City Desk

Dear Abby: Can a White Woman Wear a Chocolate City Shirt?

In the 1970s the District's population was more than 70 percent black, earning it the affectionate nickname "Chocolate City." Today, black people are narrowly not the majority anymore in the District; in confectionary terms, the saying now goes, D.C. has become more vanilla.

Of course, the demographic shift started long ago and can't all be attributed to what's now perceived as only a recent phenomenon of gentrification. The District's population, according to Atlantic Cities, actually declined by a quarter between 1950 and 1990 due to the growth of suburbs; many D.C. black residents moved to nearby Prince George's County, the country's wealthiest majority-black jurisdiction. In more recent years, young affluent whites have moved here, driving the cost of living up and spurring redevelopment and city amenities that didn't exist when black residents had a strong majority.

That's all to say that race is complicated in the District.

Now one white woman has captured a particular complication with one matter of etiquette: Is it wrong for a white woman to wear a "Chocolate City" T-shirt?

She wrote into The Root about the issue:

I'm a white female cyclist in Washington, D.C., and like many of the street cyclists in the area, I ride with members of several different cycling groups, including the awesome guys at Chocolate City Cycling. Recently I was given a CCC T-shirt, but I feel weird about wearing it in public, especially outside the context of group cycling. I like the shirt and the people it represents (and I doubt they'd have much of a problem with me wearing it on a ride), but it still feels odd and somehow wrong to wear a shirt that asserts something about a racial identity other than my own. What advice would you have on the matter? —Confused Cyclist

A writer for The Root, Jenée Desmond-Harris, provided a thoughtful response, which said it's not necessarily racist, but asked if the woman really want to be invoking the questions that surround gentrification on her bike ride:

That doesn't mean you can't wear it. Of course you can. But if I were you, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing so unless I was very clear about everything it could be interpreted to represent. I'd need to know what the term "Chocolate City" means to me. Where do I fit in this changing community? Where do I stand—personally and politically—on the issue of gentrification in D.C.? What are the policies behind gentrification? What's the mission of the cycling club, and what does it mean to me to be part of that mission?

Or Confused Cyclist can more simply listen to Gawker's advice: "If you have to ask, do not wear it.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery
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  • Derek

    Where does Chocolate City Brewing fit in? Not sure if the owners/workers are all African-American, or you have to be to drink their beer. CC at this point has become one of DC's official nicknames. Sure it has a racial genesis, but as the years go by I think it is being used for more than just that.

  • Corky

    Oh just wear the shirt. I'm African-American and I think it's actually kind of funny. It is no different than China Town or "Little Haiti" in North Miami. Too many people have a stick up their butt in this town.

  • Red

    In this case the shirt represents a group of cyclists who like to ride their bicycles in DC and decided to organize their friends and others for cycling centered events. It's quite a diverse group and it encourages people of all races to ride bicycles and hang out with other people of all races who also ride bicycles. In fact, it encourages people of different races to spend time together in a way that so many other social groups in this city do not (I'm thinking specifically of kickball). My opinion isn't worth much, but knowing that I would wear the shirt on and off the bike

    You can see more at their facebook page:
    and their website:

  • Kayle

    People should really chill. It's not that serious. If someone has pride in their adopted city, they should feel free to rep their city,their hood and their block. I say that as a Houstonian African-American chick who currently lives in 'This Town".

  • petworthy

    You have to ask The Root about a shirt? Anyone asking about Deadskins shirts and what their policies are? dumb. you are wearing a freaking advertizement.

  • 1stworlder

    Funny thing when white people leave an area its white flight and the property value goes down unless Asians are the remaining group. When white people move in its bad also because property values go up, and areas that used to be controlled by gangs get 8 foot iron fences and organic gardens. Make up your minds, is white people leaving or coming into an area bad?

  • 1stworlder

    So when white people move out its bad and called white flight with property values going down unless the remaining population is Asian. When they move in its gentrifying and bad because property values go up, and areas claimed by gangs get 8 foot tall iron fences and organic gardens. Make up your minds whites moving in and out cant both be bad.

  • Mr. White

    I suggest that Miss Confused Cyclist don her Chocolate City shirt -- or any other shirt -- and head out on next Saturday for a walk. At midnight. On Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. Go up to passers-by and ask their opinions.

    If that doesn't sound too safe, maybe the problem isn't with the shirt, but with the locals.

    I'm wondering what city's MLK street Miss Confused Cyclist would prefer to visit on Saturday at midnight. Maybe Portland, Oregon? Would the locals be friendlier no matter what shirt she wore? Probably so. I wonder why?

  • Lre

    No ... but you can wear a White Castle t - shirt instead .