City officials released an analysis of the 2020 Census data in August that raised concerns among many racial equality advocates. 

The analysis declared that the city’s overall Black population declined, and it did so most sharply in Brooklyn.

New York City’s population increased by more than 600,000 since the 2010 Census, to a record high of 8.8 million, the data showed. The Black population, however, declined by 4.5%, with Brooklyn showing the steepest decline among the boroughs at 8.7%.

A new report released on Oct. 13 from the Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) at Medgar Evers College, a racial justice organization, disputes the belief that the city’s Black population is decreasing.

According to the study, People of African Descent in NYC: Communities of Interest, the total population of people of African descent across the city increased by more than 2,600 over the past decade. 

“Currently, the Census miscategorizes racial and ethnic identities, thus providing an incomplete snapshot of the population,” CLSJ’s report explained.  

One of the reasons this matters is the possible consequences for Black communities from New York losing a congressional seat based on the 2020 Census.  

CLSJ said the miscalculation could negatively impact communities of African descent by how new congressional district lines are drawn. 

“New York City’s Black population has grown in the last decade and this data should be used as the foundation for mapping African descendant communities of interest to ensure that the newly created districts accurately reflect our political voice, growth, and interests,” Dr. Zulema Blair, CLSJ’s redistricting research director, said.

A snapshot of Brooklyn

The 2020 Census found that Brooklyn continued to be the most populous borough, with an overall population that was just 2,100 short of its 1950 peak.

It found increases among three of the borough’s four main racial/ethnic categories:  Asians by 42.5%, Whites by 8.4%, and Hispanics by 4.1%.

The percentage of Black Brooklynites, however, declined 8.7% from the 2010 Census count. Blacks were concentrated in central and eastern sections of the borough. Canarsie had the largest number of Black residents of all neighborhoods in the city. Bed-Stuy (East), Crown Heights (North), Flatlands, and Brownsville also had significant Black populations. 

Black displacement 

The Census suggested that a Black population shift has taken place. While Brooklyn had a sharp decline in its Black population, Staten Island saw its Black population grow by 5.7%.

“If you listened to people on the ground, you realized what was going on. The population is shifting because of the housing crisis, rising rents, the lack of housing ownership and rising foreclosure,” Blair told The City newspaper when Census results were announced.

“We saw all of these things mounting and we knew that the Black community would be impacted the most,” Blair continued, adding that some displaced Black Brooklynites may have relocated to Staten Island and the Bronx.

Nuanced Black identities

For its report, CLSJ analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for its analysis of the city’s Black population.

The study viewed the Black population as more nuanced than the Census did. CLSJ’s categories were African American, Caribbean, West Indian, Afro Latino and African Immigrant. 

“In contrast, the Census Bureau excludes the Afro-Latino population from the Black people of African Descendent count and has different names for each group,” the report stated.

“African Americans are denoted by the Census Bureau as Black Alone, all Caribbeans are erroneously denoted as Black West Indian, and the Census usually categorizes Continental African Immigrants as sub-Saharan Africans. The fourth category for people of African descent is multiracial Black.”

The researchers found that three out of the four categories (Black West Indians, Continental Africans, and multiracial Blacks) in Brooklyn plateaued in the middle of the decade. At the same time, the African American population continued to increase across the city.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams did not immediately respond to a request from BK Reader for comment on the report.

What’s at stake

The constitutionally mandated Census determines how much funding the federal government apportions to states for a range of items that include infrastructure, schools, welfare programs, as well as representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Census officials announced in August that New York’s congressional delegation will shrink by one seat after the 2022 election, which means the state will redraw Congressional district lines.

“Regardless of how many New Yorkers of African descent are registered to vote, regardless of how many turn out to vote, when electoral district lines in communities of African descent are not equitably drawn, those communities risk losing political power,” Lurie Daniel Favors, CLSJ’s interim executive director said.

Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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