Urban = Black

Again I heard a speaker use the term “urban” as a synonym for Black in the ethnic sense. Earlier, the mayor of Memphis had responded to a comment that his city was 78% Black with, “Yes, it is an urban city.” Wow. And yesterday, I heard Chris Matthews on MSNBC do the same thing, using “urban” when he was directly referring to African-Americans.
IMHO, this derives from the dog whistle use of the word urban by conservatives to raise fears among Whites while being able to deny racial denotation by saying they were simply referring to features of big cities. Gradually, the word in contexts like “urban school districts” and “urban violence” and “police patrolling in urban environments” has finally sunk in and the word will no doubt simply mean African-American within a hundred years. Dictionaries will note the origin in the Latin word urbs meaning city’; it will be interesting (I plan to live another hundred years) to see how they will explain the shift in meaning.

Feb. 1, 2019 This was entered in 2016. This morning I hear John Podhoretz on Morning Joe say the following: there were a lot of urban politicians in the 70s….  Later he said urban city politicians. If you look at the context, Shirley Chisholm as the first Black person to run for president, her opposition in the Black establishment, and the reaction to her candidacy, it is hard to imagine Podhoretz was not using “urban” to mean Black. He more or less confirms that by repeating a phrase reminiscent of the Memphis mayor’s statement above that “it is an urban city.” I would translate this into less current English as “a predominantly Black city”, not an “urban city”, which is redundant, to say the least.

Given this, I will add the category ‘grammar and language change’ onto this entry.

 

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