Since the sun was out today, I rode my bike somewhat aimlessly through BedStuy. There was just enough shine to warm you up. I biked down Lewis, back up Marcus Garvey, to Fulton St., then back down Marcy all the way to Flatbush and back.
Nostrand Ave is a fucking wreck but Bedford Ave, one block up, has brand new smooth bike lanes to match the sparkly new shops. Every corner I turned there was either trash mixed with the melting snow, or those cute chalkboards in front of cafes with cute people looking very cosmopolitan in the windows. I came to the crossroads that gentrification in BedStuy is like a bike ride on a sunny day in February:
- white women walking on the same side of the street as some project buildings
- project buildings right across from single family condos
- white fathers pushing their strollers past loitering black guys
- white teens, casually walking past forgotten and boarded up buildings
These situations draw me in because I know if the races were reversed in any of them the sunny day is all of a sudden…muggy. Here is your reverse racism; I’ve colored the conquistadors as white again. Have I? Or have we all assumed? What if my bike notes looked like this:
- Black women walking down Lexington avenue
- Single family condos built in between a detention center and an empty lot
- children, coming from brunch with their parents
- nannies picking up their kids from daycare
- Black teens, casually walking anywhere
Did you racialize who belongs in these spaces?
It’s okay, we’re all socialized to accept some things as natural and others as signs of trouble. White flight happens the same way as gentrification. A few right moves into the wrong neighborhood, until a critical mass is reached. At gentrification’s Critical Mass property values increase, followed by rents. Boutiques, specialty wine shops and high priced real estate offices become the norm.
The bottom line of the gentry is top of the line appliances. They pass boarded up buildings down one block and but high rises on the next without blinking. It’s ignoring the possibilities of rebuilding value in the community and opting for the profit potential of something ‘better’ instead. Value and profit are subject to change based on assumptions of what’s ‘worth it’. When some skins mean value and others do not, gentrification becomes racial.
What I saw today was the front line of the frontier. Before the critical mass hits and there’s just the discomfort of pending invasion, ‘Scouts’ come looking for that new place that they just have to experience. They often seem out of place but keep squeezing into the role for the sake of illusions. We’re all human, looking for places to belong. Yup.
The difference is who can afford these places. We all can’t afford $4.00 for 16oz of cold brewed, fair trade coffee. Those who can afford the luxury take advantage (including cheap students who’ve learned how to budget). Soon overcrowding and saturation by all us gentrifiers makes a difference in stabilizing prices. When values are down and everyone’s brown, money is equal. I can afford it on weekends, but definitely not every day.
I like quiet, low-key places with cheap prices and yummy food. Everybody likes that. Yep. I’m excited to get out in BedStuy; to make the most of my free time, support black and small businesses. And like everyone else, I like the excitement and the possibility of finding my own haunts.
So I take a few reflectory steps back, as I examine my role in this complex saga of finding and belonging. Why is the line drawn between me; a young, but educated, queer woman of color and a white middle class family moving in down the block?
The difference is not just phenotypical or prix fixe, its in the physical protection. Which bodies will be allowed to thrive and succeed in this space? Which bodies are contributing to the perceived increase in value of the space and which ones are used as the scapegoat for deterioration? (hint. It’s the same ones who use a higher SPF). When some skins are a flag for open territory and others are not, gentrification becomes racial.
Gentrification is violence in subtlety. When white bodies move in, black, women’s, poor, youth, POC, immigrant, bodies are displaced. This happens succinctly. White people gentrify with certain knowledge that a way has been paved for them to be there, and be completely comfortable. Without questioning their role in gentrifying, they begin to take up more space in coffee shops, on sidewalks, in community board meetings.
Contrast that with the experience of POC in every other social institution; where we have to fight to be visually represented, fight for our needs to be written into policy, and fight for respect and recognition; where our very act of existing is a cause for backlash.
There is no fighting when white people come to town. In fact, some businesses from the community can and do take advantage of the increased security and rising chances that they’ll make it into the black. Spaces with the right marketing strategy, the right look, the right products, and the right location live to see the neighborhood evolve into one that would prefer a young, rich, and white clientele.
The gentry just takes advantage of what already exists: a few hours of beautiful weather, low-priced land, willing businesses. It works best on those sunny days in February when they can pretend to be part of the neighborhood just enjoying the weather, ignoring what was there before, ignoring the bodies moved out in the night. They can rest assured that by summer the block will be a little cleaner, brighter, ‘safer’.
*also on Medium