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In 2016, many, many people moved to Chattanooga. More than 11,000, to be exact.

These newcomers?

They moved here for the Gig.

For the outdoors.

For our dazzling downtown.

For the Innovation District.

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David Cook

Maybe they even moved here simply for the hype.

"Meet the new South!" raved Lonely Planet, recently declaring Chattanooga a top 10 place to visit.

But this new South may not be as different from the old South as we might think.

All those new 11,000 Chattanoogans?

No matter why they moved here — from another county, another state, another country — nearly all of them have one thing in common:

They're white.

Thanks to census data, we can see that the fruits of our marketing strategies — business recruitment, political leadership, messaging, urban planning — have mostly attracted only white people to Chattanooga.

In Chattanooga, whites are roughly 58 percent of the population, while blacks make up 33 percent.

Yet the racial breakdown of Chattanooga newcomers — those moving here in 2016 — is one-sided, imbalanced and far from a healthy 58/38 percent white-to-black ratio.

Of the 4,240 people who moved here from a different county within Tennessee, nearly 80 percent were white.

And less than 15 percent were black.

Of the 6,485 people who moved here from another state, nearly 77 percent were white.

And only 17 percent were black.

(Another 516 people moved here from another country; 57 percent were white, and 24 percent were black.)

Such geographic mobility trends do not create a diverse, ethnically rich city.

In fact, it's so disproportionate, that when the Washington Post studied census data from 2012 to 2016, it found Chattanooga had the most skewed and disproportionate — yes, the most — percentage of white-to-black newcomers out of the 100 largest metro areas in the entire U.S.

The Post had two words for Chattanooga.

"Most lopsided," the Post reported last month.

Is this really a surprise? For years, our city has engaged with intentionality and strategy a marketing and branding campaign that uses certain images, words and themes to attract people here.

We're an Ironman-tech-hipster-coffee-brewhouse-start-up-stand-up-paddleboarding-Main-Street-riverfront-New-Localism-Gig-ecosystem city.

Those words? And images? They're code. Read between the lines.

They're almost all synonymous with whiteness.

(How many triathletes of color are there? How diverse is the tech world? How many black people do you see at a brewhouse?)

This marketing campaign says to America and the world: here are the things we care about in Chattanooga.

And those things are mostly white experiences.

Of course, there is no wicked racist somewhere behind the scenes orchestrating this.

But by branding ourselves as a city soaked mostly in white activities and affinities, well, you get what happened in 2016: a gravity machine that pulls white newcomers here.

The oppressive aroma of the old South — a place by and for white people — has carried part of its scent into this new South city of ours.

"This is the unintended consequence of their success," said Dr. Ken Chilton, associate professor of public administration at Tennessee State University.

During his time at Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and now from his Nashville campus, Chilton has warned of the problems that come from homogeneous boardrooms and a lack of intentional strategy regarding racial diversity.

"It's elitist in the sense that people who are unelected civic leaders are branding the place of Chattanooga and creating an enclave that is particularly attractive to people we've called hipsters, techies, bohemians. It's attractive to a certain segment of millennial," he said.

One thing leads to another.

"Property entrepreneurs buy up downtown property and build expensive housing that most locals don't want or can't afford — it's for newcomers and empty-nesters," he said. "So you create a place foreign to longtime residents and you lose your local character and heritage and Chattanooga becomes something it didn't used to be."

Yes, there are many good people working on minority job creation, on multiculturalism, on making our city just and diverse.

Yet, their attempts are being overshadowed.

So let's be the new South city that acknowledges our most-lopsidedness, then works to reverse it:

We commit to a marketing campaign that promotes a black middle class in Chattanooga.

We establish and protect affordable downtown housing.

We declare our desire to become a city that attracts, celebrates and loves all races, not only whites.

"If we want to talk inclusion, we need to make our branding and marketing inclusive," Chilton said.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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