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Essential News & Views — 11/3/16 — On The Bittersweet Promise Of #oldDC And The New MGM National Harbor Casino

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Marcus K. Dowling


In just over a month, the MGM National Harbor Casino opens 12 miles outside of the Nation’s Capital, and ultimately best represents what could’ve and should’ve been a legacy of grandiose African-American opulence in #newDC. Instead, when Boyz II Men hit the stage on December 15, Lionel Richie visits on December 22, and Bruno Mars headlines on December 27, do expect that there will be a ton of black folk in the crowd spending the hard-earned money from DC Government employment or jobs that involve them commuting down Route 50 into the city. The idea that this ISN’T happening in the middle of downtown Washington, or maybe as the hub of the SW harbor area is unfortunate. Of course, in examining a bit regarding how and why this occurred, the answers present sobering realities.

Wikipedia defines “black flight” as the “out-migration of African Americans from predominantly black or mixed inner-city areas in the United States to suburbs and outlying edge cities of newer home construction.” MGM Grand Harbor’s home of Oxon Hill, MD is located in Prince George’s County, where, due to “black flight,” it has been the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation for a decade. Researchers San Francisco State researchers Shawn A. Ginwright and Antiw Akom note that the chance to own affordable homes in safe neighborhoods, [have]quality options for educating children, and social and cultural amenities make “black flight” popular.

Since 1990, there’s been a nearly 20% dip in the black population in Washington, DC. Concurrent to that was a 165,000 person population spike in PG County, with black multi-child families key in that boom. Add to this the fact that Marion Barry’s first three terms as mayor of DC between 1979-1991 saw a spike in jobs for college-educated and working class African-Americans. However, by 1991, drugs and violence were rampant in the District, as there was both a crack epidemic and 482 murders occurring simultaneously. Consider that by 1991 that there were black government employees who were likely earning a good sum of money who could move to rapidly expanding suburban communities in places like Landover, Largo, and Bowie, Maryland, and where we’re at in 2016 makes sense.

As a child growing up in #oldDC, there was nothing that I loved more than watching boxing. Of course, these matches all took place in casinos, these gilded palaces that celebrated ostentatious American wealth. I oftentimes imagined what a casino would look like in the middle of DC. The idea didn’t actually seem so far-fetched. My mother worked for the DC Government, and though I was a child, all of her African-American superiors seemed to live in “big” homes, drive “fancy” cars, and have “expensive” taste in clothing and accessories. I figured that if office buildings all over the city were filled with these people then, of course Donald Trump would come here and like, bring Mike Tyson along for the fun. There was a picture in my mind of Tyson, Ali, Trump, and Marion Barry all breaking ground across from Hains Point that just kinda made sense.

But of course, that never happened.

Instead, all of those awesome black people I knew growing up ended up in Largo and Bowie, and they’re going with their adult sons and daughters (who similarly live out there) to drive down 495 to hear “End of the Road” on December 15, and in so many ways, it’s going to feel like the end of the road for a dream I had as a child of seeing a Mike Tyson fight in #oldDC.

There’s a certain level of perverse and utterly racially-motivated joy/angst I feel when I see Foo Fighters and Green Day headlining respectively at RFK Stadium and the 9:30 Club in #newDC. Somehow, I feel like #oldDC had a moment that could’ve seen a Go-Go Live reunion concert at RFK and a sold out Bruno Mars and Boyz II Men co-headlining event at 9:30. Instead, once the opening bars of “Motownphilly” hit at the MGM Grand Harbor, it feels like that’s all gone forever.

I suppose there’s the silver lining of being black in #newDC and picking up the pieces that remain here and forging ahead. I mean, there’s a real chance here to exceed the standard that’s been set. There’s a chance to put a new generation of African-American and #newDC-based soul stars in the forthcoming Wharf Hall, or create the cross-cultural and cross socioeconomic bonds of support to establish pop stardom for musicians and artists in the evolving Nation’s Capital. Honestly, as hackneyed as it sounds, the possibilities should be embraced as being limitless.

But there’s no MGM Waterfront or MGM Convention Center Casino. The¬†reality of #oldDC’s African-American opulence existing in Oxon Hill, MD is bittersweet, and ideally something I won’t reflect on too much as #newDC could be something so much greater than the amazingness of what could’ve been.

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