D.C. is no longer “Chocolate City.”

In fact, the District of Columbia now joins New Mexico, California and Texas as states without any one racial group forming a majority of the population. (Of course, unlike those three, our “state” doesn’t have a vote in Congress.)

Our case is unique in that, in recent decades, our majority group was black (The other three states had majority white groups). The demographic high water mark for “Chocolate City” was 71.1 percent “Negro” in the 1970 census. Whites were 27.7 percent and “persons of Spanish language” (of any race) were 2.1 percent.

As of 2015—almost a half century later—D.C. residents identified themselves as 48.0 percent Black, 35.6 percent “Anglo,” 10.2 percent Hispanic (of any race), 3.6 percent Asian, and 2.6 percent mixed race and other.

In 1970, blacks and whites largely lived in separate neighborhoods. Using a demographer’s common measure, D.C. black/white “segregation index” was 72 (highly segregated). By 1980, the segregation index had risen to 77 though the increase may have been largely a statistical artifact; for the first time, the 1980 census allowed Hispanics to be separated out from white and black categories. Separating out white Hispanics to create the Anglo category (i.e. non-Hispanic whites) raised the segregation index somewhat since Hispanics proportionally tended to share neighborhoods with Blacks (that is, non-Hispanic blacks) more than did Anglos.

Despite the growing diversity of some neighborhoods, in 2015, D.C. remains highly segregated. Its Black/Anglo segregation index was 70. From 77 to 70 in 35 years—that is not much progress.

Let’s look at what was happening in different parts of D.C.:

Census tracts have changed between 1970 and 2015. For this reason the maps look slightly different. You can see the change in tracts by downloading this file.

Why does this statistical analysis classify D.C. as still “highly segregated” when many parts of the District show increasing racial diversity? It is the extreme degree of racial isolation of Blacks in east of the Anacostia River (basically, Wards 7 and 8) that accounts for it. Of the mono-racial census tracts (90 percent or more of a single race) 42 of D.C.’s 43 mono-racial tracts lie in East of the Anacostia River.

Suppose the eastern boundary of D.C. were the Anacostia River. The Black/all others segregation index would be 55—a level of medium segregation. In short, the old City of Washington, Central Northwest and Central Northeast, and even West of the Park are increasingly racially diverse. Is this integration stable or just a snapshot in time as neighborhoods re-segregate (from Black to Anglo) as appears to be the case with Shaw and Capitol Hill? Creating stable racial diversity is a challenge that DC faces.

The other pressing challenge is east of the Anacostia River. With federal Hope VI grants and other public/private financing, the DC Housing Authority has been replacing former public housing projects such as East Capitol Dwellings and Capitol View Plaza in Ward 7 and Sheridan Terrace and Barry Farms in Ward 8 with mixed-use, mixed-income developments featuring both affordable rentals and home ownership. This has introduced a modicum of greater economic diversity but not, to date, racial diversity. Eliminating such “poverty factories” has helped stimulate the first private, market-rate home building in east of the Anacostia River.

This article has focused on the District of Columbia as the “central city.”  However, the real city is the entire Washington metropolitan area. The status of racial diversity in the entire region and how we compare with other regions will be the topic of the next article.



[majority of population] In 2015 Hawaii had a 56 percent resident Asian population.

[Anglo] Of course, I doubt that many DC residents would have identified themselves as “Anglo” to the census takers but “Anglo” is an all-purpose term in New Mexico that labels anyone who is not Hispanic, black, Asian or Native American. Thus, in New Mexico a Puccini, a Pulaski, and a Goldstein would all be called “Anglos.” In this and succeeding articles I’ll use the term “Anglo” instead of the more cumbersome “non-Hispanic whites.” In addition, “Black” (capitalized) indicates non-Hispanic blacks while “black” (lower case) refers to blacks without having separated out Hispanics who identify themselves racially as black.

[common measure] My segregation index is a commonly-used “dissimilarity index.” A dissimilarity index measures evenness (or unevenness) of the racial makeup across neighborhoods (census tracts), school attendance zones, etc. While 71.1 percent of the District’s population was black in 1971, this share varied from neighborhood to neighborhood. But how much? A black/white dissimilarity index of 72 means that 72 percent of blacks would have to move to other neighborhoods in just the right proportions for every neighborhood to be 71 percent black. Or conversely, 72 percent of whites would have to make the right moves for every neighborhood to be 27.7 percent white. Demographers often classify indices of 80 or more as hyper-segregation; 60-79.9 as high segregation; 40-59.9 as medium segregation; 20-39.9 as low segregation; and less than 20 as no systemic segregation.



Feature photo by Ted Eytan (source).

David Rusk is a Senior Fellow at the D.C. Policy Center. Rusk is a former federal Labor Department official, New Mexico legislator, and mayor of Albuquerque, the USA’s 32nd largest city. He is also the author of Cities without Suburbs. Now a consultant on urban policy, Rusk has worked in over 130 US communities in 35 states.  Abroad, Rusk has lectured on urban problems in Canada, England, Germany, South Africa, and The Netherlands. 

D.C. Policy Center Fellows are independent writers, and we gladly encourage the expression of a variety of perspectives. The views of our Fellows, published here or elsewhere, do not reflect the views of the D.C. Policy Center.

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