Morning Edition Chokes on Chocolate City

During today’s Morning Edition, NPR played a story called “D.C., Long ‘Chocolate City,’ Becoming More Vanilla” by Alex Kellogg. The piece covered the demographic changes that everyone loves to discuss– namely how Chocolate City is going from Dark to Milk– and it did it in Anacostia! So not only did it hit DCentric’s sweet spot, it hit a few local bloggers’ sore spots. One of them was profiled in the story:

David Garber, 27, owns one home in Anacostia and is about to buy two more that are now boarded up. Garber, who is white, says people were happy when he moved to the neighborhood several years ago, because he rehabbed a home that was a haven for drug dealers and addicts.

He left the neighborhood after a 2009 incident where 15 friends were robbed at gunpoint at a Christmas party at his home. He insists that wasn’t the primary reason he moved, and he refuses to say the area is less safe than other parts of town — even though its violent crime rate is the highest in the city. He also insists the neighborhood is still affordable to anyone and everyone who wants to live there.

After the piece aired, Garber tweeted this:

NPR segment this morning about changes in Anacostia, in which they skew facts to tell a worn-out, sensationalist story:
David Garber

…which inspired me to reach out to him, to learn more about what was skewed and sensational. I love learning about the stories behind stories, don’t you? I’ll keep you posted, trust.

Update: I spoke to David Garber yesterday. Find that interview, here.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad you dug into this. The story was stereotyping and a bit sensationalistic. To be honest, Garber comes off as kind of a d-bag, so I’m curious to hear his side of the story.

  • Anonymous

    I noticed that report this morning too. Gentrification in DC is a big story, and probably interesting to a national audience, but the reporter strangely picked examples that didn’t actually support the points he was trying to make. If you’re trying to fit the standard “longtime black residents priced out by white newcomers” headline, shouldn’t you at least find an example of someone who couldn’t afford the prevailing prices in the neighborhood?

    According to the report, Robert Adams “left for a more affordable suburb in Maryland.” He “ultimately couldn’t afford to take advantage of some of those improvements he helped bring into being.” But then the story cuts to a clip of Mr. Adams, who says explicitly “Not to say I couldn’t afford it, but I couldn’t get what I could get in Maryland for the money.”

    Later in the story, the reporter mentions that the choice was between a two-bedroom in Anacostia without a refrigerator or washing machine, or “a five-bedroom home for slightly more in District Heights, Md., a working-class suburb in Prince George’s County.” But isn’t that the standard city vs. suburb (or inner vs. outer suburb) trade-off? You can live close-in in a smaller house, or further out with more room. The picture with the story shows him in his front yard with his two young daughters. He paid MORE than he would have in Anacostia! It sounds like he picked PG County because he wanted SPACE, not cheaper housing.

    Look, there are neighborhoods in DC where you can tell the story Mr. Kellogg was trying to tell; Shaw, Columbia Heights, East Capitol Hill all come to mind. But Anacostia doesn’t tell that story, at least not yet. What’s noteworthy is that Anacostia is becoming a normal neighborhood, with mixed races, successful businesses, declining crime, and the usual city vs. suburb economic trade-offs. Why try to fit an interesting square peg into a formulaic round hole?

  • Bob Rose


    Better learning through handwriting


    Writing by hand strengthens the learning process. When typing on a keyboard, this process may be impaired.

    Associate professor Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre asks if something is lost in switching from book to computer screen, and from pen to keyboard.

    The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses, she explains. When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

    Learning by doing
    Together with neurophysiologist Jean-Luc Velay at the University of Marseille, Anne Mangen has written an article published in the Advances in Haptics periodical. They have examined research which goes a long way in confirming the significance of these differences.

    An experiment carried out by Velay’s research team in Marseille establishes that different parts of the brain are activated when we read letters we have learned by handwriting, from those activated when we recognise letters we have learned through typing on a keyboard. When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain, which helps us recognise letters. This implies a connection between reading and writing, and suggests that the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, Mangen explains.

    Other experiments suggest that the brain’s Brocas area is discernibly more activated when we are read a verb which is linked to a physical activity, compared with being read an abstract verb or a verb not associated with any action.

    “This also happens when you observe someone doing something. You don’t have to do anything yourself. Hearing about or watching some activity is often enough. It may even suffice to observe a familiar tool associated with a particular physical activity,” Mangen says.

    Since writing by hand takes longer than typing on a keyboard, the temporal aspect may also influence the learning process, she adds.

    The term ‘haptic’ refers to the process of touching and the way in which we communicate by touch, particularly by using our fingers and hands to explore our surroundings. Haptics include both our perceptions when we relate passively to our surroundings, and when we move and act.

    A lack of focus
    There is a lot of research on haptics in relation to computer games, in which for instance vibrating hand controls are employed. According to Mangen, virtual drills with sound and vibration are used for training dentists.

    But there has been very little effort to include haptics within the humanistic disciplines, she explains. In educational science, there is scant interest in the ergonomics of reading and writing, and its potential significance in the learning process.

    Mangen refers to an experiment involving two groups of adults, in which the participants were assigned the task of having to learn to write in an unknown alphabet, consisting of approximately twenty letters. One group was taught to write by hand, while the other was using a keyboard. Three and six weeks into the experiment, the participants’ recollection of these letters, as well as their rapidity in distinguishing right and reversed letters, were tested. Those who had learned the letters by handwriting came out best in all tests. Furthermore, fMRI brain scans indicated an activation of the Brocas area within this group. Among those who had learned by typing on keyboards, there was little or no activation of this area.

    “The sensorimotor component forms an integral part of training for beginners, and in special education for people with learning difficulties. But there is little awareness and understanding of the importance of handwriting to the learning process, beyond that of writing itself,” Mangen says.

    She refers to pedagogical research on writing, which has moved from a cognitive approach to a focus on contextual, social and cultural relations. In her opinion, a one-sided focus on context may lead to neglect of the individual, physiological, sensorimotor and phenomenological connections.

    Interdisciplinary collaboration
    Within the field of psychology, there is an awareness of the danger of paying too much attention on mentality. According to Mangen, perception and sensorimotor now play a more prominent role.

    “Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects – be it a book, a keyboard or a pen – to perform certain tasks,” she says.

    Being a media and reading researcher, Anne Mangen is a rare bird within her field of study. And she is very enthusiastic about her collaboration with a neurophysiologist.

    “We combine very different disciplines. Velay has carried out some very exciting experiments on the difference between handwriting and the use of keyboards, from a neurophysiologic perspective. My contribution centres on how we – as humans with bodies and brains – experience the writing process, through using different technologies in different ways. And how these technologies’ interfaces influence our experience,” she concludes.

    Text: Trond Egil Toft
    Illustration: Annlaug Auestad
    Translation: Astri Sivertsen

    Would you like to find out more?
    Associate professor Anne Mangen, The National Centre for Reading, Education and Research (the Reading Centre) at the University of Stavanger. Tel.: +47 51 83 32 45, e-mail:

    URL for this article:

  • PGtoDC

    This is quite a relief! Thank you, WAMU, for your intellectual honesty here. I listened to this story on my way to work the other day and was frankly shocked at what a lazy, biased piece of journalism this was.

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that white people in DC are moving into neighborhoods, such as Anacostia, where they previously did not move in large numbers. They do this because they can afford to live there. The question, I suppose, is at whose expense are the demographic shifts are taking place.

    The lazy answer, offered by the WAMU piece, seems to be, “Black people are losing their homes because white people are moving in. And then these black people have to move to PG County, a horrible place!”

    First of all, PG County is not so horrible. As the WAMU piece itself pointed out, there are 5 bedroom houses there! For less money than a 5 bedroom house would cost in the District! A shocker, to be sure. Something WAMU did not mention, however: there are actually white people in PG County. Many of whom moved there because, unsurprisingly, housing is larger and cheaper out there. In fact, PG County is pretty racially diverse; it is not some enclave of poor black people, as the WAMU story seems to imply.

    Secondly, the WAMU piece seems to suggest that white people are just moving in to neighborhoods like Anacostia because they’re rich and mean. I would like to advance the hypothesis that white people are moving into places like Anacostia because that’s all they can afford. (Otherwise they’d have to endure the unbearable fate of getting “pushed out” to PG County – which none of them do, according to WAMU.) I suppose it’s possible that, for the sake of not upsetting some PC applecart, white people could forego homeownership until the day they can buy in Palisades, but that seems a little absurd.

    Look, I don’t doubt there are poor people who can’t afford housing in the District. I believe that with all my heart. But taking a lack-of-affordable housing story and turning into a lazy whites-are-pushing-black-people-out-to-horrible-PG-County story seems to ignore the fact that not all white people are rich and not all black people are poor, among other things. AND it again reveals the anti-PG bias by the middle class intelligentsia in DC. Effectively, WAMU is doing a disservice to people in need of affordable housing and is perpetuating outdated racial stereotypes at the same time!

    Full disclosure: I grew up in a loving, single-family home in PG County. in a mixed-race neighborhood With a yard and a fireplace and everything. It’s not so bad out there. I swear.

  • GBT

    Alex nailed the ugly saga of the new wave of cultural imports into Black venues….