as you all know, I met up with erika anderson from this nytimes article last week. i went into the meeting super nervous. i’ve been bottling up all of my opinions about gentrification for a long time and had no idea how it would come out once I got in front of a white neighbor. for anyone that prayed for a joe louis – max schmeling showdown, sorry, it didn’t happen. erika was completely different than the article portrayed her and we had a great time. even though we didn’t have all of the answers (no sway), i left with a skip in my step and more clarity than ever about gentrification. the races are so busy fighting and writing thinkpieces bashing each other that none of us took the time to realize…we’re all getting screwed over.
articles and blog posts have long discussed how black residents are getting screwed by raising costs in rent, but there are other issues that have gone unnoticed. the beginning of my rambling to erika was about what these black neighborhoods mean to its locals and black gentrifiers. it got so good to me that i even teared up. my biggest dream as a child was to live in bed-stuy and be a cool girl like joie lee and nola darling. as i wrote here, having an address in the stuy was the pinnacle of personal success. lena horne was born in this neighborhood. the musicians, artists, and writers i looked up to growing up passed through these streets. bed-stuy is a testament to black excellence and i was proud to have my name aligned with that legacy. now with gentrification rearing its ugly head, the neighborhood i arrived in hours after my college graduation in atlanta is no more. it has been like having a front row seat to your favorite loved one slowly deteriorating from cancer.
now people will say things like, ‘but the neighborhood is cleaner!’ or ‘look how safe bed-stuy is these days!’. visiting brooklyn in the bad ol’ days as a child (i have family on utica avenue), i still found it to be the most beautiful place in the world and i had been across the pond twice by the age of 16. with new neighbors bringing in businesses like artisanal mayonnaise shops (that’s really a thing) as a way of ‘improving’ the neighborhood, i find it to be obnoxious and quite the slap in the face. when i moved here in 2007, i could go weeks without a dollar leaving my neighborhood. each one of my needs were met here without compromise or settling. with storefronts coming in that have no connection to our lifestyle, it becomes an ordeal for black neighbors to circulate their money within a ten block radius. for the businesses i do frequent, i’ve noticed quiet shifts that have them pandering to the new white neighbors. forget a slap in the face, when i heard that peaches market, the 90s r&b capital of bed-stuy, updated their playlist to only plain white tees and the like, it was a stab to the heart. the peaches empire (peaches hothouse, little brother bbq, bar at peaches) was built on the backs of black neighbors and now we can’t even enjoy our gumbo with gerald levert singing sweet nothings in our ears?
i have a big secret to share with you guys. it may be hard to believe, but trust me it’s true. ready? clutch your pearls.
the new white neighbors are getting screwed over too.
let that marinate. i feel the fire in your eyes, but hear me out. besides being a super sympathetic person and having these thoughts previously about white neighbors on my own, i have two real life examples to pull from. outside of erika, i’m currently walking alongside my friend kristin on her journey to find a new apartment. KP is staying in my guest room (we have fancy stuff like that in bk) and in helping her get a new place, i feel like i’ve stepped into the shoes of white gentrifiers. i’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but nyc has gotten expensive and we’re all too old to be couch surfing. that leaves one option; plop down wherever you can afford. my usual anti-gentrification response is, ‘stop whining and just get a second job to stay in the neighborhood you love and stop stinkin’ up my personal heaven!’. however, with five months of unemployment under my belt, i get how a second job may not always be an option.
so you land in crown heights, because that’s how far your dollars stretch, and you’re met with side eyes from all of the black neighbors. every time you leave your apartment, you are the poster child for the association for the deconstruction of brooklyn. besides your neighbors, blogs and print publications are hitting you with the guilty charge for eroding the culture of new york city. that has to be a terrible feeling especially if your burning desire to not be homeless took presidence over your burning desire to live next to that ethically-sourced coffee shop you love.
to make things worse, besides fellow white people charging you $13 for fresh pressed green juice, the mom’n’pop shops of your new black neighborhood are overcharging you. like all true inner-city kids, i have a close relationship with all of the staff at my local bodegas. two years ago, i noticed an organic bodega opened, replacing my beloved (black-owned) solomon’s porch restaurant. i go in to survey the scene and see my friend from the other bodega behind the counter. here’s how the convo went down:
bodega friend: heyyyy
me: ::screw face:: hey. what are you doing over here at this bodega yo?
bodega friend: come here. i have to whisper. listen, as you can see, the neighborhood is changing. ::points to unsuspecting middle aged white woman shopping:: the city is giving us money to open these ‘organic’ bodegas or re-do the ones we already have. we can charge them more than the bodega across the street because we have organic stuff and they don’t know any better. but don’t worry, you can pay regular price here. ::rings me up for $1 less than advertised price for a breakfast sandwich::
me: oh. ::head starts to spin::
he also shared that landlords see dollar signs written all over the ‘gullible’ white neighbors. when i first moved to bed-stuy, a palatial 1-bedroom would run about $900. once landlords got hip to the fact that whites were gladly paying $2,000 for significantly less space in manhattan, the average for a 1-bedroom now has risen to $1600. not knocking the landlord hustle, but it’s all at the expense of naïve white neighbors. taking it even further, white neighbors who aren’t exceptionally wealthy are just moving chess pieces in former mayor bloomberg’s plan to make nyc exclusively for the rich. you are priced out from neighborhood to neighborhood to just make space for a white person that is richer than you. here’s a visual.
now that i’ve leveled the playing field between races, check back next week to read my thoughts on how we can all make sparkling lemonade out of these soursour lemons the apple has given us.