Hey white folks – it’s time to get really mad at me again!

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.

34 Responses to “Hey white folks – it’s time to get really mad at me again!”

  1. 1 rabi

    well said, jack. that idea of being the “first” people in a “new” neighborhood really is horrific. can’t decide it if makes me embarassed to be white, a new yorker, a human, or all of the above.

    I recognize the shaky ground I am on by saying this — not just because I’m white but because my family was poor because of my parents’ conscious choices, not societal inequity — but I do feel sad sometimes about the gentrification of my childhood neighborhood (hell’s kitchen). it was where my irish-immigrant grandmother grew up, and of course it wasn’t particularly irish in the eighties, but it still felt like a place for working class people and immigrants. and it did have its (drug, gang, crime, arson, whatever) problems, like the whole city, but it was a pretty great neighborhood.

    anyway, all that is really just to say that I can’t imagine how much it sucks to have a neighborhood like harlem, which has a way deeper and richer cultural history and DOES belong to black people (I think), taken over by outsiders just because they have money.

  2. 2 Hypatia


  3. 3 emily

    blech. that entire language of discovery is so awful. add me to the list of white people who aren’t mad at you.

    i’m watching some of these dynamics in my neighborhood in brooklyn, but from a very different lens, because where i live is white and working class/lower middle class. the fact that the people in this neighborhood have white priviledge, and the economic powers that derive from it, have given them an opportunity to keep the neighborhood from totally going over to developers and interlopers like, well, me. unlike other people, who don’t have a position from which to keep their neighborhoods ‘theirs.’

    another part of this dynamic about this is that more and more immigrants, esp. south asian muslims, are moving into the neighborhood, though not so many on my block. i can’t tell yet if there are issues between the white folks and the new non-white folks–this matters to me since i like the neighborhood, especially its new diversity, and want to put down roots somewhere with a mix of folks if that’s possible. right now it seems like there are parallel communities living in the same neighborhood, without real mixing. but, like i said, not yet clear to me.

    it’s also not clear if white, middle-class, young renters like me and my ilk are being used by residents/property owners of the neighborhood to keep it a white neighborhood–it’s possible, but i don’t have actual proof, and i don’t want to make accusations about racism at that level without having some proof, especially since i generally like my neighbors.

    perhaps someone who knows more about nyc history than me can help: who was living in the meatpacking district before it became ‘cool?’ i had some notion that it used to be all actual meatpacking–and then that stopped, and then there was a pause, and then came the cool. but what happened during that pause?

  4. 4 Eddie

    I think that you paint with too broad strokes. First of all, you paint a fairly monolithic and monochromatic picture of the neighborhood. I personally know many “outsiders” (aka italians, poles, irish, etc., etc., who have lived in various “ethnic” communities” for many many years. Should they be “relocated”. I recently moved to Hamilton Heights because there is a community there. Am I an interloper? Have I displaced “rightful” owners of the privilege to reside there? Pride in a community is meaningless unless that community itself takes pride in the community. One can argue forever whether landlord’s are the cause for the considerable amount of blight in the “hood”.

    These are not simple issues. Gentrification is one thing. The enemy here is speculative real estate investment. If you want a real enemy to the community, then go after Columbia, but then there’s that dual edged sword, viz. Columbia does provide good employment for many local residents.

    The solution to gentrification is not to exclude anyone who wishes to move to and participate in a community based on sex, race or religion, but to organize the community to stop the predatory real estate practices.

    It’s simply much to easy to point to convenient straw men/women and blame them.

    And remember, history is a cruel midwife, and in the older days only “the right kind of people” could live in certain sections of Harlem. Is classism any more respectable than racism or gentrificationism.

    And finally, lets be honest, that necessity is the mother of invention: Aside from wanting to live in a true residential neighborhood, my criteria for finding an apartment included affordability and space so that my son would have a nice home.

    It’s always easy to deal with abstractions, but there are a lot of good people (non-natives, dare I say “white”) who aren’t investment bankers or rich people or gentrifiers that have moved to the neighborhood. And it’s people, not buildings, that make a neighborhood worth living in.

  5. 5 az

    Amen, by two. I’m kind of agog that you’ve been getting hatemail comments about your anti-gentrification posts.

    The exclusivitiy of that ‘we’ (ie, “No-one lived here before we came along’) really reminds me that this whole problem of gentrification is about value. Before ‘everyone’ moves in, those places have no value for the yuppies; after and during, it’s all about a process of adding value to the neighbourhood. But the value that’s being added is totally racialised to begin with — it’s about how many white people live somewhere, enough so that other rich white people can feel safe, like they have power in numbers. (Cafes and restaurants come later, usually.) It’s really gross. This is why it’s true, as Eddie says, that the people moving into those neighbourhoods aren’t necessarily rich investment bankers. But Eddie, this is all part of the same process. People with racial privilege who aren’t wealthy usually constitute the first wave of gentrification — the shift from an ‘ethnic’ enclave to a ‘bohemian’ one is the first step in value-adding.

  6. 6 Amadis Sotelo

    I stumbled onto your blog. It is down. As a Chicano law student passionate about housing from a Central LA barrio which is now being gentrified like crazy and now living in Oakland, which to me is an amazingly unique Chocolate (and brown, yellow, and bearded/hairy white too) cool ass city–but like so many similar places, under attack, I am very interested and concerned about this thing we call gentrification. I never been to NYC. But ever since a kid, I’ve wanted to go. Seeing it in movies like da French Connection, Goodfellas, Radio Days, Crooklyn, it seems amazing in its history and unique ass ethnic mix. I only hope the NYC of Joe Bataan, Malcolm X, Cosa Nostra, Willie Bobo, etc etc will still be left when I get there. Keep up your good work. As a busy married student, I don’t have time for a blog, but I admire yours immensely for the quality of the writing and more. Keep up the firme work.

    Con respeto,


  7. 7 Rilee Morgan

    I hope I can say what I want to say without rambling. I don’t know a lot about this, and I’m just some white girl living in NYC. Currently, my girlfriend (who is also white) and I live in an almost entirely Hispanic area of Sunset Park. Neither of us has any kind of college degree; the rent is more or less at the upper limit of what we can afford, and should we decide to renew our lease in a month, it will rise by $100. I like this area; people are friendly, our apartment is cramped but pretty comfortable, and while I can’t always reliably find things like fresh produce or certain spices nearby or at good prices, I am close enough to bus and subway transportation to make getting around relatively hassle-free. But we can’t afford a rent increase. So, we have been looking in places like Bushwick and Williamsburg, Prospect Park et al. Now, I have no idea if they have good cafes or restaurants in those neighborhoods, and I don’t care; aside from the fact that I don’t understand why someone who wanted to go to cafes and restaurants would need to live near them if they were a short subway ride from some of the trendiest parts of Manhattan, we also just can’t really afford to go out to eat. But we have found rents in those neighborhoods that are significantly cheaper, and would allow us to save up some money to go back to school.

    Is that wrong? Should I not be considering living there? I don’t want to be invasive of or to be perceived as an invader of any ethnic or racial safe havens, and I don’t want to contribute to rising rents or the displacement of lower-income people and families, either. But we need to find a cheaper apartment. I am not sure what I should be doing, exactly? Sticking with other white people in primarily white neighborhoods? Refusing to racially intermingle and choosing neighborhoods by their racial composition?

    I guess part of what is throwing me off is statements like “white people have this neighborhood and that neighborhood,” because while I know it to be true in the sense that most neighborhoods are going to be most welcoming to white people–or at least to people with money, who are far more likely to be white–and I know it to be true in that, without certain safe havens, many non-white and generally lower-income people end up forced into other neighborhoods, which become the new shitty places to live. I know this. But I don’t want to “have” a neighborhood as a white person. I mean that I am not playing on Team White in an aggressive real estate strategy game. I’ve never felt uncomfortable as the only white girl in a town full of black folks or latinos; I understand the reasons why these communities are often relatively monolithic; I can generally assume a variety of reasons for the ethnic makeup of this community, none of which am I going to blame on the community’s residents. But if I am in a community in America that is almost entirely white, I can generally assume that it is white because it is racist, classist, or more likely: both. So in which kind of community should I feel most comfortable and best able to contribute something as a resident and citizen?

    I was wrong: I couldn’t write this without rambling. And I hope none of it seemed confrontational or angry, because it wasn’t meant to be confrontational, and I’m not angry. But I am confused, and as someone who respects your consistently thoughtful ideas, I am asking your opinion.

  8. 8 Barbara

    I’m white and I’m not mad at you either. I think gentrification is a tough subject, everyone ought to be able to live wherever, but still, the assumed privilege radiating from these people is sickening. Everyone not like them is rendered invisible by its glow.

  9. 9 occam

    I feel you generally but this:

    These people can live anywhere in the 5 boroughs but choose to move to Harlem.

    … just is not true.

    I don’t know about you, but where I live is a choice that is severely constrained by my economic situation. Last time I checked the listings, I didn’t see that many choices at all.

    Hate gentrification? Fight for rent control, affordable housing, and privatization.

  10. 10 KH

    Nobody’s proposing that anybody’s freedom of movement be infringed. So move on in if you want. But there are real issues. They’re complicated by being partly collective action problems: no single gentrifier makes much difference, but when a lot of them do the same thing, they can destroy long-settled communities, at high cost to others. It involves what are called negative externalities: if a bunch of gentrifiers buys into a neighborhood, the sellers get paid, but the neighbors, third parties, may be hurt by the loss of community, & their welfare isn’t counted. If the amount of money it would take to compensate these other people – to make them indifferent to the gentrification – were added to the cost of the transaction, if prices reflected the true social cost of gentrification, there’d be a lot less of it.

    Second, it’s possible to have no opinion one way or another about residential succession, but to object to the obnoxious justifications of it that are offered even by bien pensant liberals. The idea that it’s better for any given area to be occupied by gentrifiers than by the people they displace begs the question, Better for whom? It devalues the preferences & interests of the displaced from the calculus of costs & benefits, either by breezily claiming that they’ll be better off elsewhere (whether they know it or not), or by writing off the cost to their wellbeing as entirely a matter of their supposed anti-white racism, unworthy of being counted as a cost. Either way, it’s false & insulting. Neighborhood turnover might be perfectly benign in a society less riven along class & racial lines, less marked by residential segregation, in which the power to gentrify or resist gentrification weren’t so unequally held. As it is, it’s a matter of people with economic (& maybe political) power taking something of value away from people with less, & telling themselves it’s progress.

    In DC, it’s happening along the U Street corridor (fashionable among young white liberals) & around Capitol Hill. South of the Capitol, large housing projects (e.g., the Arthur Capper Dwellings) have just been knocked down, 1000s of people scattered, the bonds of community (a vital form of social capital for poor people) severed, to make way for river-front luxury high-rise apartments. The rich get richer, the poor get screwed.

  11. 11 NormaStarr

    First of all, I’m glad to have found your site. You are a terrific writer.
    About “gentrification” in NYC, I have one problem: if a low-income white person moves into a traditionally Dominican, Puerto Rican or other ethnic neighborhood, is it necessarily some kind of colonialism?
    I rented an apartment in Washington Heights back in the 1980s, because it was what I could afford. I experienced constant harrassment, every single time I left my building, from Dominican/Puerto Rican men who seemed to resent my presence. (It didn’t help that I’m 5’9″, so when I walked down the street, my height made me stick out like a sore thumb.)

    For 10 years, I was harrassed non-stop by local men who simply would not leave me alone. My crime, apparently, was leaving my apartment and walking down the street while being a tall non-Hispanic woman whom they found attractive/offensive/both. Finally, I gave up — if I had lived there with a boyfriend or husband, the locals would have eventually left me alone, but as a single woman, it was just insufferable.

    Are you really opposed to “gentrification,” or is it just poor white artists moving into poor black/Hispanic neighborhoods that bugs you? Maybe it’s just the shoe being on the other foot.

    “White Flight” is the term used to describe how racist white people fled the big cities in order to avoid folks of other races.

    What term are you going to use to show how racist I was, to try to live in Washington Heights as a white chick?

    So: White people are racist when they flee urban neigborhoods; but White people are ALSO racist when they attempt to join in with urban neighborhoods?

    Ummm. OK. So what should we do?

  12. 12 ad-on

    Yes, the developers are part of all this but an even bigger part is what Guiliani did by locking up about ten thousand men of color in a few years because 20 years ago in williamsburg, bushwick, bed-stuy, uptown, wahsington heights, you name the outter borough area, any out of town white person walking around, amn or woman, would have been robbed and demoralized. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong but that’s just how it was. Attention post 9/11 newcomer white people! Those old movies you’ve seen of the trains bombed in graf and muggings everywhere were not exaggerating. All the old residents are shook today. It’s psychological. Bush, Guiliani, Kelly, they’ve made people put their fists down and just talk shit behind closed doors. The irony of all this is that the vast majority of these white gentrifiers claim to be “liberal” and against Bush/Guiliani. But in the end, they can get their soy milk in the bodega now because of the pychologically de-powering lock down these Republicans have performed.

  13. 13 debbie

    There are definitely similar dynamics at work in Toronto. I’m currently living (well, housesitting because there’s no way I could afford living here) in one of the “hippest” parts of Toronto – an area that has historically been populated by Italian and Portuguese working class folks. Some of those people are stlll here – first generation immigrants who bought their houses before property values in the city got out of control. But their children and grandchildren don’t live here. And while the neighborhood still has it’s Italian restaurants, they’re very trendy and expensive.
    One of the losses that hits particularly close to home is the erasure of the cities history, particularly the history of marginalized communities. Condos are going up in Kensington Market, sort of the equivalent of NYC’s Lower East Side – the neighborhood where many immigrant communities settled upon first arriving. Most people have no idea of the history of the neighborhood. For them it’s always been a neighborhood full of overpriced thrift stores.

  14. 14 al

    “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…”

    “And the same really with the Lower East Side;”

    because the lower east side was desolate? or because it was populated by non white people who don’t count?

    white people like to pretend that wherever we go there is nothing, and we create everything we have. it’s the whole premise that the united states is built on.

  15. 15 Milu

    its not so much a black and white issue as much of an economic issue but black and hispanics are the ones that suffer. as a young black woman born and raised in harlem i will be the first to admit that i do not appreciate the incoming flux of white people. but i would be a hypocrite if i said i oppose their presence all together being that my dad is greek and my mom is black. i did a project on the gentrification of harlem in high school and the demographic of harlem has always shifted every sixty to eighty years and historically speaking it is time for another change.

    i myself am pissed off because of this, black people made harlem what it is; without us there would be no historical importance to what would be the twenty second largest city in the world if it was to secede from new york city. i have no problem with white people who have been living in harlem for more than six years because that means that you were pretty much around for the darker years; however, the yuppies, columbia students, and liberals who think they’re cool for living in harlem can go fornicate themselves with a fifty year old rusty sewage pipe. columbia may be offering jobs for local residents but in a couple of months it wont even matter because they’ll be priced out of their apartments.

    getting back to the subject…harlem residents are being priced out their homes and the ‘poor white people’ moving in are not poor but can actually afford to live in an apartment in harlem, by white standards its cheap and by the standards of the resident that was kicked out so the other could move in it’s expensive.

    there is something that has always been true and is proven in history is that not only did black people build this country but we continue to make mountains out of mole hills and the white man continues to claim our mountains as their own.

    sorry for ranting

  16. 16 L.S.

    This is right on. It’s not a matter of “every single white person moving anywhere in the world is racist,” but it IS a matter of understanding why neighborhoods are “affordable” or “attractive” to different people. And what’s necessary is a really critical eye towards coded messages like the ones people were using on the Leonard Lopate show. I’m especially interested, as some of you are, in the colonialist narrative of gentrification, where a space isn’t truly “occupied” until white people move there. At the same time last year that I wanted to write about gentrification, I started writing about tourism writing instead, which does the same damn thing! Look through any edition of the NY times travel section, and you see the same obsession with “safety” and “authentic” proximity to poverty and “culture.” They’re always talking about places as being “untouched” and “unspoiled,” although people definitely live in those places–they even talk lovingly and nostalgically about the colonial architecture, which reminds me of how people fetishize brownstones and other buildings that the current occupants don’t sufficiently appreciate or deserve, seeing only real estate and not neighborhoods or people. I’m making this connection because the people who gentrify are the same ones looking for “authentic” cultural tourism, and I can’t help but feel it’s all part of the same colonial impulse to appropriate space and resources to oneself under the guise of appreciating the “other’s” culture.

  17. 17 shelly

    i dont quite understad. if u cant afford to live in sunset park, how could you afford to live in park slope, williamsburg, prospect etc?

  18. 18 DARIN


  19. 19 Dan

    When you start making certain generalized comments about a group of people “owning” a certain area of the city you are standing on a slippery slope. I moved to 116th street a couple years ago out of necessity because I began attending the NY College of Podiatric Medicine and I needed a place that was a decent rent but more importantly close to school.

    Did I feel out of place? A little but as I began to work in the clinics and help the local people I began to feel a deeper connection with the community. I eat at the same places everyone else does, and I get pissed off at the hipster trust fund trash that struts around in their designer jackets while I am freezing my ass off in my old ass North Face that has lost all its insulation.

    It baffles me when people sit there and talk about how bad the area used to be and that its “up and coming”. Those bastards I give my rent check to certainly think it is because my rent is definitely going up up up! Its becoming hard to manage my expenses on the meager student loans I am getting. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who are working for their rent money.

    Do not lump all of the white people living in Harlem into the same category, because there are some of us who love Harlem just the way it was.

  20. 20 M.S.

    I’m a 24 year old queer white male living in Boston’s south end and I struggle with this issue.

    What I struggle with, is how I as a white middle class male can fight the system that is causing gentrification.

    The South End of Boston has been gentrified for years, and the costs only keep going up. Most of the people of color left live in subsidised housing, and the war on drugs coupled witht he lack of jobs for youth is increasing the level of violence, and muggings in the neighborhood.

    Now as a young person who grew up on a mountain in an all whtie area that moved to Boston to go to college I had no idea about any of these issues.

    I think what we need to start doing, is less complaining and more problem solving, and ideas about solutions.

    Some of the things I do are:
    a. talk about racism and gentrification openly and honestly
    b. work for and volunteer for solidly progressive/anti-racist non-profits
    c. visit the neighborhood markets, laundromats, etc. that are run by people of color who have lived in the neighborhood for a long time
    d. speak up about affordable housing issues, write letters, attending neighborhood meetings, etc.
    c. educate myself about socialism

    In Boston, unfortunately, if you are young, middle class, and white- it doesn’t matter what neighborhood you move into – you are either helping to gentrify it or it has been gentrified… So, I’d like to spark a discussion about what white anti-racist allies can do to help stop gentrification other than just not moving into neighorhoods that are mostly populated by people of color.

  21. 21 roxy rose

    It’s attitude, more than color or who was here first. It’s the sense of entitlement of ‘other people’ moving into my neighborhood, and not giving a shit about the history that I’ve been part of for many years, that pisses me off.
    It’s the self-serving behavior and the take over with outside money to fund the new gentrification. Don’t stomp on my roots!
    I agree that we must address affordable housing, poverty and saving our neighborhoods from greedy big slumlords, even more urgently.
    I don’t agree with the color thing,(black or white) separation. Which color of people can live where and which color of people make that decision… oh yeah, who got there 1st?
    As soon as you want to keep it all one color, one race, stay stuck in the past., you promote racism, and ghetto-thinking/living, all over again.
    Embrace and help to promote diversity!

  22. 22 mmjd

    The inherent assumption behind this post is that black people become less black if they move to the suburbs, and that white people have no right to live in the city.

    Let’s remember that these neighborhoods now being “colonized” by whites were probably occupied by whites as recently as 60 years ago. Then came WWII, and the resulting migration of Southern blacks to the industrial North. The 1950’s and the growth of suburbs, resulted in urban ethnic whites leaving the cities in high numbers–a phenomenon now known as white flight. The consequences of white flight were tremendous–cities lost their much of their property tax bases, their populations declined, and their middle classes were decimated. Crime increased, main streets were boarded up, and blacks were increasingly left in segregated urban ghettos.

    In the past few decades, an increasing percentage of black Americans are joining the middle class, and many are moving to the suburbs. This is good. Also, many whites are moving back to the cities, which is reducing crime, increasing the tax bases, and creating economic activity in urban areas. Admittedly, these whites moving in are likely to be what you call “postmodern hipsters” and not families with children. That’s the next step. But let’s take what we can get.

    Undeniably, we have further to go. Far too many blacks stil live in poor, high-crime, segregated neighborhoods, and far too many whites live segregated from people of other backgrounds. But the gentrification of the cities and the diversification of suburbs are part of the solution–not the problem.

  23. 23 Diane J Standiford

    No answers, just curious what white people are upset about now. Gee, wht would Harlem BE without white folks? Just ask Bill O’Really-Ahole. Gay guy has point, gays move into cheap rent, rundown area, jazz it up,, then str8 people move in and want us O U T. When is USA gonna get a clue? Shove us down, till we got something they want, then push us out and wear their super-hero speedo while doing it.

  24. 24 Ed Borden

    new is not necessarily bad. prices go up and down and that is the way it goes.

  25. 25 liz

    I’ve been having conversations about this in my classes at school. I am a white queer jewish girl. My family lives on the Upper East Side. The woman who raised me lives in Crown Heights. Her rent is going way up. I try to tell my friends who move to NYC out of college to live in Riverdale/Johnson avenue area. Don’t move to SoBro! Stay away from Crown Heights! And Bushwick! Oy.

    Anyway, in a class last semester, we learned about a few concepts that white christian europeans used when justifying colonialism starting in the 15th century. One is Terra Nullius, the idea that colonized lands are “no man’s lands.” Because the people are not Christian, they are not people. In addition, there was the idea of the ne plus ultra, or a point beyond which Christian peoples did not go past because it was considered too dangerous. I think both of these concepts can be directly applied, like what you’re talking about. When there is an “economically depressed,” largely black/brown neighborhood, I think white people tend to consider them to actually have no people there, as evidenced by such comments as, “Oh nobody lives there,” or “that’s a pocket of poverty.” Also, there are many ne plus ultras. Living on the Upper East Side, it was up around 96th street. “Oh there’s nothing up there,” or it’s SUPER dangerous past 96th street.

  26. 26 Mari-Djata

    To me, it is not the problem that white people are moving into historically black cities where black culture and wealth has flourished –it is the fact that where ever white people go, they destroy the culture and wealth that other people have made. When white people leave from blackening cities, it is called white flight and this more or less destroys the city’s ability to maintain schools and other necessities because a whole bloc of its inhabitants have just desserted a perfectly good city because of their own racist reasons. When the people who stay in the city, struggled through with the city, and loves the city returns the city back to something they can leave comfortably in, all of a sudden white people want to come back and change everything. It is not right.

    Gentrification is not right.

  27. 27 the black urban planner

    I see this ALL the time. Especially among other urban planners. Blacks and other minorities are not represented in planning and at the city meetings. And as the comment highlighted, the gentrifiers and planners think that these places are wastelands and that new people need to be brought into the neighborhood versus enhancing what is already there. It makes me sick as a planner and a black woman.

  28. 28 pure0vodka

    In general I do agree with you about the whole ‘you shouldn’t be changing places because of the fact that richer people move there and fading out the low-incomes’. Def. a bad thing! However, it should be divided in rich and poor and NOT in white, black, hispanic, etc. I am a white girl: blonde, skinny and all the works. Do I have money? NO! Can I afford to live somewhere else than Harlem? NO! Sorry that this is a bother to fellow African-Americans! Sorry that damn Indians used to live here before Whitey OR Blacky! Times change… Harlem will be long remembered as a place for black communities, just as it will be remembered a long time for crime, even though that rate went down drastically, and I know/hope that the black community is feeling good about THAT change.
    I try to ignore people that look at me weird or come up with dumb-ass comments when I go into a shop where the local black man runs the place… I can’t afford a fancy cafe, so I have to go where I get “emotional abuse” – where I am looked at as the stuck-up whitey! It’s no fun for me either… So, I am staying here because I have no choice for several reasons… BUT when I get a decent-paying job or when somebody feels like throw cashing at me I will not hesitate to move to upper-class as wouldnt any other race!

  29. 29 Leigh-Anne

    Well done, Jack!!!

    And yeah, the concept is simple: a primarily white middle and upper-class with the power and privilege to *choose* where they live invade and then wholly occupy a region that was once predominately poor and working-class (usually) people of color without the power and privilege to *choose* where they live — folks who don’t have the power to successfully resist being pushed out of the neighborhoods in which their ancestors resided.

    What is there to debate about that?

    Why is it so difficult for so many middle and upper-class white folks to simply accept their complicity — both voluntary and involuntary — in the oppression of others? Right… their indulgences must be guilt-free… see, hear, nor speak evil…

    What’s interesting about gentrification is that it always starts, as you and some of your commentators point out, with the “slummers” — middle & upper-class white folks in search of illegal leisure activities and/or the “exotic,” which (they perceive) people of color of being so good at providing. These poor neighborhoods of color were, in a sense, created by middle and upper class whites who demanded segregation — a safe haven (i.e., suburb) in which to raise their children free of the vices they believe proliferate neighborhoods of color. So, the neighborhoods in which poor, law-abiding people of color live become sites for illegal gambling venues and prostitution (for example) because these poor folks do not have the power to stop these vice institutions from taking root and thriving in their neighborhoods.

    Middle and upper-class white folks take the meaning of “don’t shit where you eat” to heart when they leave their comfortable homes in the suburbs, albeit temporarily, to consume cheap, available and illegal sex, drugs — whatever their hearts desire — and once they’ve satiated their various appetites, they return to their homes… homes situated in what mainstream media tells us are morally pristine communities.

    White “tourists” create these poor neighborhoods of color and white gentrifiers demolish them to establish permanent playgrounds.

  30. 30 A.R.

    I see it in Toronto as well, although the racial overtones don’t seem to be there. Let me elucidate with an example: a neighbourhood becomes cool, and all of a sudden its restaurants get blog and media attention, but only the new ones. The older businesses get ignored as if worthless and meaningless.

    It’s positive that neighbourhoods become more mixed income, and wealth revitalizes and beautifies, but at the same time there’s a new tragedy unfolding when the new wealthier residents don’t care to take an interest in the established culture.

  31. 31 Jay

    I enjoy discussing gentrification because it is often stating the obvious: the positive correlation between white/improvement and black/decline is too frequent to be coincidental and I agree that money has a lot to do with it. But I would also suggest that social mobility is a complex thing, especially if we look at it through the prism of race. This smacks of essentialism, racism, prejudice and so on. White people might feel indignant because (for once) they’re being targeted as the problem; black people will be bored stupid by the assertion that they bring an area down; members of both groups will say that basing the argument on race is silly and why can’t we all just get along. I’ve experienced both gentrification and decline; I was born in Westminster, lived in Brixton, then moved out to the suburbs as a kid where I grew up. What I’ve noticed is that a) I was part of a general shift of black, upwardly mobile, families who sold up in central London for the cleaner, greener areas just outside, b) that some of these families didn’t succeed, c) a lot of white people left the area and d) a lot of businesses closed causing certain areas to fall apart. The interesting thing is that the cultural displacement has definitely been black for white (even my dad mentioned that he’d been driving past my old school and noticed that the white kids who dominated when I was there have vanished) but the area has not gone in to such decline that even we’re attempting to move out. It’s a strange, precarious situation and I wonder how it will turn out. I’ve always wanted to leave, simply because I don’t like how far from the centre we are, but increasingly I think gentrification arises when the community that is already there allows an economic / social vacuum to exist. I fear I might be contributing to one by abandoning the area my parents worked so hard to move in to.

  1. 1 The Anti-Essentialist Conundrum
  2. 2 Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Empty Spaces Waiting For Whites To Move In: A Pattern Of Denial
  3. 3 Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Feminism is not your expectation.
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