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Monday, June 25, 2012

DC Gentrifiers: Cut the Christopher Columbus Act

How about those Miami Heat, tho? 

Stories of gentrification in DC have been shared via local, national and international news. Don't act like you're surprised to be reading about it. 

Before ya'll get your panties in a bunch, just know I chose to paint gentrifiers with a broad brush because I felt like it. I used the same paint brush people use to paint pictures suggesting only black people commit crimes. Is this a racial issue? Theres an elephant in the room who says it is. Share any concerns with my choice in the comment section. 

Don't bother trying to read between the lines and wondering where I'm going with this let me spell it out for you: Gentrifiers are too damned disrespectful. Yea, I just said that. Oh, you mad? 

Non-colored people have a history of hostile takeovers. How the hell did Christopher Columbus "discover" America when there were people already living here? In order for something to be discovered, it must first be lost. Columbus had the nerve to claim he discovered a place and then enslave the natives. Yea I just went there. Now, why would you expect anything different from Columbus' bloodline? Its what they do. By they, I mean "people who gentrify." By "people who gentrify" we all know I'm not talking about *my* people. 

I don't have a problem with gentrification. Gentrification brings resources. I'm all for having a new yoga studio, dry cleaner and fresh food market in my community. Crime is reduced. Parks are better maintained. Streets are clean. Empty lots are now bustling businesses. Restaurant options have improved. I like all of that. 

My issue is with crass gentrifiers: The people who come into an EXISTING neighborhood and act like they discovered it. Christopher Columbus. "Oh I found this cute little part of town the other day. They're building new high rise condos over there. All they need is a dog park and a yoga studio and it would be a perfect place for us to raise our family!" A lot of damn nonsense. 

In DC, gentrification has put lifelong African-Americans in competition with a population of affluent white and Hispanic  newcomers. It has left some African Americans feeling forced out and resentful. After some have lived in DC for three generations, they wonder whether they have a place in DC. Since gentrification was kicked into high gear the flavor of the city has slowly changed. DC is no longer "Chocolate City." The city lost its majority African American population for the first time in 2011-approximately 51 years after it became the first city to have a majority black population.
Gentrifiers move in with one message for current residents: You're in the way.  They treat existing residents  like they won't be around much longer. To hell with the retiree who has been living in the her house for over 50 years because it is in your best interests for her to sell. Nevermind existing churches, just start your own. Nevermind existing neighborhood customs, just create your own. None of the information about the existing is relevant beyond pointing out more things to change. They swoop in with a vision and a determination to stomp out anyone who gets in the way. Like I said, disrespectful. 

Instead of getting to know their neighbors, they look past them. Don't try to tell me I'm wrong.  I've seen the looks. I read the listserv bullsh*t.  I know what they're saying. Bunch of cowards hiding behind syntax, spelling errors and a caps lock. Those same cowards wouldn't make eye contact with me on the street. I've seen the talks of "us" vs "them." Don't try to come at me with your racism accusations and don't even think about telling me to cut the "my black is under attack" argument. Save it. Their attitude is NOT positive and it only fosters more tension. "It won't be much longer that I have to deal with these people." I like my neighborhood and I don't want the character of it to change. I like having a neighbor I can ask to house sit without it being awkward. I like having a neighbor who will remind me to move my car on street cleaning days. That is what a neighborhood is about.

"Where did all these white people come from?" I heard an old head ask that on U street the other day. I responded, "DC is a trendy and desirable city now and that means young hipsters are going to move in and shape the city to be how they like it." I could see the heartbreak in his eyes. DC is changing and he knows the changes won't help his people. 

The "target" for gentrification is almost always a traditionally African-American area. Areas like Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and U Street have fallen like dominoes in recent decades, with whites and Hispanics moving in. The next target? H Street. It has been cast as the next Georgetown. There are plans to spend absurd amounts of money building luxury amenities in the area while the education system continues to fail its students. Gentrifiers spend time praising the "changes" while the stories of the brown and black people they force out fall on deaf ears as "unwarranted complaints." 

Gentrifiers, listen up: I know some of you don't give a rat's ass about the awful reputation you have. I'm not talking to you. I'm talking to the people who still have a sense of compassion and decency. The people who were raised to "love thy neighbor." Isolating residents who were there when you "found" the  area is obnoxious. Improvements need to be inclusive. Instead of coming in and dubbing everything in the community inadequate, take time to learn the history behind the community. Changing a community "for the better" while making current residents feel inadequate to a point where they are forced out of their homes is unacceptable. 

If you plan on moving into a neighborhood, take time to get to know that neighborhood's personality. Neighborhoods can't be described in a nutshell. U Street is not Bloomingdale. Bloomindale is not Adams Morgan. Adams Morgan is not Dupont Circle. Dupont Circle is not like Friendship Heights. Friendship Heights is not like...well you get it. Before you move in and try to make everything fit to you, consider adapting to the neighborhood. Join the civic association. Attend the local church. Read the neighborhood newsletter. Get to know your neighbors.  

Alls I'm saying...

Full Disclosure: I moved to DC in 2008. I am a native Floridian. DC Natives consider me a gentrifier. Oh, the hypocrisy! 

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