Black Agency, Urban Migration, Paternalism

Atlanta In Transition

Atlanta In Transition

Black Agency? I don’t mean group sales or political things. In the confines of university sociology, agency refers to the power of a person or group to enact their will. Indeed, it is the translation of conscious will into action. Chris Bodenner, filling in at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, finds both a story and a sharp reply relevant to the topic of Black Agency.

The WSJ examines how U.S. cities such as Atlanta, DC, and San Francisco are reversing historic trends by becoming more white — both because white professionals are gentrifying blighted areas and because black middle-class families are moving to the suburbs. In other words, white flight has given way to “African-American out-migration.”

The story goes on to detail the hand wringing by SF mayor and community leaders. How can they reverse this out-migration of African-Americans? A jazz center? More affordable housing? Chris then links to Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ response:

Part of the reason cities like Atlanta are becoming white is because black folks (like myself) who grew up caged in cities want their taste of the stereotypical American dream and thus are leaving. But there never is any black agency–to be African-American is to be an automaton responding to either white racism or cultural pathology. No way you could actually have free will.

There are at least two ways great “White” progressive values turn patronizing. First, as Coates not

es above, there is a belief that certain forces, which they uniquely identify (such as capitalist exploitation and racism), are really in control. Agency, as defined above, cannot exist for people who aren’t large owners of capital and who haven’t freed themselves through adopting this analysis (see “cultural hegemony” from Gramsci). Also “diversity” in such cities is valuable to White progressives as it serves their sense of righteousness, not necessarily the interests and values of those they purportedly wish to advocate. Living together in the Neighborhood of Heaven is farther off than utopians believe — though still a worthy vision. Humility, self-criticism and the effort to know the recipients of one’s good intentions serve any solid foundation.

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