To have a conversation about gentrification is to have a very complex and sometimes ugly discussion on the benefits and negative impact of it all. One morning, literally at the crack of dawn as I made my way from Crown Heights all the way to Harlem for church, at about 6:30 a.m., a young black man and woman were having the loudest conversation ever about gentrification. The man was very riled up: “I just don’t understand why things have to be turned upside down because THEY moved in!”
As he said “they,” this young man literally pointed at a white woman sitting on the train, minding her business.
“I’ll keep it real, it’s cool that the neighborhoods get cleaned up, but when you’re forcing black people who were there before you out, it’s f**ked up! It’s not right.”
It was literally too early in the morning for me to take a 45 minute train ride uptown with someone yelling at the top of his lungs, so after two stops, I moved to a different car. He had some good points, but hey, I was on the train for Jesus, not for a speech.
But I will agree, while there are benefits to gentrification, there are quite a few negatives. A recent Gothamist article told the story of quite a few people paying low rent for years who were forcibly moved from their apartments by landlords (I’m talking axes taken to water heaters on purpose) who then cleaned the places up and jacked up the rent for white folks looking to move into Brooklyn or the Bronx or Harlem, and could afford it. It’s stuff like that, which gets people pissed off, and it’s stuff like that, which gets Spike Lee to dole out a 7-minute rant about “motherf**king hipsters” taking over places, which black people have called home.
During a speech for Black History Month at the Pratt Institute on Tuesday, an audience member tried to suggest that gentrification helps black people with wealth creation. Lee wasn’t having it. Here are a few highlights from the 7-minute speech against gentrification in New York City (courtesy of NY Mag):
Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherf**kin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294. The police weren’t around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.
Then comes the motherf**kin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherf**kin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherf**kin’-sixty-eight, and the motherf**kin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherf**kin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherf**kin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the f**k outta here!
Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherf**kin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.
You can’t just — here’s another thing: When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in motherf**kin’ Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the motherf**kin’ Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!
I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now sh*t gotta change because you’re here? Get the fuck outta here. Can’t do that!
And then! So you’re talking about the people’s property change? But what about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore! You can’t afford it. People want to live in Fort Greene. People wanna live in Clinton Hill. The Lower East Side, they move to Williamsburg, they can’t even afford f**kin’, motherf**kin’ Williamsburg now because of motherf**kin’ hipsters. What do they call Bushwick now? What’s the word? [Audience: East Williamsburg]
That’s another thing: Motherf**kin’… These real estate motherf**kers are changing names! Stuyvestant Heights? 110th to 125th, there’s another name for Harlem. What is it? What? What is it? No, no, not Morningside Heights. There’s a new one. [Audience: SpaHa] What the f**k is that? How you changin’ names?
When I tell you his speech was quite epic, I’m not kidding. Check out the full thing over at NY Mag and share your thoughts.