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Donald Trump’s “inner city” has nothing to do with where black people live

The “inner city” is another example of Trump’s dog whistle politicking.

Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Face Off In First Presidential Debate At Hofstra University Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Three presidential debates later and Donald Trump still seems to have no idea that black people live anywhere but the inner city.

In the final moment of the third presidential debate, Trump continued to link black and brown communities to America's "disastrous" urban centers.

"Our inner cities are a disaster," Trump said. "You get shot walking to the store. They have no education, they have no jobs. I will do more for African Americans and Latinos than [Hillary Clinton] can ever do in ten lifetimes. All she has done is talk to the African Americans and to the Latinos."

This is the same talking point he's brought up before.

During the second presidential debate, an audience member asked candidates if they "can be a devoted president to all the people in the United States." Trump deflected by pointing fingers at Clinton for calling some of his supporters "deplorable," cited massive loss, only to then say "I would be a president for all of the people. African-Americans, the inner cities. Devastating what's happening to our inner cities."

The same thing happened during the first presidential debate. When Lester Holt, the debate moderator, brought up the subject of race, each candidate was asked to discuss how they would "heal [America’s racial] divide."

Clinton spoke on the need to redress racial bias in policing, as evidenced by the latest string of extrajudicial killings of African Americans by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Trump, by contrast, implied black people are universally trapped in the crime-ridden hellscape of "the inner city."

We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African Americans, Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot.

We have to know what we're doing. Right now, our police, in many cases, are afraid to do anything. We have to protect our inner cities because African-American communities are being decimated by crime.

Not all black people live in America’s cities. Vox’s German Lopez has explained this, related to Trump’s hyperbolic use of crime statistics. But Trump’s statement is also demonstrably false because "inner city" is a catch-all term used to blame black and brown people for problems in America’s major cities — even as many of those communities are displaced from those areas today.

"Inner city" is code for cultural failings, not neighborhoods

The phrase "inner city" has more to do with how racism has shaped America’s cities than simply identifying where black and brown people live.

Post-war, but particularly in the 1960s, discriminatory redlining policies and restrictive housing covenants were invalidated. As black people were allowed more access to homes in predominantly white neighborhoods from which they had been excluded, white residents fled cities for the nearby suburbs. For example, City Lab reported, from the 1950s and 1960s to the 1970s, the net white migration from Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit to outlying areas was 15.5 percent, 20.1 percent, and 26.6 percent respectively.

Changing demographics ushered in divestment. In Inventing Black on Black Violence, University of Illinois geography professor David Wilson explains that "inner cities" were a way to rationalize the urban decay in these neighborhoods that followed white flight.

Considered to be a "living, animate zone plagued by consumptive degeneracy," the inner city was viewed as a reflection of the cultural failings of its residents.

The "inner city" became a catch-all term to condemn communities of color in America’s major metropolitan areas. Rather than address systemic inequality perpetuated along racialized residential lines through white flight, deserted urban centers were considered to be the direct result of black and brown occupants.

American cities don’t really reflect Trump’s inner-city dog whistling

Even though Trump tried to use "inner city" to tell the story of black Americans today, the latest project of urban revival, also known as gentrification, in America’s cities is painting a very different picture.

A century after African Americans from the South moved to other regions and major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York in droves in the early 20th century, African Americans are increasingly moving back to the South for opportunities these cities now often deny them.

According to the 2010 US Census, African Americans are mostly concentrated in 10 states, six of which are in the South: New York, Florida, Texas, Georgia, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, and Ohio. Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of African Americans in the South grew from 53.6 percent to 55 percent compared to the Midwest and Northeast that remained relatively stagnant or declined by 0.7 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.

The Brookings Institute also noted that there has been a growth in the suburban black populations in 96 of the US's largest 100 metropolitan areas from 2000 to 2010. The areas around Houston, Washington, DC, Dallas, and Atlanta had the greatest gains.

As Jordan Weissmann reported for Slate in March, urban centers across the map have seen a 24 percent increase in young, college-educated white people. Meanwhile, the number of black households in the same cities declined 12 percent between 2000 and 2014.

With surging housing prices coupled with a dearth of affordable housing and stagnation in higher-than-average unemployment numbers, the broad return to American cities has not translated to boosting African-American populations who had been there for generations. Tanvi Misra noted in a review of gentrification in San Francisco, poorer communities of color are at an ever-present risk of being priced out of the neighborhoods they have long called home without redress.

African Americans aren’t bound to inner cities. Rather, Trump’s use of the term "inner city" reflects a decades-long process of how the greater society literally and figuratively abandoned African Americans, expecting them to shoulder the effects of being shortchanged, while refusing to address the forms of systemic racism that disadvantaged them in the first place.

"America's biggest cities might not quite be citadels of privilege, but they've moved further in that direction," Weissmann wrote. Apparently Trump didn’t get the memo.

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