The Twilight of Black Harlem

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
Greater Harlem is now less Black “than at any time since the 1920s,” with African Americans making up only 4 in 10 residents. Galloping gentrification is a “racial as well as economic crime,” predicated on the historical devaluation of Black life, nationwide. “Poor Blacks are considered the human equivalent of blight, while affluent whites are treated as precious resources.”
Blackness Ebbs Away in Harlem
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“Poor Blacks are considered the human equivalent of blight, while affluent whites are treated as precious resources.”
Harlem, that piece of Manhattan real estate that epitomized Black urban life for most of the 20th century, is no longer majority African American. The white presence in central Harlem has grown from only 672 individuals in 1990, to almost 14,000 in 2008. According to Census data citied in a recent article in the New York Times, Blacks now make up just 62 percent of central Harlem, and only 41 percent of greater Harlem, the cityscape between the Hudson and East Rivers from 96th Street to 155th Street. Greater Harlem’s Black population is now smaller than at any time since the 1920s. It is true that Hispanic Harlem grew dramatically in the last decade, but in Manhattan as a whole Latinos are losing ground right along with Blacks. The island gets whiter by the day.
The driving force that is rendering Harlem uninhabitable to its traditional population, is not white people swarming uptown – that’s just a symptom of the underlying pathology. Harlem, like inner cities across America, is under relentless siege by organized money, the real estate and banking interests that reap their greatest profits by forcing out poor and working class residents in order to create a much more expensive space for the relatively rich. It is pure predation, and a racial as well as economic crime.
The New York Times article on the whitening of Harlem attempts to treat runaway gentrification as a, somehow, race-neutral phenomenon – as if race and the price of real estate have not always been inextricably intertwined in America. It is the manipulation of race and its relationship to housing and land values in a racist society that allows speculators the greatest opportunities to buy low and sell high. Whether in scaring whites out of city neighborhoods in the Forties and Fifties, or pushing Blacks out today, vast fortunes have been made by the skillful use of race to inflate or deflate the value of entire neighborhoods. The racist devaluation of Black people shows up as profits on the bankers’ and developers’ side of the ledger.
“Greater Harlem’s Black population is now smaller than at any time since the 1920s.”
Race has everything to do with the politics of gentrification. Both the political and economic marketing of gentrification are based on the assumption that “good” neighborhoods and attractive cities are those populated by upscale white people. Poor Blacks are considered the human equivalent of blight, while affluent whites are treated as precious resources. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to lay a white line of luxury apartments right across the center of Harlem, from river to to river, at 125th Street – and call it a renaissance. Most Manhattan Black elected officials are allies of the mayor, the developers, the landlords and the banks in the project to destroy Black Harlem. They are loyal to money, not their constituents, and hope to make enough money in the short run that they will not need those constituents in the long term.
It's the same story in Atlanta and other large Black population centers across the United States, the majority of which are hemorrhaging Black residents. The fact that gentrification is such a potent force for Black removal in all regions is proof that racism and finance capitalism behave in remarkably similar fashion throughout the United States. In that sense, nothing has changed since the days of racial blockbusting, several generations ago.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford. On the web, go to

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]


It's about business....

This same thing is happening in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. The government housing establishments have been torn down and luxury “mixed-income” apartments are being resurrected. My question to you or anybody is what solutions do you suggest for this current real estate/banking interest? Before the dollars came in weren’t the neighborhoods and houses in shambles already?  I guess my thing is if the people that were living their already were not ensuring proper upkeep, why not sale to make a profit? Let’s say those developers let the present residents stay in their dwellings…can they afford it or will everything be Section 8? Until my Black Americans learn the value of property and having pride in their community they will continuously migrate to other areas that are in accordance to their living standards.

Your Black Americans do know the value of property!

... they just can't afford it - most of the times...

Since the beginning of “Black Harlem”, most residents of “Black Harlem” were (and I assume still are) renters. When the gentrification began in the 90s, developers were able to purchase derelict, blighted, and rundown blocks of brownstones and buildings for pennies on the dollar from the City. The developers renovated these structures and then sold them for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the mid-late 90s, my friend worked for one of these developers – a prominent Black development organization in Harlem. When I saw the marketing brochures for some of their renovated homes, I was nearly brought to tears. The starting prices were $400K, $500K, and $600K. My first reaction was “very few to no one in Harlem could afford these homes.” Consequently, current residents and many who were long time multi-generational residents of Harlem would not be benefit from the “positive” changes taking place in Harlem. This realization depressed me.

So “learning the value of property” is not the problem. Being able to afford the property is the problem.

However, making the renovated property unaffordable to current/past residents was part of the City’s plan all along.

Affordable "decent" housing is needed as well as access to higher/better paying jobs. And a prerequisite to a better paying job is access to a quality education.

I believe you are missing the point....

I believe you are missing the point. It does not and should not matter if you are a renter or homeowner, having pride and valuing your property is all the same. So are you saying that renter should not care about the way their neighborhood looks…ie., trash in the street, run-down homes, everything but the kitchen sink on the front lawn, loitering, etcetera-etcetera. That is the problem now (some) people believe that since they don’t own it then why I should care about the way things look. One wonders why (some) kids do not have any respect or pride for their things and dwelling. People back in the day didn’t have much, but what they did have they made sure that it looked good-decent. You remember parents used to sweep in front of their homes and dared you to walk on their lawn…those days are gone. People have become desensitized of living in neighborhoods that exudes depressive energies. 
I do agree with your statement, “Affordable "decent" housing is needed as well as access to higher/better paying jobs. And a prerequisite to a better paying job is access to a quality education.” But until that happens I still believe that (some) Black Americans need to have more pride in their neighborhood and home. It is about that person being accountable for their things, for their existence and not waiting for someone to come and correct things for them.

Residential patterns don't arise by accident

First, thanks Dominoe for a timely summation as we approach Black History Month.  The missing piece in our modern day African American political analysis is historicism.  This is part of the propaganda ploy of "Post-Racialism."  The Black Elites adopt this nonsense (Post-Racialism) as a way of assauaging their White Masters, the result is an abdication of reasoning and analysis based on African American historical realities.  Post-Racialism is designed to whitewash African Americans history.
Let's begin with schools and busing, so-called integration.  How many Americans, Black or White, know that busing is by and large  a failure due to residential patterns?  White people can move to outer rings of the City faster than courts can bus Black kids to their schools.  It's just that simple.  Residential patterns make busing/integration a lost cause.  The Federal Courts have all but recognized this and that is why we don't hear squat about busing "in the fight for integration/assimilation,"--i.e. residential patterns combined with ignorance of same.  Unequivocably, the courts have deemed busing a "temporary remedy."  Ignorance based upon the false assumption that busing achieved integration.  The fact of the matter is America is as segregated as ever--Black & White--in terms of residential patterns.  As we say in the "hood," "It is what it is."  Indeed, if you do the analysis is it not fair to say that the "allure" of charter schools is rooted in the failure of school integration?
While it is always fair to invoke personal responsibility, that can gloss over the economic realities of real estate ownership and investment, and the significance of zoning laws.  What you are also neglecting is absentee ownership.  By example, an R-1 zoning designation would prohibit duplexes or apartments, whereas R-2 or 3 might allow it.  What happened in my small community is that the large homes owned by whites who either died or moved away were then "subdivided" into apartment units, sometimes 3 or 4 units in what was formerly a 4 bedroom home.  In most instances this "subdividing" was done shoddily or haphazardly with very little inspection, scrutiny and oversight by the City's inspection regime.  The "landlord" is some white guy who lives in the neighboring jurisdiction, (some Carlton Sheets wannabe) in addition to using substandard materials for maintenance and upkeep, he or she also exercises rank neglect and apathy.  The "units" each rent for what is tantamount to his mortgage payment.   Human nature says even those who fit your bill of accountability will began to lose faith and interest in maintaining a decent, livable environment.  After all, I don't control who rents units 2 to 3/4.  The landlord won't spray for pests because he blames the pestilence on someone in another unit, I won't spray for pest because,..."Why?"  I have neither the cash nor the obligation to spray the whole damn building.  So what do you suppose happens to my attitude of "accountability?"
The next phase is the structure goes to shit because the landlord hasn't invested in neither good tenants nor deferred maintenance, but alas my dear, the structure sits on PRIME REAL ESTATE, hence, as Dominoe explains masterfully, "bust and boom" or "boom and bust,"  take your pick, either way Africans Americans get the short end of the stick in the end.  To understand this phenonena, you have to understand that property values arise in concentric ciricles, the closer to the center of that circle, usually the higher the property value, particularly if the center is a major metropolis vs. some bland suburb.  This is why we get "gentrification" and "urban renewal."  This trend will spike as energy and transporation costs, and "lifestyle" pressures continue.
Last, this is happening ALL OVER THE WORLD,-- that is the displacement of rural residents/tenants, land holders (and lifestyles) based upon the allure of jobs and a better lifestyle in the City.  Take a look at the data from National Geographic or elsewhere.  In the last 50 or so years the urbanization of the world is proceeding at a breathtaking pace.    It's also a catastrophe in waiting.
Update #1:  Where is urbanization leading?
According to the Los Angeles Times, “most of the damage appeared to be concentrated around Port-au-Prince, a teeming city of 2 million that sits like a hive of gray concrete that creeps up a mountainside rising out of the Caribbean. The homes are mostly made of cheap, porous concrete made with sand from nearby quarries. In the aftermath of the quake, entire big-box apartment blocks had collapsed along roads carved into the hills.”
Geologists have been warning for more than a decade of the likelihood of a major quake in southern Haiti, where the fault line between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates runs. In 2008, the mayor of Port-au-Prince estimated that 60 percent of the capital’s buildings would be unsafe in the event of a major quake."
Re: catastrophes in waiting--Mexico City is teeming with over 20 Million people in it's metropolitan area.  Most are displaced peasants living in shantytowns.  It was struck with a 8.1 magnitude earthquake in 1985, six months later it was hit with a magnitude 7.0.  Oh, it also sits at the foot of an active volcano.  Popocatépetl is one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico, and only 70cm to the southeast of Mexico City. Some of the largest cities in the world are situated in or about The Pacific Ring of Fire, those megacities include Tokyo.

Hypnotized by social-science fiction

Given the fact that, in my humble opinion, Domino and E.C. have succinctly put the relative pieces of the puzzle together for you to finally, maybe get a good look at the trees; I won't belabour the point as it were.
So, I will only suggest  that with such an egocentric pespective, lacking any real, substantial argument to support such spoon-fed indictments against the disposessed of our social-economic realities as the one you present above, there can be no doubt that you represent the ever increasing numbers of Oprah Zombies stalking the land in search of obstreperous, indolent slobs at whom you can onc again direct that infallible index finger.

Harlem is the microcosm of the story of black America

Read the history of Harlem and you will see the cycle of economic boom and bust, ethnic migration and the socioeconomic forces that shape the black community in America.   This is the same pattern that you will see in all the current urban areas predominantly occupied by blacks.
General outline:
1800s, most areas are farm land and plantations owned by whites.  Most blacks live as slaves on white plantations and white farm houses.   Free blacks live in older parts of the urban areas, mostly in slums towards the old port areas.   Whites move further and further out to fringes of the urban area (only a mile or two, much closer than the modern suburbs).
Late 1800s, urban expansion occurs as white real estate tycoons and government officials begin developing huge blocks of residential areas on the former fringes of the central urban areas of the time.   These areas are settled by ethnic white populations with blacks primarily segregated into select areas.   Housing bubble goes bust because of bank loans and mismanagement of the expanding housing market, deflating prices.
Early 1900s,  blacks are lured from Southern plantations to go north (to Oz) in search of better jobs in the North.  They begin settle in the urban areas now partly affordable because of the housing bubble, partly displacing previous ethic European populations.  These areas were still considered "ghettoes" in that they were predominantly segregated along color and ethnic lines.  For blacks, even though they were able to rent and afford relatively new and luxurious spaces, they were still not allowed to own most of the buildings they lived in.  And as blacks moved from their older spaces in the old central districts nearer the ports, these neighborhoods became gentrified and upscale bastions of white society.  Apart from a few notable examples, blacks are still primarily renters and not owners, as most of the housing stock was owned and developed by whites.
Mid 1900s, the urban black populations began to expand in their new neighborhoods, a rennaissance occurred as blacks began to grow wealth and engage in artistic and other pursuits.  More and more blacks from the South continue to pour into the North looking for work in industrial centers there.  Blacks are still marginalized in most aspects of the social and economic sphere.   Blacks were still segregated and not allowed to live in more upscale areas and they were often forced to pay higher rents to predominantly white landlords than whites in similar housing. 
Late 1900s,  civil rights era and the growth of black consciousness creates white flight to maintain socioeconomic segregation.   Industry in the north begins to collapse and is shifted offshore through competition or  the search for cheaper labor.  Blacks begin to loose traditional sources of income.  Inner cities begin to decay as there is less investment in inner city areas by banks, government and business.  Most of this investment is flooding into new sub-urban areas and "edge cities" farther from Oz and financed by government grants and loans, along with bank loans and intense private development.  More blacks who can afford it begin to move to these suburbs furthering the decay of the inner city.   Blacks still economically marginalized, but now they are more spread out in different areas, with the poor concentrated in inner cities.
2000,  housing bubble busts, spurred by the real estate end commercial bubble of the suburban housing market.   More whites cannot afford to live in suburbs and flock to urban areas.  Blacks tired of urban grit, grime and crime are fleeing to suburbs.   Mostly poor residents of inner city black neighborhoods are forced to move due to gentrification or for better jobs in the suburbs.   Central citiy business districts still primarily dominated by whites in high paying jobs, blacks still primarily in lower paying positions.  Blacks still do not make up any sizeable part of the developer, banking and construction industry.   And are still primarily at the bottom of the socio economic pyramid engineered by white industrialists, the bank and their government associates.

earthquake in Haiti.

If I was to allow my conspiracy filled mind to get the best of me,I would venture to say that the recent tragedy which took place in haiti will serve the purpose of creating a city with less poor and desired personel....Please doa google search on the HAARP technology and ask yourself some tough questions

Reply to earthquake in Haiti

In terms of financial power, political power, and military might, I think we can agree that people who subconsciouly and consciously- through their words and their actions-classify themselves as "white",  have power over people who they classify-through words and actions-as "non-white". You can see this not only through their power structures, but also-let's be honest-through the fear and feeling powerlessness displayed by "non-white" people all over the world, through our inability as a collective to stand up to power and/or find a strategy to end this madness. One of the most painful experiences for us Black people right now is to see how easy it is to transfer all those so-called orphaned Haitian children all over the world into so-called adoptive families, including in Europe, where I currently reside, and where it  is a real business. We are helpless to stop this, and these children will be reared to forgive white people for everything they have done and work-very very subtly or not subtly at all-to maintain the white power apparatus. However, to get back what I originally wanted to state: The people who make the decisions in the world, who classify themselves as "white", are very, very, very, very very concerned about their dwindling world population, their dwindling numbers as well as their dwindling ability to "compete". They talk about it in codes ALL THE TIME. Believe me, if you can decode the language, you will notice it all over the western world, not just Europe. NOW, did you know that before the genocide of 1-2  million people in Ruanda that that region of the world had the highest birth rates on the planet, and was only rivalled  by one other country with same high rates? Yes you guess it, Haiti. Aside from Gambia, maybe, the most melanated (basic black) people are in those areas of the world and up until these catastrophes  they were producing babies at an unrivalled rate  So yes, you are damn right, and dead on the money. It was HAARP through and through. The wake-up call (the thousandth one for us), however, is not just what "they" will stoop to, but how powerless we are to stop them at the moment.