For better or worse, we've become a society of demographics, and even those labels don't do justice to the reality on the ground. Where once it was enough to say black or white, rich or poor, Yankee or Southern, blue or white collar, the shades between have become infinitely more nuanced. Each time the pundits trot out the charts and graphs at election time, they seem surprised that various groups aren't acting according to type. Sure, black folk voted overwhelmingly for Obama. That was historic. But where the experts tell you that, say, white men voted for Mitt, that was true only by a few percentage points. Millions upon millions of white men voted for Obama - twice. Democratic women prefer Hilary, except when they don't, which was almost half the time in primary battles. Blue collars prefer Democrats? No, but plenty do. Even unions aren't unified. Hispanics? Forget convention, even the "dependable" Cubans. Mixed race - which side prevails? How about Jews? I mean how dumb a thing is it to lump Jews together politically or even socially? Have you seem how many ways there are to be Jewish? Lately? Oy.
Poor Muslims, middle class Catholics, rich Blacks, educated underpaid children of mixed marriages, depressive wealthy agnostics, gay business owners, short hirsute unemployed PhD children of second generation Irish immigrants, etc. Surely they vote...um...sometimes...and as a block, no? Nate Silver, the incredibly accurate common sense statistician, eschewed most of that nonsense for simple analysis of what various district and state polls parlayed and ignored "conventional wisdom," because by the time you've got CW worked out, it's four years later and the sociological train has left that particular station. Ten years ago who would have predicted how many states have gone giddy for gay marriage? And how the "tea party" would've redefined political paralysis? There are no blue or red states; just various shades of purple. And lots of pissed off people living in them.
Where once Brooklyn was a borough of parishes churches and synagogues, where block by block you could identify whose was whose, we're now a borough of rapidly changing sets and subsets wherein the most reliable shorthand for a neighborhood's character is Gentrified or Not-yet-gentrified. But where gentrified in East Harlem or the Lower East Side, or in a previous generation's Upper West Side, meant middle-class whites moving in on Puerto Rican and Dominican turf, gentrified vs. not-yet-gentrified in Brooklyn means primarily-white-and-getting-whiter vs. black-for-now-but-not-for-long. And why? Because with all due respect to the romance of the word "Harlem," Brooklyn has been the gravitational center of the northern African-American universe. I would argue, and I'm sure I'll take heat for it from people who actually know such things, that as whites get bolder about moving into once solidly-black neighborhoods, and given the irrefutable fact of rental racism, we will start to hear more loud and uncloseted calls for a new and more acutely relevant civil rights movement. Resentment is out there big time; some degree of political clout is there too (witness the latest slate of local elected officials and their pedigrees); the double standards are there; the entitlement and stereotypes are out in force. As the Q might ask in his more morally troubled moments, what's so damn great about the world we're living in today, that we should put up with even an ounce of racial injustice? Especially here, in the CENTER of the American Black Universe?
In the 2010 census we were told that blacks were becoming less numerous Downtown, in Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Bed-Stuy, Flatbush and Crown Heights. (Even Brownsville and East NY saw a few pale faces more than the years before). The numbers we were fed were astonishing. But guess what? Things have picked up considerably since 2010, with a building craze not seen since the pre-war apartment boom. You know the one that left so many New Yorkers THRILLED with their closet space? No matter how many more whites resided in once solidly black nabes in 2010 over 2000, we've seen as much again since 2010 to now. Even Utica Ave on the IRT has gone paler - don't believe me, get off at that last express stop sometime and give me a holler if you don't know what I'm saying. Given Brooklyn's vast size and population, it's really quite astounding just how striking is the change. Is it too cynical to equate it to a blacks must move to the back of the bus moment? "I'm sorry sir, your house is conveniently located near some of the best transportation, bistro and park facilities...do you mind moving to East New York temporarily, until my brethren can gather the gumption to move you from there too?"
For those who still aren't buying my amazement that this isn't MORE of a front page story, consider this: For more than half-a-century, nearly a million African-American folk have lived in a roughly four mile by four mile square area of Central Brooklyn. Their numbers are dwindling at a staggering rate, the steam gathering with each frothy year in the housing market.
You may have already seen, digested, and dismissed the following analysis from the 2000 to 2010 census study, but I'll drop it on you again just in case, and keep in mind this was through mid-2010, nearly four years ago, and things have WAY kicked into high gear since:
From 2000 to 2010, Brooklyn's population grew by 39,000 people. The White population grew by 38,774 while the Asian population increased by 75,838. Blacks lost almost 50,000 people (-49,517).Sure, some folks have moved to "East," as Dr. Cuts told me some people call it. Yes, East New York. (I've actually heard the term before and didn't get it.) Or Canarsie, or even Flatlands. And the feel good story you sometimes hear is that some people are moving "back South," presumably, I dunno, because "the cotton is high and the living is easy?" But plenty of people are being "encouraged" to leave high-priced NYC de facto and de toldso. A social worker friend tells me it's commonplace in her profession to coach poor single mothers to move to a more hospitable municipality, preferably one with more government supported housing, like cities Upstate or down South. And then there's that pesky new huge homeless population that grew under the Bloomberg years. A little carrot here, a little stick there, and they should be gone before the REAL numbers hit the books.
- Black losses were substantial in several communities with historically large Black populations. The Black population declined by 10,000 in Crown Heights North (a loss of almost 12% of the Black population), 8,400 people in Flatbush (decline of 14%), 7,258 people in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens (decline of 12%), and almost 6,000 people (-5,936) in Bedford (decline of almost 15%). [Note: The City Planning Department created two separate "neighborhood areas" for the community commonly referred to as Bedford-Stuyvesant. We use the Planning Department's "neighborhood area" delineation for this analysis.]
- Communities in northern Brooklyn such as Bedford, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill in 2000 straddled the area of central Brooklyn with substantial Black population plurality and the Park Slope/Brooklyn Heights area with substantial White population plurality. By 2010, Black population concentration had declined and White concentration had increased. In Bedford, the White population had the greatest percentage increase of any of the major groups citywide -- 633% (an increase of almost 16,000 people), increasing the White population share in that neighborhood from 4% in 2000 to 25.5% in 2010. In Prospect Heights, the White population share increased from just over one-quarter in 2000 (28.2%) to almost half (47.2%) in 2010 (an increase of 3,818). In Clinton Hill, the White population share more than doubled from 15% in 2000 to just over 35% in 2010 (an increase of 7,419).
I'll go right out and say it. Black Brooklyn is being gutted before our very eyes, and frankly, I'm shocked there aren't more people screaming from the new 40-story-luxury-rooftops about it. You can choose not to care, and clearly most people choose not to care, or you can say it's just the way of things, can't stop progress and yadda yadda. Or you can say, this ever-wealthier City turned its back on one of its greatest cultural, literary and historical legacies. Oh sure if you're brave and lucky enough to join the Black middle and upper classes and CHOOSE to live in Brooklyn, the City will let you stay, provided you don't mind while it tidies things up a bit. Oh, and make sure your taxes are paid up. If so, we cool.
Despite generations of racism, poverty, injustice, malnourishment, bad education, drug epidemics, mass displacement, profiling, getting shot by cops while unarmed, and one after another misplaced do-goodism by people who don't know what the f*ck they're doing, black Brooklyn is disappearing. Oh, and it would be disappearing MUCH, MUCH faster if it weren't for those quaint and oft-ridiculed laws that try to hold rents at a reasonable increase year after year, or rules that try to prevent landlords from gaming the system or hovering like vultures around old-folks on fixed-incomes.
Don't get me wrong, less well-heeled whites and other races and ethnicities are being shown the door as well. But no single group is being more exploited during the current rush to New Brooklyn than those, I would argue, most responsible for its "brand." Okay, the Dodgers too. But when I moved to Brooklyn in 1988, the world knew where I was moving, and it wasn't to Pee Wee Reese's old place.
You know, I WAS going to write about the lovely afternoon I had with Rabbi Goldberg, chair of CB9, on Kingston Avenue the other day. He showed me around his neighborhood. His neighborhood being the area around and mostly south of 770 Eastern Parkway, world headquarters of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement. It's a wonderfully vibrant and quaint and distinctly Jewish neighborhood, almost harkens to another era. People know one another. It's a desired location to live if you're part of the clan. It wouldn't be wise to call it "their" neighborhood, because you might sound accusatory, and after all, no one ultimately OWNS a neighborhood. And to be super-clear, I don't mean to pit one reality against another. God knows there's been enough of THAT in Brooklyn's history too. But to a certain degree, the orthodox Jews of Crown Heights have built a true neighborhood for themselves. One wouldn't dare to suggest it shouldn't be so. Certainly not I. Somehow, the idea of neighborhood and ethnicity, religion, race, primacy of purpose - be they Chinese or Russian or Muslim or blue-collar or hipsterist or foodist or older-parentist - they continue to exist, you know? And we yearn for it. We create it. The continuity. The familiar places. The generational transference. In essence, it has meaning to people - deep meaning. And you can sense it when it grows and prospers, and you can sense it when it begins to crumble before your very ideas.
Does any of it matter?