I’ve seen a lot of responses to my posts on gentrification, both in comments here and on other blogs, that question why I don’t want white people moving into poor neighborhoods of color. Some people wonder if I’m endorsing a kind of self-imposed segregation; some ask whether it’s not good that white people move in, since then a neighborhood finally gets paid attention by politicians and the distributors of public services, and isn’t it good that the neighborhoods are getting “better?” Some people wonder why I’d be against the diversification of a neighborhood (because, of course, the whole point of diversity is that white people are around, too…er…) Some folks wonder why I’m generalizing white folks, since some of those white people moving in might be good white folks who are anti-racist and anti-gentrification. Some people even go so far as to call me racist, since clearly, this is because I’m anti-white.
I felt like I clarified this before in “more thoughts on gentrification,”, but I’ll try again:
If white people were moving into poor neighborhoods of color and had no negative effect on the low-income people of color living there, it would not be a problem. The problem with gentrification is that the white folks who are moving in most often bring real negative effects to the low-income people of color. The primary negative effects are forced displacement – people having to move out of their homes or the neighborhood against their will – due to drastically rising rents and immoral (and often illegal) landlord methods like forced evictions and cut-off services; and the gradual erosion of the neighborhoods’ ethnic culture – businesses, restaurants, social organizations, etc – that the community has built up over time, to be replaced by more mainstream, white, middle-class culture.
Can I make it any more clear, people? I’m not just arbitrarily anti-white. I’m not just trying to preserve neighborhoods that are POC-only for the hell of it, because I don’t like the look of those white people or because their music annoys me or something. It’s because, so often in gentrifying neighborhoods, an influx of white folks is a harbinger of real, concrete, negative impacts on low-income people of color.
Something else that has come up, that is far less annoying than the questions above, is the question about low-income white folks and their involvement, culpability, and experience of gentrification. As a general response: I know less about the effect of gentrification on poor white neighborhoods, but I’m sure it happens, as gentrification is equally about class as it is about race. However, race and class are so entwined in this country, and people of color are disproportionately poor, so it’s something of an impossibility (for me at least) to talk about gentrification and not talk about race, especially since in NYC I most often see gentrification occuring in POC neighborhoods, not by any coincidence. However, I am familiar with the gentrification that has gone on in parts of Williamsburg that used to be largely working-class Polish, and that’s quickly sweeping into Greenpoint as well. There, some of the same things have happened – an immigrant, working-class community’s culture is being eroded, bit by bit, to make room for more mainstream (meaning middle-class) white culture; people are forced out of their neighborhood; the whole feel and face of the neighborhood changes. However, I’d venture to say that the effects and methods of gentrification are different in Greenpoint than they are in, say, Bushwick, or even south Williamsburg (which might still be predominantly Latino, at least for now.) For one, white people in the area can’t be seen as a sign that the neighborhood is “up and coming;” there, I think it would be the presence of certain kinds of white folks (younger, richer, not immigrants, etc).
Folks have also asked about the culpability of low-income white folks. They, too, can’t afford high rents. If they live in NYC, the only way they might be able to afford to do so is to live in neighborhoods of color.
If people are truly low-income – meaning, not just “barely out of college, damn my bills suck on my non-profit salary” like me, but really, truly, struggling – then they need to live where they need to live and do what they need to do in order to make it. I’m not going to try to assign blame to folks when they’re doing as well as they can; I’m also not about to pass judgement on any low-income folks because, frankly, that would be seriously fucked up of me. However, I do think that low-income white folks can still have a negative involvement with gentrification, because of the whole thing where having some white folks in a neighborhood makes it “safer” and more appealing to other, richer white folks, who then move in and displace the low-income white folks right along with the low-income people of color. I don’t that one’s lack of class privilege erases one’s racial privilege and the negative effects thereof.
Sigh. Why I am up at 8:30am on a Saturday writing this, I do not know. All I got up to do was check the weather to see if I’d wind up going to the Dyke March after all! (And by the way, this weekend’s weather SUCKS, especially for Pride weekend! Hmm, maybe god does hate fags. Kidding folks, kidding.) And then I wound up here, writing this! I am obsessed with this blog. Help!