Racism and classism in the heart of America’s capital

Michael Shank writes: Of the two rivers that cup our nation’s capital – the Potomac and the Anacostia – the latter of the two is, perhaps, the most apt reflection of where America is at socio-economically. The Anacostia River – the Anglicised namesake of which was first officially recorded by Thomas Jefferson and referred to the Nacochtank Native American tribe dwelling east of the river – is just down the hill from my Anacostia house and reflects well what divides our nation’s capital, and, ultimately, America.

A quick dig into the District’s demographics and it is painfully apparent: A growing white majority living west of the river, encroaching east, and a predominantly African American majority living east of the river. There is no question that we are a deeply and demographically divided city. As I take Metro’s green line home to Anacostia after work, I am frequently the only white person on the train. Any remaining white folks on the green line generally disembark at Navy Yard, the last stop before crossing east of the Anacostia River.

As it happens in DC, so too does it happen in America: This year, researchers at Dartmouth, the University of Georgia, and the University of Washington looked at Census neighbourhood data to compare trends in racial diversity and found that highly diverse neighbourhoods are actually rare, African Americans remain concentrated in segregated neighbourhoods, and newly arrived immigrants continue to settle in concentrated racial residential patterns.

Yet, this trend is not the only divider in the District. Anacostia River is a divider of class as well, with a majority of the town’s wealth living to the west of the river and a much poorer population living to the east. Hovering much lower than the national average of $50,000, the average median household income in Anacostia struggles at $30,000 for a family of four, compared with Washington, DC’s $60,000, and the broader DC metro area at well over $80,000. In fact, US Census data cites the income gap in the District as one the highest in the nation. Furthermore, the unemployment rate west of the river is roughly 8.9 percent, while east of the river it’s 35 percent. [Continue reading…]

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