Census: D.C.'s Black Population Is Disappearing

2010 figures will show Chocolate City changing fast ... along with the rest of the country.


The Washington Post reports that figures from the Census Bureau's 2010 count are expected to show a continued shrinking number of African Americans in Washington, to just over half of D.C.'s 600,000 residents. Not only that, but many demographers predict that by the next census, the District will no longer have a black majority.

Of course, this change took place in the context of a sharp shift in the entire nation's racial and ethnic mix over the past decade, driven by soaring numbers of young Hispanics and Asians and an aging white population that was essentially stagnant. The Census Bureau will release its final figures from the 2010 count this afternoon, and experts say will they will predict a day, barely three decades from now, when non-Hispanic whites will be a minority.

"This was a pivot decade," William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution told the Washington Post. "We're pivoting from a white-black-dominated American population to one that is multiracial and multicultural."

We can scarcely think of two things that cause people more anxiety than race and change. You don't have to look any further than the comments section of any article on the nation's changing demographics (there are celebrations of whites dying out, rants about Latinos having too many children and endless, stereotype-based attempts to blame all of the nation's problems on everyone from African Americans to Asians) to see that when you combine the two, people's worst prejudices and insecurities rear their ugly heads.

And black people aren't immune to this in the least, especially when the numbers go hand in hand with some changes to a place like "Chocolate City" that stir up everything from nostalgia to serious resentment. The Root's Jon Jeter discussed the declining black population of the nation's capital in DC: Less Black, More Green:

Chocolate City is a lot less chocolate these days, and the term seems quaint, almost mocking, now. What was once black America's imperfect piece of the pie, its gritty Promised Land, has evolved into the model of the polarized, postindustrial city, its transformation so stark that it represents a cautionary tale for the new Gilded Age. With the end of Jim Crow; the new doors opened by the civil rights movement; and a refashioning of labor, trade, education and health policies that began to take hold in the Carter administration, many sociologists believe that income disparities within the black community have never been wider ...

Not surprisingly, Washington's poorest -- and darkest -- residents have abandoned the city in droves. Between 2000 and 2006, the District lost more than 21,000, almost 10 percent, of its African-American residents -- while the city's overall population grew by more than 30,000 to 572,000. (Many of the city's black residents defected to nearby Prince George's County in Maryland.) The Chocolate City's black majority dropped from 56 percent to 51 percent between 2000 and 2008. Of the jobs in the city that don't require college degrees, nearly two-thirds are filled by suburbanites, according to a 2008 report by the local Chamber of Commerce.

While change is always hard, the social issues we care about are influenced by a lot of forces besides census figures. As the new statistics come out today, they're guaranteed to be discussed in a way that will make it seem as if the nation's ethnic groups are pitted against one another in a race for control of the population. But we should make it a point to be analytical rather than alarmist when discussing the causes, effects and opportunities of demographic change -- even when it means that a place like D.C. is losing its namesake flavor. 

Read more at the Washington Post.