Race and Class


Can A Party Change Perceptions Of Anacostia?

Nahal Tavangar / @NahalTav

About 1,200 people attended the fourth annual Cherry Blast party in Anacostia.

Trapeze artists hovered above a crowd. A band played electronic music as green lasers flashed through the room. Nearby, people created silk-screened T-shirts, a video installation played against the wall and the crowd tossed a large, clear plastic bubble filled with pink balloons in the air.

The annual Cherry Blast event on Saturday night was in many ways a creative, warehouse party. It pulled together all sorts of artistic and musical spectacles that attracted a racially diverse crowd of 1,200 willing to pay $10 a ticket to enter.

But this party didn’t happen in Northwest or near gentrifying H Street NE. Cherry Blast, produced by The Pink Line Project, took place in a vacant police evidence warehouse in Anacostia, and drew attendees largely from other parts of town, many of whom were young and white.

Anacostia has a rich history, but in recent years the neighborhood has developed a reputation as dangerous and poor, a perception that local activists have been battling. It’s a mostly black neighborhood that doesn’t typically attract many white people.

Cherry Blast comes on the heels of Lumen8Anacostia, a weekend of art events and pop-ups held throughout the neighborhood. These events have given people, who normally don’t trek east of the Anacostia River, a reason to visit the neighborhood. But in doing so, they’ve raised questions about race and class.

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Five Facts About D.C.’s Gap Between Rich and Poor

401kcalculator.org / Flickr

The District continues to have one of the largest gaps between the rich and poor. Income inequality in large cities is higher only in Atlanta and Boston.

Top earners make 29 times more a year than the lowest earners, according to a new report by local think tank DC Fiscal Policy Institute. Researchers examinesd2010 census data and found some startling figures that illustrate the city’s income gap. Here are five facts about the District’s gulf between rich and poor residents:

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Why Retirement is Tougher for Blacks, Latinos

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Senior citizens attend a meeting with their senator about Social Security at the Isabella Geriatric Center in New York City. Black seniors, on average, rely more heavily on Social Security than whites.

Unemployment rates are higher for blacks and Latinos than for whites, but there’s another disparity at the end of the career spectrum: retirement. Black and Latino retirees have a tougher time financially than their white counterparts, according to a new University of California, Berkeley study [PDF]. Below are three reasons why:

Poverty is higher among black and Latino seniors than white seniors.

The poverty rate among all seniors is about 9 percent. For white seniors, it’s 7 percent, while for black and Latino seniors, it’s 19 percent. People of color over 60 years old are more likely to live in poverty because they rely on fewer sources of retirement income than white seniors, according to the study’s authors.

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Mapping Local Poverty Trends Over Time

Most of the D.C.-metro area’s poor live in the suburbs, but the city is home to nearly all of the region’s “dangerously high-poverty” neighborhoods. That’s according to the Urban Institute, which developed this interactive map (seen below) showing concentrations of poverty by race throughout the region. Neighborhoods where poverty rates are 30 percent or higher are considered “high-poverty.”

Poor whites and Latinos are more likely to live in the D.C.’s suburbs than poor blacks. The researchers note:

High-poverty neighborhoods — like those east of the Anacostia River in DC — didn’t occur “naturally” nor do they reflect the “choices” of poor families about where to live. Instead, these places represent the legacy of decades of racial discrimination, legally sanctioned segregation, and public housing policies. And our map shows just how stubborn this legacy is; despite dramatic demographic and economic changes sweeping the Washington region over the past two decades, poor Black families have remained highly concentrated in DC neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

You can zoom in to see poverty in the region or in the city, and use the slider to see how it changes over time:

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What To Call Gentrification By Non-Whites: Does Race Matter?

Gentrification takes place when middle and upper-income people move into low-income communities, which ushers in economic change, reinvestment and development. Jumping back a few weeks ago, a discussion took place on DCentric when we pondered a more specific kind of gentrification: gentefication, which is when low-income, immigrant Latino neighborhoods are gentrified by second-generation, well-to-do Latinos.

So we wondered: is gentrification much different when gentrifiers aren’t white, so much so that it requires its own term?

Alex Baca tweeted that having a separate word for this kind of gentrification is unnecessary:

It's class-based. Don't need fancy names. RT @ On gentrification & rhetoric when non-whites are gentrifiers http://t.co/IrO6Et65

But others argued that gentrification by non-whites does have different implications for neighborhoods. Commenter Gente Negra, wrote:

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Five Facts About Race, Class and D.C. Students

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Thomson Elementary School students listen during class. D.C.'s school-aged population doesn't exactly mirror its general population.

The D.C. school-aged population doesn’t necessarily reflect the changing demographics of the city. Here are five facts about race, class and D.C. students from a new study commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and conducted by nonprofit IFF:

The school-aged population is disproportionately black.

Although nearly half of D.C. residents are black, about 70 percent of school-aged children are black.

The Hispanic student population comes close to reflecting the larger Hispanic population.

While a little more than 9 percent of D.C. residents are Hispanic, about 11 percent of school-aged children are Hispanic.

Whites are more likely to opt out of public schools.

The District’s white population has grown in recent decades, but its school-aged population hasn’t kept pace. While about 35 percent of D.C. residents are white, only 14 percent of D.C. school-aged children are white. The study also noted that whites are more likely than their black peers to opt out of public education in favor of private schools; 9 percent of DCPS students are white.

Students are disproportionately poor.

A DCPS or charter student is more likely to be living in poverty than the average District resident. About two-thirds of DCPS and 75 percent of charter school students receive free or reduced lunches; to qualify, a family of four has to make $41,348 or less a year. Only about 30 percent of D.C. households fall into the same income category.

Well-performing schools are found everywhere.

There’s a higher concentration of top performing schools in wealthier parts of town west of Rock Creek Park, but such schools also exist in low-income communities, according to the study.

State of the Union: DCentric Outtakes

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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill.

President Barack Obama devoted much of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address to leveling class disparities between the middle class and the very rich.

He didn’t embrace the rhetoric of the Occupy Movement – namely that 99 percent of Americans are suffering while 1 percent hold the wealth. But the president did say that 98 percent of Americans make less than $250,000, and that their taxes shouldn’t go up. Raising taxes on the wealthy is an issue with local relevance; the D.C. Council in 2011 narrowly approved a tax hike on those making $350,000 or more a year.

President Obama pushed for a resurgence of American manufacturing to combat joblessness. He also said there are available jobs in the technology and science industries, but not many people are qualified to fill them. Such a “skills gap” exists in D.C., where many of the unemployed lack the credentials needed to fill available jobs. President Obama made a “national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.” That commitment may be easier said than done. D.C.’s job training programs have been fraught with problems and don’t always lead to jobs. There are current efforts underway to reform them so such programs are more effective.

Immigration also had a brief moment during the State of the Union address. Deportations have reached record levels under President Obama. He called for “comprehensive immigration reform” but failed to give specifics. He did, however, urge the passage of the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented college students and soldiers.

The issue of race was barely mentioned, with President Obama focusing mostly on class issues, despite the fact that class disparities fall sharply along racial lines. For instance, the black unemployment rate is more than double the white unemployment rate. Here’s the most explicit mention of race, and it came as President Obama directly addressed members of Congress:

Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.  When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight.  When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.  When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.

Do you think race should have been more directly addressed? What are your thoughts on Tuesday night’s State of the Union address? You can read the entire speech here.

Job Training and D.C. Unemployment By Race

WAMU 88.5′s Patrick Madden has been reporting on the ineffectiveness of past D.C. job training practices and changes the city is making to how it prepares residents for jobs. His investigation revealed that much of job training money went to training people to be bus drivers and Metro train operators. But such training programs haven’t resulted in graduates getting jobs.

The debate over job training has particular relevance for D.C.’s black and Hispanic communities. This chart shows 2010 D.C. unemployment rates by race, with the numbers coming courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics [PDF]:

D.C. Unemployment By Race (2010)


DCentric has previously explored the causes behind D.C.’s unemployment disparities. One major reason is the mismatch between the skills people have and those required by District jobs. For instance, unemployment is at 25 percent in Ward 8, where more than 20 percent of residents lack a high school diploma. Without effective job training, can that unemployment number go down by very much?

Protesting Social Service Groups in the Name of Economic Development

tedeytan / Flickr

Anacostia's commercial corridor is filled with vacancies.

A vocal group of Anacostia residents have been rallying against a nonprofit’s plans to open transitory housing along the neighborhood’s business corridor. Calvary Women’s Services hopes to open along Good Hope Road, SE by summer, and provide semi-permanent housing for 50 formerly homeless women.

On the one hand, the objections can be viewed as typical NIMBYism. There’s also fear that placing transitory housing on an underutilized commercial corridor will cripple future economic development — while many of D.C.’s neighborhoods have undergone a transformation in which vacant buildings are converted into coffee shops and sit-down restaurants, Anacostia has lagged behind.

But the opposition in Anacostia is complex, which many residents say has become a dumping ground for social services because of the community’s demographics.

“There’s this perception about Anacostia that it’s all a bunch of poor black people who are out here struggling, and that they’d be happy to have [more social services] here,” said Nikki Peele, Congress Heights on the Rise blogger.

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Race, Class and the District: Top Five Stories of 2011

As the year comes to a close, DCentric is looking back on the five big stories where race and class intersected. Do you think there’s something we missed? Let us know in the comments section:

Nicholas Kamm / Getty Images

Occupy DC protesters block the intersection of 14th and K streets, NW.

The Occupy Movement spreads around the world and takes root in D.C.

The Occupy Movement began in New York City and spread to other cities, including D.C. Protestors have focused much of their ire on the economic inequality that’s left the nation’s wealth in the hands of a very small minority. There has been a fair share of criticism of the movement, including some targeting its lack of representation of those who have been most hurt by the economic crisis: people of color. In recent weeks, protesters have decamped in numerous cities, but their presence remains in D.C.

D.C. no longer “Chocolate City.”

This was a landmark year for the District when it comes to demographics. D.C.’s black population dipped below the 50 percent mark sometime in February, according to census estimates. This comes after more than four decades of the District being “Chocolate City,” a nickname reflecting its status as a majority-black city. D.C. also led states in population growth in 2011 for the first time in more than 70 years.

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