Article Sparks Demographic Debates in Hyattsville

An article in the Washington Post generates discussion among Hyattsville residents about local demographics, development and class.

For a few days now, area residents have been digesting a Washington Post story which speculated that Hyattsville was among some Prince George's locales luring newer, younger and whiter families to the county.

According to census data analyzed by the Washington Post, Prince George's County's white population increased 2.4 percent as a result of roughly 3,100 new, white residents over the last 15 months. 

The data, culled from census estimates, did not specify where those resident were moving to in Prince George's County. That did not stop the Washington Posts' reporters from hypothesizing that Hyattsville is among the areas impacted by this demographic shift. 

Citing St. Jerome Catholic Church Pastor Rev. James Stack's recollection that he is performing less funerals and more baptisms, the presence of a Rise and Rhyme children's storytelling series at Busboys and Poets, and a 3 percent increase in the number of white students at Hyattsville Elementary School, the Washington Post painted a portrait of a city undergoing a demographic transformation. 

"I was troubled by the tone of the article," said Hyattsville resident Jennifer Mendenhal, a decorated actress on the regional scene. "Furtively racist? Equating 'diverse' with 'risky'? White people moving in is reason for celebration–why?"

, a black woman and a somewhat recent transplant to the area, also took issue with the story. 

"I don't think it gave credit to the white residents who have been here," said Hollingsworth in an interview. "It's almost as if new white residents are saviors for a struggling county."

Indeed, Hyattsville was already fairly diverse and has boasted a higher concentration of white residents than other areas of the county for some time. According to racial demographic information from the 2010 Census, 35 percent of city residents were black, 33 percent were white. Hispanics, counted separately as an ethnicity rather than a race, accounted for 36 percent of Hyattsville's residents. 

In fact, in the south and west areas of the city. Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Hispanics living in Hyattsville doubled from 18 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2010. Earlier this year,

Other local readers looked to the comment section below the article. Many of the comments can safely be described as openly racist in their assessment of Prince George's County's changing demographics. 

"The article was broad brush, but that didn't bother me so much," said Hyattsville resident Meredith Massey on Facebook. "What really shocked me were the comments People really hate P.G. county and I don't understand why."

Hollingsworth thinks she has an answer. 

"The outside world has a complex about who Prince George's residents are," said Hollingsworth. "When people don't think you are good enough, they will find whatever indicator they need to keep saying that."

Chris Currie June 29, 2012 at 01:07 PM
As an almost 15-year resident of Hyattsville and Prince George's County, I've always been intrigued by the animus shown our region by many non-residents. I've been able to tease out, I think, a few different sources for this: 1. Racism. You see this especially in com-boxes below articles about our county, usually expressed in rustic tones accompanied by maladept usage of English grammar, spelling and punctuation. 2. Social insecurity. Candace Hollingsworth put her finger on this one. Many people tie status to personal esteem, which encourages them to tear down the status of others. You see a lot of this in people from eastern Montgomery County, who gave the lowest ratings of Hyattsville in an 80-community survey the Hyattsville Marketing Task Force conducted several years ago. They might not live in Bethesda-Chevy Chase, but at least they live on the "right" side of the P.G. County line. 3. Tribalism. This is not quite the same thing as racism -- although racism is an outgrowth of it. Human beings are pack animals -- our brains are wired that way. Diversity brings discomfort; it's an acquired taste. What I've observed is that Hyattsville's diversity is not only a challenge to those living here, but also to those who live in homogeneous communities. For some of the latter, it's a reproach to PC sensibilities that are not being lived; for others, it's a subtle threat to the social order. This animus seems to cut across racial and socio-economic lines.
Shani June 29, 2012 at 06:28 PM
While I appreciated the original Washington Post article, I agree that the emphasis on race was problematic. The article painted a positive picture of the community I know, but mischaracterized the root causes of the revitalization that's taking place in Hyattsville by trying to explain it through a racial lens. From my perspective, the real story is that Hyattsville is changing with a baby boom and an influx of young families. This is one of the last affordable neighborhoods inside the Beltway for first time homeobuyers. It's also a welcoming and diverse community. Others see the same demographic changes and spin them differently. As an aside, I belive the 2010 Census demographic percentages are a little different than what's in the article above (more accurate numbers are 34.6% non-Hispanic black, 34% Hispanic, and 24% non-Hispanic white). Any conversation about race and ethnicity that fails to note the changes among the Latino population over the past decade is missing the major population shift in this geographic region.
HyattsvilleCouldBeBetter July 05, 2012 at 04:44 PM
We need more Asians to be truly racially diverse. In a county that is majority black and a stigma that alienates PG residents from other DC metro area residents, I'd say more white people is a good thing (despite Jennifer Mendenhal's misunderstanding of the issue). Anyway, what's wrong with a little Europian-American pride. Many whitey's come from a rich family-oriented culture that values education and hard work. If you don't want to recognize the value of having more white residents in PG county, fine, but at least recognize the value of where they are coming from.


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