Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gentrify Me

gen·tri·fi·ca·tion /ˌdʒɛntrəfɪˈkeɪʃən/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[jen-truh-fi-key-shuhn] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun 1. the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.
2. an instance of gentrifying; the condition of being gentrified

To say the neighborhood is changing, would be an understatement. Caucasians have been creeping up in my neighborhood, buying houses and settling in for the past year. There has been an influx of houses being built for "low-income families," yet they want a minimum of 60k for them.'s cheap when compared to a studio apartment in Manhattan for $1250/month..but for a single mother already struggling on her's a little much.So, because this is cheap for those who already pay exorbitant prices in Manhattan, they venture out to Brooklyn. It used to be the less urban areas - Fort Green, Boerum and Clinton Hills. But, now the migration has shifted to place like Bed-Stuy, Flatbush, and my neighborhood, Crown Heights.

I understand that this is a free country and people can live where they want but for me and for most of the folks I know, I feel as though the outside world belongs to whites and that I am in their house with dirty sticky fingers and am not wanted there. It is a comfort to go home to people that look like me, act like me, and understand what I'm going through. I work in an environment that is not controlled by anyone that looks like me and am constantly fighting against the grain to do 10x more to get just a crumb of what they're getting. (I also face sexism - because my male counterparts make more $$ than me and do less work, and at times ageism...but this is another story.)Yet, I am told to swallow the it and be thankful for a job.

At UHA (University of Hartford, where I completed some college and owe a pile of money to), there were 6,000 students, 200 of them black. New England is not a nice place at times and the racial divide is apparent. I've seen the difference between white and black when in West Hartford, a predominantly white community where the school was located, there are winding driveways, huge colonial houses and in East Hartford, a predominantly brown neighborhood, there were literally shacks (in some areas), homelessness and the quality of life is clearly compromised. It made me wonder, are the two (East and West) only separated by train tracks (literally)? Is it skin color? Along with the New England chill, I experienced the shock of having some of my fellow classmates write a letter to the president of the school inquiring as to why there were so many monkeys on campus. Since my freshman year had the most brown students entering the school. The contents of the letter included other such derogatory words that boggled my mind and had me question my own safety. Yet, I adapted. I joined the rugby team. I wrote for the school newspaper. I worked a 24 hour week. I earned a satisfactory GPA, all the while struggling as I watched my roommate from New Hampshire (eek!) party from Tuesday through Saturday, barely scratch out a 2.5, and shop every weekend with her parent's money. What caused our divide? Was I so diligent because I knew that the burden of paying for close to everything lay on my shoulders or was it that I knew what I had to face in the classroom and in the boardroom were the same?

My experience at UHA in regard to the outrage at my presence is part of the basis of my resentment at the presence of whites in my neighborhood. It is a classic example. If a black person moves into a white neighborhood, they face some sort of hostility. (Do I have to take you back to that episode of Sex and the City when Blair Underwood as Dr. Robert Leeds was trying to get into Miranda's co-op and he was faced with lots of adversity. The only reason he got in was because Miranda fought for him...which leads me to another point but that's another post). When whites come into black neighborhoods, no one says anything. This takes make back (yet again) to the essence of what Malcolm X was saying with black nationalism and integration. Blacks look to white presence in their schools, communities, almost everywhere as validation. What are they validating? Us, as a people. That we matter and that we're the prettiest girl at prom or something. Even with early Malcolm, when he said that milk in coffee makes it weak, making it synonymous with blacks not strengthening their bond BEFORE allowing whites to creep in. Yes, we did have a great outpouring with the Jena6 but that's the only time we band together. What about on a smaller level in our neighborhoods?

Many argue with me that its not racism anymore...its classism. But, I argue back that these two are (essentially) the same.

Who do we see in the poorest of neighborhoods? Who are those displaced by natural disasters (i.e. Katrina) or environmental factors (i.e. gangs, drugs) because they cannot afford a way out?

With that said, I do understand the classism debate. But, excuse me if I don't buy into the whole "rags to riches", Horatio Alger, Honest Abe; anyone can make it if they try really really hard. You can't subtract white privilege from the equation. Yes, there are the Condoleezas and the Oprahs. But for each of them, there are 10 little black girls like myself with their nose on the grindstone trying to break through the glass ceiling at their lowly Midtown jobs that their not even passionate about but pays the rent(slight tangent there, my apologies).

It is true that neighborhoods change all the time. Gentrification works the other way as well. When prices fall people flock to a certain area because of this. There is a vast migration from NYC to New Jersey going on right now. Bushwick used to be a Jewish area before it was mainly Latino .Red Hook was Italian before it was home to many blacks. Its more of a mixed bag now.Neighborhoods take years to change completely. But, I want to hold on to something - my neighborhood - the places I've spent my childhood, the old woman next door who knew my family 10 years before I was born, and the boy turned man three doors down that I've had a crush on since adolescence. This is apart of who I am. This is what is important. This is home.

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