Monday, July 2, 2012

Gentrification's Complexities

I was flipping through Facebook recently and a musician friend of mine was talking about the issue of gentrification, which I've written about before here on the blog. She was expressing her anger at the way neighborhoods in DC have changed completely and her frustration at others not understanding her feelings of being pushed out and not valued as a lifetime resident. At the same time, my brother and my cousin sent me nearly identical articles about gentrification. One article mirrored my Facebook friend's anger at the flipping of the demographics and what it means to the Black community:
“When you hear people say, ‘the good news is the neighborhood is being gentrified,’ it just makes you feel worthless,” Donna told me.
…Because, by and large, the people moving in and making the community better are white. And now they're getting the benefits of a safer community, school reform, and economic development.  But is it true that only white people are "gentrifiers"?  Here's what the other article said:
Undoubtedly, race and class in the U.S. are linked in a complex and pretty irretrievable way. Nonetheless, they’re not one in the same. Washington, D.C. has seen an influx of middle-class black residents whose presence has changed the economic landscape of certain traditionally low-income neighborhoods — or, to put it another way, black gentrifiers. As the New York Times reported several years ago, this has even happened in Harlem.
In my song, Gentrification, I'm trying to represent the anger the person in the hood feels; similar to Nathan McCall's great book, "Them".  I wanted to address the sense of powerlessness the people of the community often feel, as well as their ambivalence toward the positive things happening in their neighborhood. There are a lot of voices: some are militant, some are despairing, some just don't give a sh-t as long as they got some weed to smoke.

To share my story, I was one of those black gentrifiers in Brooklyn.  I bought my house after I made some money from my first record with the Acid Jazz Group, Us3.  I was one of those people who planted flowers and cleaned up the streets with my neighbors. And I was frustrated with a neighbor who played REALLY loud music next door when they weren't even outside!! The nerve! The guys across the street, where the friday night gambling parties were, they just sat there and smoked weed…ALL  FRICKIN DAY. I saw little fingernail sized baggies in my front yard and said to myself, "Self, why would someone need such a…small…baggie...OHHHHHH…"  

But I'm black.  I was accepted.  And, truth be told,  I grew up listening to loud music EVERY NIGHT OF MY KID LIFE because my father was completely obsessed with music and had a HiFi system to rival a small nightclub. I grew up in the black church.  I didn't grow up around drugs, but we all have a cousin who steals right? Mine's name was Lonnie (name changed to protect what's left of his thievin' a** reputation, may he rest in peace), and mom always said just don't leave your stuff out when he comes by…temptation and all.  My husband's uncle even smoked our VCR a la Gator from Spike Lee's Jungle Fever.  So I could fit in. I was even called Mrs. President by some of my neighbors because I was the president of our block association and helped to arrange and plan our yearly block party.  But as soon as the first set of white people moved in…sigh. Everybody was like, "Really?! You couldn't have moved to Park Slope or something? This is do-or-die-Bed-Stuy, the home of Biggie Smalls…" The neighborhood corner stores started carrying soy milk and tofu, and there were sting operations to make sure that the true thugs, not the thug-lits as I like to call them, were gone. An African restaurant and the ultimate symbol of gentrification, a sushi bar, moved in down the street. 
All the economic development catered to…well…. me and people like me: young, educated, family people of a certain means who wanted to live in the city.  But I understood the anger of the community.  Heck I shared it!  When the stuff starts getting good when people like you start to leave, one might feel a sense of unfairness.  Why didn't all this happen before, when all the shootings were happening?! Where was the police presence then?! Where was the street repair and new traffic lights THEN?! Why can't a fried fish business move in rather than a daggum panini bar?!  And what in the hell is a panini anyway and shouldn't that fish in that other restaurant be cooked?! There is some justification to these feelings. That's what the song is about. That and a stank ass gorilla groove…you betta ask somebody…


  1. I enjoyed this a lot. I was in DC in the mid-ninety's when gratuate students were beginning to make DuPont-into-George Washington and all around, cool.
    I can't imagine what's happened since Obama became President.
    Great post.

  2. Thanks. When I returned to DC, Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant had changed all together. It was distressing but the shopping, restaurants and is nice. The same thing is happening to the H St. Corridor in NE. Ambivilent(sp) feelings.