban America. Given its magnetic and growing appeal to younger black professionals and its historic residential enclaves and cultural institutions, the neighborhood's reputation as the capital of black America seems unlikely to change soon.
But the neighborhood is in the midst of a profound and accelerating shift. In greater Harlem, which runs river to river, and from East 96th Street and West 106th Street to West 155th Street, blacks are no longer a majority of the population -- a shift that actually occurred a decade ago, but was largely overlooked.
By 2008, their share had declined to 4 in 10 residents. Since 2000, Harlem's population has already grown more than in any decade since the 1940s, to 126,000 from 109,000, but its black population -- about 77,000 in central Harlem and about twice that in greater Harlem -- is smaller than at any time since the 1920s.
Leaving aside this definition of "greater Harlem," leaving aside the problem of profiling a tend which "actually occurred a decade ago," the point here is that it sucks to be black. When Harlem is majority black, it's a problem, a representative of everything wrong with race in America, an embodiment of our collective abandonment of this pitiable people. When Harlem is no longer majority black, it's a problem, a representative of blacks losing the very majority that we once lamented. God loves the ghetto--but only when the ghetto is going away.
What we have here is the Black Pathology Biz--transcendent, nonpartisan and triumphant. At all times, and for all comers, it serves up Negroes to be picked over, pondered, castigated and, finally, mourned. Black women are in trouble because no one likes them. (Damn you White Beauty Standard!) Black men are in trouble because they're all killing each other. (Damn you Gilbert Arenas!) Black kids are in trouble because they all suck at reading. (Damn you Play Station!)
I am not telling you that I don't know these black people. I am telling you that I know a lot of other black people. And now I know a lot of white people too. And knowing them, I know this: Your problem--our problem--is bigger than 125th.