Since apparently my many previous clarifications weren’t enough

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!

13 Responses to “Since apparently my many previous clarifications weren’t enough”

  1. 1 North

    First, I want to say that I totally agree with you about gentrification in many ways, and feel like I understand what you’re saying in general. There’s one place where I get stuck, which is the white folks who are “just out of college, damn my bills suck on my non-profit salary.” That was me for the last two years: I was working for a non-profit which paid me very little (in the range of $13,000/year for two years) and had me based in a major metropolitan area that’s going through a ton of gentrification. So what did I do? I lived in a neighborhood that was gentrifying extremely rapidly, where I could get a room in a house pretty cheaply, and contributed to the gentrification of the neighborhood with my two white college-educated roommates. I didn’t know much about gentrification then – I know a lot more now – so I didn’t feel particularly bad about it. Interestingly, I eventually got forced out of the neighborhood because my landlord sold the house for a lot of money and I couldn’t find anywhere I could afford; so I moved to a part-student neighborhood that’s also gentrifying, but more slowly, where I still live.

    That personal story is essentially all background. I bring it up so you know where I’m coming from. The issue, to me, is that non-profits are important: they provide a lot of really awesome services to all communities, and those services can be especially useful/important to low-income folks. I was working with high school and middle school students, and I feel really good about my impact there. There is no way I could have lived on the salary I was paid in a more expensive neighborhood. I could have moved out of the city, and in the process taken my business and income tax away from a city I love and which desperately needs them (much more than, say, NYC). I could have lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t gentrifying yet, and been the real advance force of gentrification. I don’t see a lot of other options. People who work for non-profits are often doing something important and good, and those non-profits often can’t survive if they pay recent college grads the kind of salaries those people could get in the business world. What are non-profit employees supposed to do? Yeah, a lot of us have more lucrative options, but if we take them, we’re at best doing nothing to make the world a better place, and at worst actively wrecking people’s lives. Basically, I don’t think the kind of demonization of people like that that I’ve heard thrown around (mostly not here, but it’s evoked by that dismissal of their financial issues) is fair. A lot of those folks are not trying to be hip or whatever: we/they are trying to do something useful, and trying to get by at the same time. The money problems are real.

  2. 2 Jack

    I’m running out the door and so my response has to be short, but I just wanted to clarify – I was kind of speaking about myself and folks like me with that sentence. I’m a non-profit worker, just a few years out of college, and don’t make tons of money. A few years back, when I was really fresh out of college, I made a lot less money. I still don’t really think that means being truly low-income, in a class status kind of way. My college education has afforded me a lot of upward mobility; I don’t have any kids or any huge financial responsibilities other than my student loans; I get to work a white collar, salaried job with health insurance.

    So, where I think that non-profit work is incredibly important (in fact, I don’t forsee myself doing any other kind of work), and I know that non-profit workers often have to scrape to get by, I still think there’s a difference between a college educated non-profit worker and a non-college-educated, low-income, working class person, especially someone with a family and other similar financial responsibilities.

    Hope that in my rushing that made sense!

  3. 3 North

    There’s a huge class status difference, especially in terms of upward mobility, long-term prospects, etc, and one of the things that leads to is people only living in gentrifying neighborhoods for a few years, which can be pretty disruptive to a neighborhood community if there are enough people doing it.

    I feel like I just keep getting stuck: I have to contribute to gentrification or move to a different place, neither of which is what I want to do.

    also, I think we went to college together.

  4. 4 Jack

    I think it’s really easy to feel stuck. These are really difficult issues without any simple or clear answers. Sometimes it reminds me of racism – a white person can’t just stop having prejudice and racial privilege, but they can do many things to fight racism, both internally and externally. It’s just a matter of figuring out what those things are.

    Heh… did you go to Swat, too?

  5. 5 Tenda

    Yeah, working at a nonprofit group with a college degree isn’t exactly lower class. I grew up lower class. I couldn’t and I still can’t dream of living in Manhattan. I was thinking about this. White people suck the soul and the culture right out of a neighborhood. Manhattan has no soul. Brooklyn is coming pretty damn close to having no soul.

  6. 6 Tenda

    Jack, I’m telling you though. White people will remove the soul from a neighborhood in their quest to find a soul. And the soul can’t be killed, because the soul is with the working class, the POC, the poor – so much of what made cities cities were these groups – and society will always have these groups. So if these groups have to move to some god forsaken suburb or exurb, then they’ll just do exactly what they did to the cities when the white people left – they made it a great place full of stories, full of soul, full of meaning. So fuck it – white people can have the city, and live like rats in their tall buildings, claiming the “culture” of coffee shops and sushi restaurants – until 30 or 40 years down the road, they’ll stop, and say, “where the fuck did all the minorities go? we came to this city for minorities!” and they’ll look at themselves and go, “well, this sucks.” Just like they did with the suburbs. Then they’ll go try to redefine themselves again and look for a soul elsewhere.

  7. 7 North

    sure did. I think I remember you riding your scooter around campus. I’m a couple years younger than you are.

  8. 8 Doyle Saylor

    Tenda writes;
    White people suck the soul and the culture right out of a neighborhood.

    Jack, I’m telling you though. White people will remove the soul from a neighborhood in their quest to find a soul. And the soul can’t be killed, because the soul is with the working class,

    I could say you are talking about class more than racism. It’s good to recognize gentrification wrecks neighborhoods. But class requires an over arching sense of commonality that white and black doesn’t imply. I just saw this stat once again. 1 billion people live on 1 dollar a day or ‘less’. 3.3 billion people live on 2 dollars a day or less.

    Everyone knows there are stupendous problems accumulating in the U.S. What’s astonishing is the sheer inertia on the part of people whose best interest is to change that. Part of that in my view is the difficulty most people see in uniting. That’s not ordinary people’s fault. It has more to do with the fringe who understand what’s wrong from rising.

    Iraq is a good example of why fringes hestitate. Far from being a disaster to the right in this country, the chaos is profitable. All that is bad is they can’t pick up the army for the next war. That is what the fringe faces here.

    You can’t complain for long without feeling helpless. What am I to do? An old friend of mine here in the San Francisco Bay Area works in Tenant Union organizing. So he has a sense that things can be done. If one million people followed his example then things would start moving in terms of solutions. One million people in 300 million is just a fringe. But that’s the scale of what it takes.
    Doyle Saylor

  9. 9 anonymous

    the author makes a lot of good points, but i think too much blame is unfairly cast on the white people who actually move into POC neighborhoods and not the overarching conditions that lead to such transitions. it’s very easy to point at the ohioan who rents an apartment in bushwick while ignoring the fact that said individual probably isn’t particularly wealthy and wouldn’t move into that neighborhood if they could afford to live somewhere else. let’s go macro here; when the average apartment in manhattan costs over a million bucks, the squeeze is coming from the top down. i’m a white dude who moved into crown heights three years ago (an area newly dubbed by realtors as prospect heights, of course) after being priced out of carroll gardens. to find a one bedroom i can afford, i’ll have to move further from downtown brooklyn, probably into bed-stuy. but i’m the bad guy trying to find a ludicrously overpriced apartment on $40,000 a year while the investment bankers and eurotrash who swarmed into manhattan escape unscathed?

  10. 10 G.Botto

    Tenda! Get a grip with the real world hun!

  11. 11 amanda

    I’m sort of surprised that redlining and de-industrialization aren’t part of this thread at all. At lot of black neighborhoods in New York City have been historically undervalued because of redlining. Undervalued is a funky term to use, but from an economists perspective, that is what it is–something besides supply and demand was keeping home prices artificially low. White homeowners could get mortgage insurance to cover rising home prices in white neighborhoods. Black homeowners couldn’t, and you can’t get a mortgage without mortgage insurance. So black homeowners couldn’t sell what they had and home prices stayed low, relative to comparable housing stock in white neighborhoods. Once there were formal laws against redlining, people black and white, could call it out and insist that banks insure mortgages in black neighborhoods. And with mortgage insurance came mortgages, came rapidly rising home prices, came more affluent neighbors who could afford to buy those homes, came high rents to pay the mortgages and real estate investors who saw the change coming and bought up rental properties.

    Keep an eye on the Fulton Mall if you want to understand the relationship between real estate interests and gentrification. I can’t drum up the statistics about the volume of business on the Fulton Mall, but it is one of the most vibrant, economically sucessful BIDs in the country, and despite the Jimmy Jazz and Forever 21, it is mostly small businesses that are doing business on the mall (selling Nike and Reebok and other big brand merchandise, so they aren’t *that* local) but they cater to a population that is already squeezed by rising rents. The Real Estate lobby wants some little cafes and boutiques so that they can turn vacant space around the mall into upscale condos and collect the high rents, but they are lying liars when they say that the mall as it is is economically troubled. It isn’t.

    There is more to gentrification than a bunch of trustfunded kids driving rents up.

    None of this has much to do with the racism inherent in talking about “frontiers” as though Bushwick was some kind of empty wasteland where no man had yet to roam, but it has a lot to do with why gentrification happens.

  12. 12 Gabriele

    I grew up white in the country in Oregon, in one of the most underfunded school districts in the state, where the poor were mostly white and (increasingly) latino. So my experience with urban issues didn’t come until after college. On my dirt road–made up of mostly 5 acre wooded plots with pastures–the family who lived in a trailer (and paid me $1.50 an hour to baby-sit their two kids) lived next to a family with a landscaped lawn. My own family–legally poor but educationally priveleged–existed in the middle of these extremes. I’m not sure why I bring this up except to point out that poor whites predominate more in rural areas, which is one reason why gentrification affects poor white families less.

    I suppose I also want to say that while I understand and agree with what Jack is saying about gentrification, it seems much less useful to blame young whites (however exceeding aggravating–and destructive–their presence might be) than to address, as some others have also mentioned, the issues that create cycles of gentrification in the first place. My best friend’s family was homeless for almost a year as a kid after her dad left. When her mother re-married and there was finally enough money to buy a house, they (a white family) bought in a poor white neighborhood (with a crack house nearby, and drug dealer on the corner). (Most poor neighborhoods in Portland 20 years ago were white, because Oregon was (and still is, though that is changing) overwhelmingly white. This, of course, is no coincidence, but a result of Oregon’s history of racism. Before the civil war, Oregon resolved the slavery question by barring all blacks from the state; after the war, Oregon continued to be actively unwelcoming to people of color. Most African Americans who moved to Oregon did so only during WWII, when they came to work in shipyards.) In any case, the neighborhood they moved in to ultimately gentrified because enough educated hippies moved there (forced there by higher house prices elsewhere in the city). And now their non-profit-job kids could certainly not afford to buy in that neighborhood. So children of that demographic (and *many* out-of-state college kids moving into the city) finally turned to the last ungentrified neighborhood, the African American section of town. I’m not sure exactly what I wanted to indicate with this story, except to emphasize that although gentrification is an economic cycle that is particularly destructive to the lives of poor people of color, it is a cycle that–this example seems to indicate–operates with or without race along class lines. So if any of us want to see communities remain intact, we have to address the underlying economic processes that drive this. Otherwise, it’s just being holier than thou, whether along racial lines, however justified by history, or other lines. As a native Oregonian many of my friends from working class families are constantly bemoaning the influx of priviledged white out of state kids destroying our communities. I do it too–all the time. But it’s ultimately just as annoying as hip people of color complaining about the privileged white kids who are (unquestionably) destroying their communities. And as ineffective.

    In some ways it seems to me that the shift that’s going on in Portland is just one of reversing the nodes: first, the rich wanted to live in the suburbs: now they’ve changed their minds and want to live in the city. The poor, who have no choice, must live wherever the rich prefer not to live. So if we want that to change: what are we going to do about it?

  13. 13 Michael

    Real-estate companies and governments (the parents) are the generals, yuppie white kids (the children) are the ground troops.

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