Marcus K. Dowling

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If you’re a black person living and working in Washington, DC, do be aware that in 20 years that we could make up 10% of the city’s population. Yes, the city’s population is exploding. But sadly that doesn’t also mean that the city’s African-American population is exponentially growing, too. In fact, the opposite is true, and if numbers continue to grow at an unprecedented clip, “Chocolate City” will eventually be a solitary “chocolate chip” in a largely vanilla sundae. If, and/or when this becomes the case in the Nation’s Capital, black folks may need to take a second to get familiar with the work of iconic black intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, because on numerous levels we’re going to have to be a “talented tenth” in order to survive where DC could be headed.

Here’s some brutal truths about Washington, DC to consider:

  • The current median per-capita income for America overall is $51,939. 2013’s median per-capita income for Washington, DC is 44% higher at $74,733. Median black per-capita income in Washington, DC is roughly $25,000, which is half of the per-capita income for America overall and 67% less than the overall DC’s average per-capita overall.
  • The Washington, DC area is the 5th best in the nation for black-owned businesses, but minority-owned businesses still only account for 4% of all business revenue in the U.S.
  • 2013 data shows that eight of 10 adults arrested in the District were black, a total disproportionate to the racial breakdown of residents in DC in 2013, which broke down as roughly 47 percent black and 43 percent white. As well, in 2010, the equivalent of 30 percent of the District’s adult male population were arrested, with two percent of that number being white males. As well, 2013 figures showed that seven of 10 people charged with traffic violations were black.
  • Between 2000-2010, suburban “black flight” reached heights of 150,000 black DC residents moving to DC’s suburbs. The Brookings Institution also notes the intriguing fact that “black flight” is hitting cities like DC that were primary destinations for blacks during the Great Migration out of the South in the first part of the 20th century.
  • Marion Barry — aka black DC’s one-time knight in shining armor — is dead.

Looking forward for the “talented tenth” of blacks in DC, the idea that DC is serving as a welfare state or center for lower-to-middle class blacks is a notion that is certain to change. DC’s economic surge and population shift leading to the eradication of black DC residents who receive housing and other forms of government assistance slices away a significant portion of DC’s black resident base. DC’s boom also means that those blacks who remain here will have to be economically sustainable on a level past being part of a middle-class workforce. However, the idea of being an entrepreneur and surging into upper middle-to-higher class wealth accrual is quite the difficult path given that our businesses just don’t earn at the same level as businesses owned by other races of people.

Also, the “talented tenth” has to eradicate the stigma of blacks in DC representing a criminal element. Populations flooding into to a city have minimal desire to live and work in places where they perceive there’s an inherent element of danger. Yes, legalizing marijuana goes a long way to keeping more black and non-criminal DC residents on the streets. However, that’s a minor victory when there’s already a hard-to-overcome perception of “black” equaling “dangerous” that’s quite apparent. Thus, a talent required by “talented tenth” who remain in DC will be needing to overcome what is a stereotypical stigma that DC’s cops — as well as the not-yet mentioned pop culture and centuries of American history — have propagated.

However, for all of the stress related to what a “talented tenth” black population means for DC and what a “talented tenth” black population has to do to succeed in a revitalizing Nation’s Capital, there’s also room for a positive reality that could exist for this possible 10% black population in Washington, DC.

Let’s imagine what happens if DC’s black population continues this incredibly depressing separating of the socioeconomic and intellectual wheat from the chaff. What happens if it’s like science, and we’re ultimately creating the District as a hub for the smartest, richest, most enlightened, sustainable and empowered of black people to live and work. What happens if black DC entirely loses it’s stereotypical notion of being a place where blacks are criminalized low-wage earners who oftentimes have pockets filled with government handouts to showcase as  their economic stake in the future of the city? What happens if black DC becomes the economic backbone of DC’s boom. What happens if black dollars become stronger than white ones, and in doing so black people put their money in powerful black businesses in DC, too? Yes, in 2016 this sounds insane. However, by 2036, this is all entirely possible.

If you’re black in DC, are you currently a part of, do you want to counted as, or will you be in the “talented tenth?” Answer now, because as it presently stands, the city’s evolution will answer for you and leave you in it’s brutal and distressing undertow.

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