New Piece: Two Cities in One
Finally put down some of my thoughts about growing up in the burbs, ending up in DC, and then discovering this whole other city in the same boundaries for the New York Times Opinionator section.
Washington, D.C., is a city of divides. There are racial divides, most notably a black D.C. and a white D.C. There are ethnic enclaves, with a Salvadoran D.C. sharing space with the Ethiopian D.C. There are the geographic boundaries that came to represent economic boundaries, like “east of the river” and “west of the park,” or the image divides between the tony Northwest section of the city and the formerly gritty Southeastern quadrant.
But to me, the most telling divide is a verbal one — does one live in D.C. or Washington?
Calling the city “Washington” reveals a certain experience. There are thousands of people who live and work in Washington — people with high-powered jobs, the transient class, the chattering class, the politicos, the folks who watch (or are guests on) “Meet the Press.” They rotate in and out of the White House or spend years bouncing through various continents before settling into an N.G.O. or nonprofit. Often, these are the people who refer to the city as a revolving door. Many have told me they’ve never met anyone “from here” before. (See aforementioned racial divide.)
Seemingly a world away are the lifelong residents, the multigenerational city dwellers, the folks who staff federal offices. This is D.C.: the city and surrounding suburbs are the site of the nation’s most visible and vocal black middle class. In D.C., people listen to go-go and jazz and look for long-term stability in a government job that will not change with administrations. This D.C. is where I grew up.