NYT Gets the ‘Inner City’ All Wrong

In a curious memory lapse, the New York Times spins the phrase ‘inner city’ as an odd coinage of Donald Trump. Writing in The Upshot column yesterday, Emily Badger strains to argue that the expression is inappropriate, as many ‘inner cities’ are doing well.

There’s a lot to unpack here. In the first place, the phrase was popularized in the 1960s by the NYT and other New York-based entities (New York Urban Coalition, the Urban League). It was expressly intended as a euphemism for negro slum. If the phrase ‘inner city’ still connotes ‘black ghetto,’ that would seem to be the fault of the New York Times, not Donald Trump. The Times even admits this origin:

The phrase “inner city” is often used to suggest that the historical image and the modern place are one and the same — or even that the “inner city” is still a meaningfully identifiable place at all, with clearly implied demographics (black, poor) and connotations (violence, decay). It still evokes the particular context when the phrase became popular in the 1960s and ’70s.


Weirdly, the columnist goes on to argue that ‘inner city’ is now inappropriate because some inner cities today do not suffer from too much violence and decay. That is, they’re not as slummy and dangerous as you might think. So you shouldn’t say ‘inner city.’

This is frivolous sophistry. If Trump seems to be conjuring up images of colored slums of the 1960s, it’s because the basic political reality has not changed since then. Across the political spectrum, blacks are still generalized as a poor and needy population dependent on Federal largesse and affirmative-action quotas.

Sesame Street may have cleaned itself up, and forgotten that it was supposed to be set in Harlem, but politically we are still in the late 60s, when Eve Merriam, alias Moskovitz, wrote her dreadful Inner City Mother Goose.

Comments on this entry are closed.