View of the Capitol from Barry Farm, in Southeast.
Last week, I pointed you towards the City Paper’s extensive profile of Courtland Milloy by Rend Smith. Over at The Root, Natalie Hopkinson continues to unpack why Milloy’s voice is important to some and offensive to others. I think she nails it. It’s not about Milloy, it’s about the disconnect, the disparity:
This is the color-coded reality of life in the District. White median income is $92,000; black median income is $34,000. The boom in cafés and farmers markets has done nothing to stem a stunning slide into poverty in recent years. In 2007 the black child poverty rate was 31 percent; in 2008 it was 36 percent, and the latest figures show that the figure has shot up to an appalling 43 percent. Forty-three percent. The poverty rate for white children is 3 percent. Unemployment doubled, and black people disproportionately lost their jobs and homes.
This is what they mean when they talk about class warfare: two trains — one privileged, one not — running in opposite directions at a dizzying speed, each with divergent needs and expectations from government. No need to invent it or “inject race” into it; this is the objective reality of life in the District. Yet somehow the narrative about change becomes “Courtland Milloy doesn’t care about white people!”
The following point Hopkinson makes cannot be understated; certain black views are constantly invalidated. It’s sickening to read DCist or WaPo comments which refer to the residents of Ward 8 as if they are mindless, crime-craving savages who are too simple to grasp what their virtuous, wiser counterparts immediately grok (tellingly, occasionally when I’m mired in such threads, the words to “White Man’s Burden” appear, unbidden, to my mind’s eye):
It’s one of the busiest days of the year, but I wish I had a half-hour of quiet and a good cup of tea to sit down and give the City Paper’s front-page profile of Courtland Milloy the attention it deserves. Milloy infamously earned the ire of my laptop-toting peers when he mocked them by calling them “Myopic little twits” in his Metro column for the Washington Post. While my friends of one hue were outraged that the Post would legitimize a point of view they considered backwards, incendiary and racist, a few friends of another hue quietly maintained that he is the only one publicly representing the point of view of many D.C. residents who are otherwise never heard.
In Milloy’s telling, his barbs at D.C.’s creative-class newbies aren’t about lashing out at them because they’re new. He’s lashing out at them because they’re not. As gentriﬁcation takes hold of Washington and issues of inequality emerge, it’s not enough to take solace in Obama’s post-racial ideal while neighborhoods acquire a new mono-cultured cast. People who move into changing neighborhoods have a responsibility for what’s going on. Or so Milloy, in his role as the crotchety grandfather they never wanted, wants to tell them.
Milloy sees new Washingtonians as the flip-side of a process that, in his view, involves older ones being pushed out. And if the actual truth behind African-American departures is more complicated—plenty of folks, starting with Milloy, decamped voluntarily—he argues that it’s pretty damned egocentric to imagine that everything is sweetness and light.
“Well, I don’t know why people think I have a problem with the influx itself,” he says. “Not to be deliberately provocative, but that is the white view, it’s white-centered. ‘Why are you opposed to us moving in?’ But nothing about, ‘Why are you concerned about the way black people are being kicked out?’
Stacie Joy for CTTC
Alex Baca, the blogger behind “Good Hope Anacostia” writes: “Latest Courtland Milloy column is ignorant, hypocritical“. It’s worth a read, especially because she includes reading recommendations, but she lost me when she complained that the term “Chocolate City” wasn’t inclusive enough. Maybe she isn’t a fan of P-funk.
I’m not trying to say that things are all warm and fuzzy throughout DC, but identifying problems is not as easy as saying “white people do this” and “black people do this.” Understandably, longtime residents of this city, many of whom (but not all!) are low-income African Americans, feel threatened by gentrification because there is the possibility of displacement. Though I don’t believe that gentrification always needs to equal displacement, it generally has in the past, which has cemented that fear. But, we can’t forget that the idea of a “Chocolate City” is not exactly inclusive of white people…There’s tensions on both sides, but until we get over these identity stereotypes—which are flattering to no one—we’re not going anywhere.