Racial Change and the Politics of Transition
“We have a school system that is more than 80 percent African-American. GBC [Greater Baltimore Committee], I suspect will be for the next 50 years perceived as a white organization. And so there is at least a tension that will always be there of: is whitey trying to tell us what to do. Is whitey trying to take over our school system.” (Baltimore business executive)
POLITICAL scientists often write about how politics and policy slow the processes of change. Political elites, they note, can often use their privileged position to defeat or preempt challenges from newly mobilizing interests.1 Countervailing interests, formal checks and balances, division of authority among levels of government, cozy and self-protective relationships between regulators and the interests they regulate, and the problematics of bureaucratic implementation sometimes combine to make incrementalism, even rigidity, appear to be defining traits of the American political system.2
Rapid demographic change is one force powerful enough to overwhelm these forces of inertia. This is especially true at the local level, where inflow and outflow of population can occasionally be highly concentrated and selective.
A defining characteristic of every American black-led city is its transition through a period of rapid demographic change. In the years between 1910 and 1970, more than 6.5 million African Americans migrated to urban areas. This migration continues even today as the overall population of cities declines. In 1990, approximately 83 percent of the African-American population lived in metropolitan centers, with 56 percent living in central cities. As____________________