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John Petro

Mapping Race in New York City

A map of New York City by race and ethnicity suggests that perhaps New York isn’t quite the melting pot that it is claimed to be. It shows clear geographical divisions between blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians. Manhattan below 96th Street jumps out at the viewer in bright red, the color designated to whites by the map’s creator, except for Chinatown, which is a circle of green. Central and Eastern Brooklyn is a vast swath of blue, representing the borough’s traditionally African-American neighborhoods.

Race and ethnicity: New York City

The map is based on data from 2000, and it is interesting to imagine what the map will look like once 2010 Census data becomes available. The 2008 American Community Survey tells us that there are fewer African-Americans in New York City than there were in 2000, while the number of whites, Asians, and Hispanics all increased. One wonders if the exodus of blacks from New York City is a temporary or long-term trend. New Yorkers have certainly witnessed the gentrification of Central Brooklyn over the past eight years, from Fort Greene to Bedford-Stuyvestant and Bushwick, and of Central Harlem. And while gentrification doesn’t have to result in the changing of a neighborhoods racial mix, it seems that’s the way it’s played out in New York.

An article in the New Yorker on the Great Migration--the movement of nearly six million African-Americans from the South to Northern industrial cities between 1915 and 1970--amazed me about just how significant and history-shaping this migration was. “Before the Great Migration, ninety per cent of all blacks in the United States lived in the South; after it, forty seven per cent lived someplace else.” Escaping Jim Crow, African-Americans sought opportunity in the North.

But it seems today’s New York offers little opportunity for African-Americans. When the median income of whites increased by 41 percent between 2000 and 2008, incomes for blacks increased by only 32 percent. The income gap widened in those eight years: in 2000, household income for blacks was 39 percent less than whites, in 2008 it was 43 percent less.

Will these trends result in another Great Migration? With unemployment rates disproportionately higher for African-Americans in New York the trends may indeed continue. As New York emerges from the recession, policymakers will have to work especially hard to ensure that it reaches all the communities across the city.

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Posted at 6:09 PM, Sep 23, 2010 in Urban Affairs
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