Illustration for article titled A (Very Short) Case for Why Pittsburgh Is the Blackest City in America
Photo: Jeff Swensen (Getty Images)
America's Blackest CityFor Black History Month, we asked writers to explain why they think their hometown, current residence or notable place deserves the title of America’s Blackest City by defining a city’s history, music, cuisine, notable figures, and cultural touchstone/unique black fact.

I’m not going to cite the Homestead Grays or the history of the Hill District. Nor will I The Pittsburgh Courier, Homewood, Teenie Harris, Billy Eckstine, Phyllis Hyman, John Edgar Wideman, Little Haiti, The Crawford Grill, Mary Lou Williams, George Benson, Josh Gibson, Antoine Fuqua, Billy Porter, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Art Blakey, Romare Bearden, Kyle Abraham, Naomi Sims, The Pittsburgh Crawfords or Freedom Corner. I won’t even pull out our bazooka: Mr. Frederick August Kittel Junior—a man who gave America more color than Crayola (and who y’all know as August Wilson).


Why? Well, other cities—your Chicagos and your Atlantas and your Oaklands and your Detroits—have deeper benches. Not better. But deeper. And, most importantly, those other cities are still pretty damn black, and Pittsburgh ain’t. Pittsburgh, collectively, is whiter than Post Malone’s shins. Whiter than babies named “Quinoa” and “Gluten Sensitivities.” So white you’d get a mandatory 10-to-20 for carrying it.

This whiteness is reflected culturally, statistically and demographically. Whatever the national disparities are in income, wealth, health and education, Pittsburgh is decidedly worse. Black nightlife here is a joke, the black middle class is a whisper, black political capital is a rumor, and Randall’s dad died.


So no, we ain’t the blackest city in America. At least not by how things like “blackness” and “cities” and “America” are usually defined when making those determinations. BUT THOSE DEFINITIONS ARE WACK AS FUCK! THOSE ARE TRASH DETERMINATIONS! Because of course, it’s easy to be black if you’re in Harlem and the Schomburg is on one corner and Cam’ron is dutty wining cross the street. Of course, it’s not hard to be your blackest self if you’re surrounded with and perpetually validated by it. You’re black and proud and a block away from Howard? Whoopty fucking doo. Here’s a sugar cookie for you.

But try being unapologetically black in a city that attempts to shutter and shuffle blackness away whenever it has the opportunity to, like game-night hosts sweeping dust mites into coat closets before guests arrive. Try being black and proud while stuck in a jar of glue.

We don’t have the luxury of easing into blackness; of finding quick comfort; of lazing into immediately friendly spaces. If you want to be black in Pittsburgh, you need to be motherfucking intentional about it. You need to research. You need to procure. You need to excavate. You need to google. You can’t just roll out of bed and decide to walk to a black restaurant or enroll in a black school or have drinks at a black club and drive through a black neighborhood. No, you need a plan. You need intent. You need desire. The hypercognizance of your blackness needs to be perpetual when you exist in a space that wishes to spread mayo on it. ALLS MY LIFE I HAS TO FIGHT, NIGGA!

And this is why black Pittsburghers are blacker than you. Because we have to be to survive here. And since we have America’s blackest people, we’re America’s blackest city. It’s science.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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