Sorry, Donald, “inner cities” is not a synonym for “black Americans”
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Among the countless things Donald Trump has said that are either blatantly offensive or categorically untrue, there’s one thing that has irked me and many others to no end. In Trump’s world, “black Americans” are synonymous with “inner cities,” as though one simply cannot exist without the other. For example, when an audience member asked Trump whether he, as president, could serve all American citizens during the last presidential debate, the Republican candidate said without pause, “I would be a president for all of the people, African Americans, the inner cities.”
This assumption, while colossally racist, also highlights Trump’s ignorance about communities outside his own in a way that is deeply unsettling. Repeating rhetoric President Ronald Reagan might have used in the ‘80s, Trump continuously reveals himself as disconnected from modern times, changing demographics, and social progress. Sadly, coming from someone who considers all Mexican immigrants to be rapists, this shouldn’t come as all that surprising.
As The Atlantic correctly points out, the majority of black Americans don’t live under the poverty line, nor do they live in inner cities—and they haven’t for a long time. Looking at statistics provided by Metropolitan Policy Program fellow Elizabeth Kneebone, the breakdown of black communities goes something like this: “39 percent of African Americans live in the suburbs, 36 percent live in cities, 15 percent live in small metropolitan areas, and 10 percent live in rural communities.” These results, drawn from the 2010 to 2014 American Community Survey, paint a strikingly different portrait than the one Trump aggressively perpetuates.
Wrapped up in this ignorant conflation is an inherent unwillingness to look at where black Americans are actually living and how they’ve settled there in the first place. Following the Great Migration during which millions of African Americans moved from the rural south to urban areas between 1910 and 1970, lingering segregation and discriminative housing laws prohibited them from living anywhere but city centers. Historically, black Americans have been relegated to the areas white people abandon or reject. Today, gentrification and escalating rent prices (just look to New York and San Francisco for evidence) have pushed black Americans out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for decades as Millennials and Baby Boomers reoccupy urban cores. To ignore this fact would be a failure to recognize the dearth of choices black Americans have had when it comes to housing and the surplus of choices white Americans have enjoyed since the dawn of this country’s existence.
Focusing on the inner cities as a way to wipe out the injustices currently plaguing black lives would be grossly inadequate. Instead, by looking critically at the network effects that promote inequality, maybe we can come to understand that black Americans’ problems are every American’s problem.