A neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification is a lot like being at the tippy, tippy top of a rollercoaster right before it commences with a two-hundred-foot drop. It’s quiet. So quiet, in fact, that I kind of fool myself into thinking that I’m not on a rollercoaster at all. Rather, that I’m home, comfortably digging my toes into a rug as I watch an episode of Living Single while teaching my boo how to use an afro pic in my hair (spoiler alert: my boyfriend’s white!), and that’s when I let my defenses down.
I take a breath of fresh air and savor it for a few moments. My body relaxes and I spread out in my seat like olive oil on a saucer. Then I hear the click of the gears on the rollercoaster, which causes the section that I’m sitting in to shift forward ever so slightly. Sure, it’s a shift that’s probably imperceptible to the eye, but when you’re two hundred feet up in the air and your body is slowly being forced into that Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal lean, you will start asking Jesus to take every wheel you can think of -- the steering wheel, the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, and the cheese wheel from Tom and Jerry cartoons.
And then boom! The rollercoaster drops and I’m screaming my head off alternating between glee and fear. And then it’s over. I high-five the friend next to me and get some funnel cake. Because I’m American and the reward for unnecessarily scaring myself is unnecessarily clogging my heart with fried dough.
Yeah. Gentrification is pretty much like that except instead of the thrill of a ride, an organic grocery store pops up three blocks from where I live and all of a sudden, the old black ladies with holes in their shoes, y’know, probably from marching, who lived in my apartment building have been replaced by young white folk with holes in their shoes because THEY BOUGHT THEM THAT WAY. I will never understand that.
Anyway, as Bob Dylan would say, “These times, they are a-changing.” And they are a-changing near my doorstep, which is strange for me because even though I’ve lived in Brooklyn for the past 12 years, this is definitely the first time I’ve lived in a neighborhood that’s in the process of gentrifying, and that has made some people understandably upset.
This graffiti shown above, which was in a series of other graffiti about how white people are unwelcome in my neighborhood, is the latest to be tagged on the support pole at the subway station near my apartment. But it’s not just graffiti. I’ve noticed the amount of stares that my boyfriend and I have been getting has increased exponentially. We’ve been dating for almost three years and most strangers seemed to be OK with it, but during this past year, there’s been an influx of white people moving into the building (my boyfriend not included; we’re taking it slow), and the indifferent glances now have fire behind them.
These are those disdainful looks like the ones I got when I encouraged one friend to bring her trifling potato salad to a barbecue, thereby unwittingly encouraging everyone else to bring their own half-assed versions of a Rachel Ray potato salad recipe.
All jokes aside, gentrification, especially in Brooklyn, is a serious issue. It displaces plenty of business owners and apartment renters. It sends a message that people of color don’t deserve quality like a decent grocery store or a good convenience store until developers and CEOs decide to lure white folks with disposable income to another area. The wealthy can get richer while people like me get priced out.
That’s right -- after living in my neighborhood for the past six years, I will have to move when my lease is up because I can’t afford to stay here by myself. So, hey, people on the street giving my boo and me dirty look? I. Get. It. I’m affected by gentrification just as much as you are. I’m just as powerless as you are.
And even when there are moments of power or victories against gentrification such as when a black neighborhood in Portland made national headlines because they successfully got Trader Joe’s to cancel their plans to open a store there, I’m left wondering, “Who won?” Yes, it’s rather insulting to build this store which will surely push out the people of color in that neighborhood that would’ve benefited from its products, but at the same time, there’s now going to be less food traffic, which has been adversely affecting small businesses and the jobs that Trader Joe’s would’ve brought to the area are now gone. Everyone loses.
Clearly, the effects of gentrification are messy, ugly, and complicated, but these garbage graffiti signs and ugly stares we have to endure is utter nonsense. And I’m pretty sure that if I went to my boyfriend’s neighborhood and saw various graffiti about how black people bring down the value of the area and that it is a white neighborhood, the main people writing these signs would be running to my defense. So knock it off. Advert your eyes when we cross your path if you can’t handle it. Curse us out in your head if you want to. But keep in mind that he’s probably not so different from you: broke and living in Brooklyn.