COLBY HAMILTON: First, I just want to say it’s great to see my work attracting the attention of Room Eight. Big fan.
I want to respond to the criticism of my article mostly because the conceit of the article—that my numbers were misleading and so the argument was suspect—was itself misleading.
Really, we don’t disagree on very much. The 11th today is basically the same geographically as it was after the 1990 census, as you acknowledge. The census has shown since then—and reflected in the redistricting—that the percentage of blacks in the district has been decreasing. And we agree that this will likely mean, eventually, a loss of one of Brooklyn’s federally protected black-majority Congressional districts. (I didn’t actually say this is the last time we’ll have two black districts in Brooklyn.)
What we’re really having, then, is a debate about what’s causing this. Your response to this appeared to be that, of course it has! The districts keep getting bigger. Indeed, after the 1990 and 2000 census the districts were forced to take in more inhabitants, as they will now.
Of course, as I’m sure you’re aware, New York has been losing Congressional districts since the end of World War II. While we were losing districts between 1960 and 1990, not one but two black-majority districts were able to be created and sustained in Brooklyn.
So has it just been district size increases that can account for the significant decrease of the black population?
The 1990 census number was meant to be a reference point, but I think the numbers you pulled off the LATFOR site actually only reinforces my point: there has, since the 1980s, been harder and harder to keep black percentages up in the 11th. As the district is a Voting Rights Act protected district, the black population percentage is not insignificant. In fact, it means everything.
But what we were focusing on primarily in my piece was the shift in population since 2000. If you look at our maps—there are two—you see that the district boundaries are in some ways insignificant.
The reality is that there’s been a massive outflow of blacks from Central Brooklyn since the 2000 census—both proportionally and in total numbers. This ends up directly impacting the proportion of blacks in the 11th.
What your [sic] critiquing is really arguing, then, is that that outflow is not a product of gentrification. I, and the folks I interviewed for the article, disagree. But I’m willing to have that discussion. Let’s just not wrap it up in a misleading statistics critique.
I’m not sure where to being, except with an apology.
As Eric Engquist pointed out, some of my stats were wrong.
I took as Gospel Hamilton’s assertion that the 11th CD was now 58% black, and repeated it, when the figure on the website of the New York State Legislative Taskforce on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) was actually 53%.
I let this error lead my eye to the wrong line when looking for the 2010 information on the LATFOR site. Then, I compounded the error by repeating it when looking at the 2000 census statistics for the district.
This has since been corrected, and other text has been mildly altered to reflect that correction's implications.My basic conclusion still stands, but has been slightly softened.
I think Hamilton’s conclusions are ultimately correct in its main point, but nonetheless create a wildly exaggerated impression of Brooklyn’s demographic shifts.
In fact, in some ways, the Hamilton error I didn’t catch at the time I wrote my critique have compelled me to question even more not only the false impressions created by his stilted use of statistics, but also his statistics themselves, and whether Hamilton even knows what he is talking about.
HAMILTON: After the 1990 census, the basic lines the 11th District has today were drawn. At the time, the district was 74 percent black. It was during that decade that the city began a transformation that has led to the changes being felt today….According to the 2000 census, 71 percent of the district identified itself as black or African American. Ten years later that number had dropped to 58 percent—a 16 point slide over two decades.
OK, what exactly does he mean? Is that 74% the black percentage of the district before the 1992 reapportionment or after? Hamilton does not say.
Nor does he say where his stats came from; LATFOR, or somewhere else? If not LATFOR, where?.
How does he define black? Does he use the LATFOR definition of “black” as meaning “black/non-Hispanic” or someone other definition?
Is he talking about the entire population, or voting age population?
Hamilton doesn’t say. I have doubt he’s even thought of the questions.
And what exactly is the 71% figure talking about?
While it is allegedly based on 1990 census figures, is it for the 1992 lines, the 1997 court-ordered redrawing, or the 2002 lines?
The answer is probably “NONE OF THE ABOVE.”
My reapportionment guru, who was intimately involved from the inside with every NYS redistricting since 1982, tells me that “In the 2000 census, the total population of the…district had grown to 586,819, and the number who identified themselves as non-Hispanic and black, with only a single-race response, were 385,090 (65.62%).”
He further notes that a multi-racial category existed for the first time in 2000, which did not exist in 1990, which accounted for some of the loss in black population. He states “If it had been possible in1990 to give a multiple-race response to the census, some of those who identified themselves as black would have given such a response.
The 1990 non-Hispanic black category, with only a single-race response, would then have been less than 67.00%, probably around 66.80%.”
Erik Engquist’s asserts: “How much of the decline [in the black proportion of the 11th’s population] was caused by gentrification and how much was caused by boundary changes, I don't know, and I'm not sure they can be readily discerned from the online Latfor and census data.”
But Engquist is wrong; we really do know. Let me explain.
Despite Hamilton’s efforts to minimize the 2002, reapportionment, it was a big change. It might not look like much, but its resultant change in the district's racial composition is analogous to putting a small drop of blue ink in a glass of milk and shaking it.
Prior to 2002, Major Owens represented only a small piece of Park Slope—afterwards, he represented most of the neighborhood, and also picked up Windsor Terrace, most of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, parts of Brooklyn Heights and Gowanus.
At the district’s southern end, Owens substantially bulked up his portion of Midwood, and added a big slice of Kensington.
Plus, he gave up some black areas to Ed Towns.
This produced a big demographic shift.
My source further opines:“In the 2002 redistricting, the total population was increased to 654,361 (exactly the statewide mean), and the non-Hispanic black population, with only a single-race response, was reduced to 382,841 (58.51%). The redistricting produced a net reduction of 2,249 in the non-Hispanic black population, using only a single-race response, but a net increase of 67,542 in the total population.
And that doesn't even include the numerous whites that were already added to the district in the court-ordered 1997 redistricting.
My source goes on to note:
"In the 2010 census, the 11th CD as drawn in 2002 had a total population of 632,408, and a non-Hispanic black population, using only a single race response, of 335,828 (53.10%).
So,...more than half the reduction in the non-Hispanic black percentage of the total population of the 11th CD since 1990 is attributable to redistricting, and…less than half is due to demographic change.”
Why is all this important?
Not because it undermines Hamilton’s conclusions about the future of the 11th and 10th CDs, which, as I noted before, are ultimately sound.
And as I noted, gentrification is a real factor in all this.
But, saying a district had a 5% drop in black population in 10 years is quite different from saying it had a drop almost three times that size.
Gentrification is a third rail, hot button issue causing a good deal of hysteria. Whether one feels it is good or bad for an area’s existing residents (the right answer is probably “all of the above”), most people on all sides agree that neighborhood change is far less harsh in its impacts when it is gradual.
But in New York, hysteria over neighborhood change feeds upon itself, inviting dangerous responses from political demagogues, quick buck artists, developers, realtors and wrong-headed do-gooders.
An article like Hamilton’s, spread and amplified, can cause decisions in politics, public policy, development and in people’s personal lives, which would be better made if founded upon the actual facts.
Much of the 10th Congressional District is gentrifying. The change is gradual, but probably inevitable.
But that change will surely be less jarring for those impacted if it is not fueled by ill-informed hysteria feeding upon itself.
Hamilton’s article takes a truth and exaggerates it by a factor of nearly three.
Where I come from, we have a word for multiplying the truth times three:
We call if a lie.
To be clear, I do not think Mr. Hamilton has engaged in intentional misinformation, but I do think he's created a very exaggerated impression of Brooklyn gentrifcation impact, which in itself might have a Heisenberg effect if left unchecked.
Better to let nature take its course than to inadvertantly accellerate this process (or otherwise impact it in ways unknnown) by create misleading buzz.
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