Can Blacks and White Progressives Live Together?


Writer/blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates reminded me of an interesting cyber-discussion happening right now over at New Geography.  And you know I love a good cyber-chat to fill up my think tank before the weekend.  If you don't know already, writer Aaron M. Renn scribed a great piece called "The White City".  It examines the rise in so-called progressive cities that, interestingly enough, are lacking in an African-American presence.  You don't say! Somebody help me pick my jaw up from the floor.  Renn confesses:

"There’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver.  In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy.

But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.

In fact, not one of these “progressive” cities even reaches the national average for African American percentage population in its core county. Perhaps not progressiveness but whiteness is the defining characteristic of the group."


Aaron M. Renn is my new BFF.  He hit the nail on the white progressive head.  As many of you know I live in the best place on the planet, Brooklyn, New York.  My neighborhood is packed to the rafters with progressives—black, white and other significants.  Folks who recycle, cycle, invest time in urban redevelopment, push for cleaner environments, insist on safer blocks for the kiddies, advocate for the under-advocated, and do their Saturday shopping at the Farmer's Market.

But outside of Brooklyn, progressive life seems to be exclusively white.  I've traveled to San Francisco, Atlanta, Minneapolis, San Diego, Toronto, Denver, D.C., and Cincinnati where I urgently seek out the "progressive" scene and it never fails:  whites rule.  In fact, I expect it.  For the most part, and I'm going to get elbowed for saying this, but so-called progressive ideas like recycling, organic marketing, GLBT advocacy, liberal politics, and religious tolerance tend to be associated with whites.  Why?  I'll let someone else answer that; I'm tired.  But it does appear whites prefer a progressively-inspired life without the company of black folk. Truth be told, I know plenty of "progressive" black who sneak into these white enclaves hoping to avoid black folks, too.  Man! Did I just say that?  Check out Aaron M. Renn's piece and let me know what you think.

Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.