- MilbyDaniel: Iraq 101. MilbyDaniel pulls out some eye-opening facts from Mother Jones’ study, The Iraq Effect, which examines changes in Iraq and in the world since the invasion. Among the observations: since the start of the so-called War on Terror, the incidence of global “terrorism” has increased sevenfold. (“Terrorism” has to go in quotes since the label is applied so subjectively; you know, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter and all.)
- Jay Sennett: Transsexuality Is a Crime Per Se, on the recent decision in the Florida city of Largo to fire the city manager because she came out as trans. From one of the people who demanded her firing: “I do not feel he has the integrity, nor the trust, nor the respect, nor the confidence to continue as the city manager of the city of Largo.”
- Alas, A Blog: The Long Beach Beating Case and Race, in which Amp addresses comparisons that some have drawn between the Long Beach case (in which three white women were attacked, allegedly due to their race, by Black youth) and the case of Billy Ray Johnson (who was almost certainly attacked because of his race and disability by white men.)
- The Unapologetic Mexican: Overlords in Name and Deed – I’ve never written much about my experience of being arrested and jailed for – what was it, 46 hours? – during the RNC. But nezua’s done a good job of describing the experience and its implications here.
Archive for February, 2007
So, white people seem to get really, really angry when I write about gentrification, as evidenced through the many irate comments I’ve gotten, in which I’m called ignorant, racist, and “mean bitch,” amongst other things. I’ve left lots of those comments lingering in moderation for a while, because I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to give these people a space for their inane and often offensive rants, especially when I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to engage with them. But in the end, I’ve decided, what the hell, I’ll approve them. Especially because I have more readers nowadays who will maybe, hopefully help me respond to the bullshit every once in a while? (If interested, you can find the most recent mindblowingly-asinine rant on the “postmodern hipster colonists suck” post, courtesy of Lilly.)
However, sometimes these posts still generate really good comments. I wanted to highlight a recent one here, not just because I appreciate the insight, but also because I think it’s important to foreground the experiences of people who are more directly impacted by gentrification (I’m a NYC transplant from Jersey, and, I’ll be honest, am more of a contributor to gentrification than a victim of it.) Here’s part of what Ebony wrote:
I am from New York City. My mother was born and raised in Harlem in Drew Hamliton Projects. If you are from New York you know where Drew Hamilton is. I am disgusted with the invasion of white people in Harlem. I am not racist but I am proud of Harlem. I like the idea of segregation in Harlem. It’s not Harlem without black people, the same goes for New Orleans. White people have every neighborhood from A street to 96th street as well as Inwood. Why do they need Spanish Harlem, Harlem, and Washington Heights. These people can live anywhere in the 5 boroughs but choose to move to Harlem. They treat this area as if it was nothing before they got there, as if people didn’t reside in this area prior to them moving in. They don’t understand the value of this area.
Read the rest of the comment here.
The part that I’ve emphasized is an excellent description of what seems to be a very prevalent attitude amongst gentrification’s beneficiaries: the notion that these neighborhoods were relatively worthless, uninhabited wastelands until the gentrifying classes moved in.
I was treated to some great examples of this attitude a couple of weeks ago on The Leonard Lopate Show, a radio program on WNYC (a local NPR station.) The segment, “How To Be a Good Tourist,” was a conversation between Lopate, two NYC journalists, and callers about NYC neighborhoods, cultural institutions, restaurants and other locations that are often missed or overlooked by tourists and residents alike. They got to talking about certain neighborhoods that have historically been overlooked and have “changed” (what a euphemism!) in recent years, as well as neighborhoods that are about to “change.” Here’s some of the conversation, with emphasis and commentary added:
Rosemary Black: I think [the city] is constantly changing… Just a few years ago, the Meatpacking District was quite desolate and nobody would ever go over there unless they were trying to get to the West Side Highway or something…
Leonard Lopate: And it smelled bad, because of all of the blood that was on the street, the sidewalk…
RB: Exactly. And now it’s just filled with trendy restaurants and clubs and bars and you walk over there at night and it’s just teeming with people, and these places are hard to get into, there’s some really nice places over there… it’s completely different from what it used to be. And the same really with the Lower East Side; if you think about what the Lower East Side was like fifteen years ago and you walk over there now, it’s like being in a whole different city.
A whole different city, indeed. A much whiter, richer, less-immigrant-populated city, as the East Village continues to encroach on Loisaida (see the linked Wikipedia entry for a good description of the changes she’s referencing.)
LL: Now, why do you think a neighborhood suddenly takes off like that?
Melena Ryzik: Well, it starts with the low rents. That’s the key thing –
LL: Big spaces and low rents.
MR: Exactly, exactly. And of course I think there’s also the idea for New Yorkers that you want to be the first person to discover something, so there’s a certain cache in having been maybe the first person or the first set of people living over on the Meatpacking district side of things.
Again with this colonialist, pioneer mentality. Because it’s not as if people haven’t been living in these areas for decades now; maybe just not the people that count for much of anything except a novelty and a provider of “exotic” foods to these folks.
LL: Do you think that the South Bronx is likely to change when the new Yankee Stadium opens in a few years?
RB: I think there’s a good chance, everything changes! Places that we wouldn’t have thought a few years ago would be completely different are totally changed around, and safe, and getting to be desirable places to live, so I think there’s a good chance of it.
Who’s the “we” in this entire conversation? Can we assume that it’s white folks with money? Because there’s been a whole lot of folks living in the South Bronx for a long time now – and some of them have thought it a “desirable” place to live all along, despite obvious problems like economic depression and neglect.
Of course, they eventually get to talking about Williamsburg and Bushwick:
LL: And Melena, you say it’s all about rent, because rents are so high in certain areas that people have to constantly go and make new areas popular?
MR: That’s right. You mentioned Williamsburg; you know, that was one of the areas that artists first started moving into when they started moving out of Manhattan, and now that place is full, that neighborhood is full of, you know, million dollar condos, so those kind of people are getting pushed further and further out into Bushwick, which means that there are now great restaurants and bars and places to go to in Bushwick, although not as easy to get to.
Yup. It doesn’t mean that the entire face of the neighborhood is changing; it doesn’t mean that low-income Latinos are getting priced-out, evicted and displaced. No, the important thing here is one of the most economically-depressed and neglected areas of the city is getting some nice restaurants and bars and places to go, not for the long-time residents, but for the sake of the moneyed newcomers who are being “pushed out” of Williamsburg, the last area that they “discovered” and made their own. What about the people who those artists helped to push out of Williamsburg, and who they’ll now help push out of Bushwick, too? Apparently, those displaced people aren’t even worth a mention.
Sometimes, when I’m off on someone else’s blog debating something or another, I get a bit anxious because I’m spending a whole lot of time there instead of right here. At times, I also wind up writing comments of such substance that I think they’re worth reposting here on ABB. So, to allay my anxiety and bring my outside writings here, I’m going to start posting about debates, discussions, and arguments in which I’m participating on other folks’ blogs, drawing out a few choice comments and posts to put up here. In addition to generating some much-needed content here (whew!), this even has the added benefit of giving other bloggers (and fellow commenters) props and linkage.
So, to begin: Ampersand at Alas, a Blog recently posted about a New York Times article regarding race and attitudes around same-sex marriage. In the post, Amp asks, “So why are blacks more likely to oppose SSM — and gay sex — than whites?” Discussion ensues. I chime in:
Conversations like this about the racial nature of homophobia always make me nervous, because they often turn into a whole lot of white or other not Black folks hypothesizing about what makes Black folks tick. And that’s never a fun path to go down.
Not that such phenomena should be ignored; I just think it’s a lot more productive and a lot less prone to awfulness for communities of color to talk internally about how to deal with their community’s homophobia.
I also think that it’s important to note that, while these statistics may be true, the politicians and legislators who actually wield the most clout in determining what rights queer folks do or do not get are, for the most part, a bunch of white men. So maybe, statistically, a larger percentage of Black folks believe homosexuality is wrong and are against queer marriage, but that smaller white percentage probably has a lot more power to doing anything about it, at least on a legislative level.
I think the key thing here for me is the racial power dynamic going on when/if white people begin discussing why Black straight people, not just straight people in general, are homophobic. The conversation shifts from a discussion about straight people discriminating against queer people to one about Blackness itself, and whenever you’ve got white folks making assumptions, speculations, and pronouncements about Black people, you’re almost guaranteed to get some racism seeping in there, whether overt or subtle.
Another thread of the conversation focused on making distinctions (rather dubious ones, in my opinion) between moral disapproval of homosexuality and homophobia. One commenter, RonF, writes:
My point is that people are taking a term with an agreed-upon meaning and are using it to try to change the viewpoint of what other people are saying. Yes, homophobia is being used to refer to anti-gay bigotry. But it’s also being used to refer to other things as well in an attempt to make anything that’s even mildly dissaproving of homosexual behavior to look like anti-gay bigotry or worse.
I suppose that it’s possible for someone to believe that homosexual behavior is morally wrong and yet not be homophobic/heterosexist/whatever word will get you past your semantic quibbles.
However, far too often, those moral judgments lead to actual discrimination against and oppression of queer people, not limited to physical violence. (And, by the way, I find your reference to the “stringing up” of Matthew Shepherd to be rather insensitive, coming from you.)
Many people use their Christian faith as justification for their disapproval of homosexuality. And many of those people will act on that disapproval in pushing for legislation to ban state-sanctioned gay marriage, gay adoption, domestic partner benefits, etc.
However, that very same Christian faith also strongly disapproves of premarital sex and divorce, amongst other things related to sexuality and relationships. And yet, I don’t see those Christians rallying to restrict state-sanctioned marriage to virgins who have never been married before, or to bar people from adopting if they’ve had premarital sex. People who have sex before marriage and divorcees are not singled out as classes of people to be barred from partaking fully in society’s institutions, whereas queer people are indeed singled out for their sexual orientations and activities.
Therein lies the homophobia, therein lies the heterosexism. It’s not because homosexual behavior is prohibited in the Bible; tons of activities in which heterosexuals partake on a regular basis are similarly prohibited and deemed immoral, but you don’t see anyone trying to take away those heterosexuals’ rights. This isn’t about faith or morality, really; it’s about continued prejudice and discrimination against queer people.
FEMA Gives $3 Million to Restore Jefferson Davis’ Home
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pay about three million dollars to help repair the former home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Davis led the Confederacy in the South during the Civil War. Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the 150-year-old home in Biloxi Mississippi.
New Orleans Public Housing Residents Fight For Homes
In New Orleans, low-income residents are still fighting to prevent their homes from being demolished. On Saturday some residents of the Central City public housing complex defied government orders and moved back into their old apartments. The city is planning to demolish four large public housing developments even though tens of thousands of low-income New Orleans residents remain displaced.
So. While tens of thousands of low-income residents of New Orleans, most of whom are Black, remain homeless, and while the vast majority of New Orleans homeowners haven’t seen a dime of that vast amount of money supposedly dedicated to helping them rebuild, FEMA is setting aside a whole huge chunk of change to rebuild the house of the man who served as president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
While structurally viable public housing is being demolished (to make way for what, and for whom, we must ask), and while the low-income Ninth Ward still looks much like it did directly after the storm (though I hear the tourist-friendly French Quarter is looking quite well these days), and while thousands upon thousands of people remain scattered and displaced, FEMA is making sure that a monument to man who was at the fore of one of the darkest times in american history is fully restored.
I’m willing to bet that the Jefferson Davis home will see their $3 million in rebuilding funds far before most of the residents of New Orleans see even a fraction of that in federal funds.
Shall we gather, then, that the former home of a long-dead white man who lead the Confederacy in fighting for the continued enslavement of Black people is perhaps more important to FEMA and the rest of this government than the current homes of thousands of the living descendants of those who he wished to keep enslaved?
* FYI: This post’s title is in reference to Bush’s heartwarming demonstration of concern for one of the few hurricane victims about whom he actually gave a damn – Senator Trent Lott: “Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house — he’s lost his entire house — there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.”
I’m sure that most everyone has already heard about Sen. Joseph Biden’s inspired description of Sen. Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” As if we needed yet another ignorant white presidential candidate. Less reported was that the current ignorant white president made similar remarks on Fox News, describing Obama as attractive and articulate.
Much has been written about the incident and the true meaning of those words, both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere (which I’ve been too busy to keep tabs on lately, so I unfortunately won’t be linking to any of the wise words that I’m sure my favorite bloggers have written on the topic.) Today I read two good pieces on the incident; from the New York Times, ” The Racial Politics of Speaking Well,” and another spotted on the blackfolk LiveJournal Community, entitled “An Inarticulate Kickoff.”
Both articles discuss how the frequent labeling of certain Black folks as “articulate” belies racist undertones. First, it indicates a certain degree of surprise that a Black person is intelligent or well-spoken – as if this is an anomaly, rather than something as commonplace as, say, a white person possessing the same qualities. As Reginald Hudlin, president of entertainment at BET, is quoted in the NY Times article, “It’s like an educated black person is a rare sighting, like seeing a spotted egret. We’re viewed as a fluke. How many flukes simply constitute reality?” (A spotted egret! Gotta love it.)
The articles also discuss how the “articulate” label is reserved only for Black folks who are not just well-spoken, but well-spoken in a very particular way. From the Times:
… such distinctions discount as inarticulate historically black patterns of speech. “Al Sharpton is incredibly articulate,” said Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. “But because he speaks with a cadence and style that is firmly rooted in black rhetorical tradition you will rarely hear white people refer to him as articulate.”
And from the piece by Eugene Robinson:
What’s intriguing is that Jackson and Sharpton are praised as eloquent, too — both men are captivating speakers who calibrate their words with great precision. But neither is often described as, quote, articulate. Apparently, something disqualifies them.
I realize the word is intended as a compliment, but it’s being used to connote a lot more than the ability to express one’s thoughts clearly. It’s being used to say more, even, than “here’s a black person who speaks standard English without a trace of Ebonics.”
The word articulate is being used to encompass not just speech but a whole range of cultural cues — dress, bearing, education, golf handicap. It’s being used to describe a black person around whom white people can be comfortable, a black person who not only speaks white America’s language but is fluent in its body language as well.
And the word is often pronounced with an air of surprise, as if it’s an improbable and wondrous thing that a black person has somehow cracked the code. I can’t help but think of the famous quote from Samuel Johnson: “Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
I’ve had quite a few of my own experiences with being labeled exceptional or articulate in a such a way that the words “… for a Puerto Rican,” though left unsaid, came through loud and clear. The first such incident that I remember came in high school, when a white acquaintance was thoroughly surprised to hear that I was Puerto Rican, because I didn’t sound like other Puerto Ricans she’d encountered. When I asked what she meant, she said something to the effect of “you know, you sound smart.” My budding racial consciousness was offended, but I more saddened to hear almost the exact same thing from a coworker at McDonald’s a few years later – this time, another woman of color.
My mother, who was born in Puerto Rico and was poor for much of her life, likes to jokingly say that she’s a “smart Puerto Rican,” usually in response to some ignorant white jerk acting the racist fool towards her. The joke relies on “smart” and “Puerto Rican” being somehow contradictory. She’s always been extremely insistent that I learn “proper English, discouraging any slang or “street talk,” correcting me every time I said “yeah” instead of “yes” and whenever she thought she heard me leave the “be” off of “because.” It wasn’t enough that I knew the rules of English grammar and could speak and write within those rules when in an academic or work setting; it was a constant requirement, even in casual speech.
I never sounded anything like cousins my age, whose parents weren’t similarly obsessed and couldn’t afford to send them to private school, like my parents could. Language was among many things that created a cultural gulf between me and them, that made me something of a weirdo in my family. My mother was indeed raising me to be fluent in white America’s language, both the spoken language and the body language, because to her, that was the key to my success.
And was she wrong? Probably not. When it came time for college interviews and applications, and later, job interviews, none of my abundant nervousness was about my ability to speak or write; I know that I can talk the talk, and talk it well.
However, in cracking the code of white America, I think there’s also a great deal to be lost. I’m fluent in “standard” English, but when it comes to Spanish, I’m left struggling to express myself. I can understand a great deal, though with some effort, but I can’t speak very well at all, despite it being my family’s native tongue, and despite having studied it for four years in high school and a semester in college. Usually, I’m too ashamed at my lack of skill to even attempt to speak Spanish to Latino strangers. When I meet a white person who can speak Spanish better than me, that shame and frustration becomes tinged with anger. And that feeling of being the weirdo of the family never quite went away (though being a politicized, butch, raging homo might have something to do with it, too.) Class, education, and cultural differences all add up to a significant amount of privilege that most of my family – and far too many Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and people of color in general – will never be able to access.
But while that privilege affords me many an opportunity and many a comfort, it comes at a price: a distance, a disconnection, a weirdo status. I’ve got all sorts of deep down insecurities about being perceived as “too white” and “not Puerto Rican enough” by other people of color. The racism that we’ve internalized tells us that to be highly educated, upwardly mobile, and well versed in the rules of English grammar is to be white, or at least closer to white; that these are things that are not really meant for us; that, if we possess or attain these things, we have in fact lost a little of ourselves, our authenticity, our connection to our people. And mostly, that’s just racist bullshit meant to keep us down; but in another, sad way, because of a certain trade off that can exist between cracking the code and preserving your ties to your culture and your people, it’s true.