Not Knowing How To Feel About Gentrification

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Yesterday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an op-ed I wrote detailing my ambivalence about the development and gentrification going on in my old neighborhood. It’s an extended version of a piece I wrote for EBONY a couple weeks ago. I’ve included a good portion of it below. 

Although it deals specifically with Pittsburgh, the subject is something I’m sure many (if not most) of you can relate to. We’re all aware of the macro ills of gentrification. People being displaced, businesses getting priced out, neighborhoods losing their identities, etc. But — and this is a question especially targeted towards those who grew up in a crime-ridden area that experienced gentrification and doesn’t have as much crime now — what about the micro? How do you deal with enjoying some of the benefits of the “new” neighborhood while also “feeling a certain way” about the means taken to get it there? Do you feel conflicted at all about any of this? If so, how do you deal with that conflict? And, if not, why not?

My old neighborhood is now the trendiest place in Pittsburgh. And I don’t know how this makes me feel.

I’m not angry about it. The neighborhood is an undoubtedly better and safer place now.

Restaurants stay open until 1 instead of closing at dark. There are far fewer Aaron Rays stalking the streets for red sweatshirts, and there’s a place where you can rent some very ugly bikes to ride from Trader Joe’s to Whole Foods.

The shifting cosmetic has even affected the neighborhood’s name. What used to just be “East Liberty” is now “Eastside” — a euphemistic hybrid of East Liberty and the neighboring Shadyside.

This change has crept up Penn Avenue as well. Surreal is not strong enough of a word to describe what it’s like for a person who grew up on Mellon Street in the ’90s to attend a gallery crawl in Garfield.

But, I just … I still feel “a certain way” about it all.

I feel a certain way that the neighborhood’s demographics had to change before it improved. I feel a certain way that others were able to recognize and take financial advantage of the resources sitting right under my nose. I feel a certain way about the irony of me feeling this certain way … but writing this while sitting at Panera Bread.

I guess “ambivalent” would be the word to describe this feeling. But, as many of those who wrestle with the same thoughts about their “new” old neighborhoods will likely tell you, it feels more awkward and amorphous than that. It’s a state of reactive cognitive dissonance you can’t quite articulate that happens when others use the resources you’re sitting on to create something you’d wholeheartedly appreciate in any other context.

There’s a natural parallel between the thoughts I often see expressed about gentrification and about the type of cultural appropriation many white artists have been accused of. But what makes this feeling different is the fact that I enjoy this version of the neighborhood more. Much more. This isn’t just feeling a certain way about Robin Thicke “borrowing” Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” to create “Blurred Lines.” It’s feeling that certain way, but also believing Robin’s version is much better than Marvin’s.

To be clear, “better” doesn’t mean that the new Target is better than the old Giant Eagle or that the new Pizza Sola is better than Vento’s. That’s a matter of taste.

The preference I’m speaking of is less about policy, politics and development and more about memory.

East Liberty was my home. It’s where my dad first taught me to shoot a jumpshot. Where I got my first job. Where I first met the kid who’d end up being my oldest and closest friend. Where I first learned not to trust a big butt and a smile. And where I also first learned not to listen to everything Bell Biv Devoe said.

But it’s also where Peabody High School was shut down for an entire week because a star football player was murdered in a Wendy’s parking lot. And where, since the Bloods (red), Crips (blue) and L.A.W. (black and gray) were at war with each other, there was a span of five or so years where wearing the wrong color could get you killed. And where both a random tire screech and a car going 10 miles below the speed limit meant “Get the hell down!” because there’s about to be a drive-by. And where our front window was blown out and our house was shot into because we lived three doors down from Mellon Street’s Stringer Bell and a rival crew mistook our house for his.

So even as I lament the injection of and appropriation by others in East Liberty — and even as terms such as displacement and pricing-out enter my consciousness — I value the reduction in familiar and conspicuous danger more than I’m put off by the means taken to get it there.

Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Shit Bougie Black People Love: #12 Gentrification

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If you ever ask a Bougie Black Person to explain his feelings about gentrification, he will pause, start to speak, pause again, and exhale before saying anything. He may even add a prolonged sigh. And, if lucky, you might even see him roll his sweater sleeves up and put his thumb to his chin.

This will give you the impression that the BBP is carefully choosing his words. Which he is. This subject obviously causes him much ambivalence and consternation. It may have even given him acid reflux. After all, while the BBP may be successful, he’s not very far removed from regular Blacks. A few of his cousins are still in the hood. As well as his barbershop. Naturally, he wants to make certain he answers this question with as much nuance as possible.

He’ll use words like “well” and “actually” and “white motherfuckers.” He may also use words like “displacement” and “Starbucks” and “property tax.” And, although he’s only been to Brooklyn once — and learned much of what he knows about Brooklyn when Mos Def was on Bill Maher — he’ll make sure to use Brooklyn as an example of the ills of gentrification. He may even say something about how they’re “tearing down basketball courts” to “make room for bike lanes and places you buy yoga pants and shit” and he’ll say this with disdain.

Then he’ll say “But…”

And then the truth will come out. He’ll admit gentrification has some benefits. He’ll mention a specific neighborhood, and he’ll talk about how the Whole Foods he buys his crustless quiche and couscous from was a crackhouse seven years ago. It wasn’t, of course. No one needs 20,000 square feet of space to do crack. But he’ll say it.

(read more at Shit Bougie Black People Love)

My Favorite Conspiracy Theory by Panama Jackson

Moon...or New Mexico?? You tell me.

Conspiracy. (noun). An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.

I think too much (and I also know that I shouldn’t give too much credence to conspiracy theories).

And as is such, I tend to come up with lots of random conspiracies and non-sense that at the time may seem to make sense. Though I’d like to point out that the Law of Averages says that somewhere along the way, at least one of my rants is going to be on the money. For instance, I’m still convinced that Starbucks is indeed “the man” that we speak about in our day to day activities. I’ve never been fully convinced that West Virginia actually exists as a state but is more or less a place that aliens and white people come from and use as training grounds in case black people get too “uppity” because most normal people have never been to West Virginia nor questioned its existence.

But there is real conspiracy out there that is threatening black existence in inner cities everywhere. It is the precursor to Starbucks. It is what makes it possible for the idea of Starbucks in the ghetto to exist. It is none other than…

…the white listserv.

Yes. You read that right.

What is the white listserv?? I feel a definition coming on.

White Listserv. (noun). formerly known as the white phone call, white fax, white morse code. Created in the 1960′s and evolving over time, this white listserv is the means of communicating to white peoples (primarly WASP’s) across the nation of the neighborhoods in particular cities that are scheduled to be relieved from Blacks and/or Latinos control and transformed into inner city urban enclaves of gentrification and just all around whiteness. Synonyms: Starbucks.

Let’s examine this shall we? Yes, let’s. In the beginning there were neighborhoods. Inner city neighborhoods. They consisted of mostly white people and black people were confined to the slums and ghettos of the city. One day, a lone black man, let’s call him, James, made some money and started the trend of other black folks making money and decided to move to where the white people were. They didn’t mind one black face and James seemed nice enough. His wife was high yaller and his kids could read. But more black folks made money and followed James. And it started happening throughout the country.

We reached the residential tipping point. So what did white people do? Created suburbs and got the hell out of dodge. So now the slums just moved to where ever James was because as is fact, when everybody finds paradise, it ceases to remain paradise.

Say it unison with me: Damn damn damn James.

This occurred for a good 30 years.

Well one day circa 1980, James’ old neighbor, let’s call her Jenny, decided that she wanted to move back in to the city. That’s where all the amenities and services were, as well as the parks, black men, and Icey’s. But Jenny wasn’t sure where to move because all of the neighborhoods were inhabited by les negroes. She asked a friend who asked a friend and that’s when it happened.

The first white phone call. The call intended to tell Jenny where a prime spot would be to move because they were taking it over. Who is they?? The white people. She was told the area, found a place and moved in and lo and behold, the neighborhood changed. This situation began to occur in major cities everywhere but more slowly and with more subtlety and to mostly fringe areas close enough to the suburbs but still in the city.

Now they’re everywhere. Now they’re in neighborhoods that only a few years ago white people wouldn’t dream of walking thru for fear of being robbed in their sleep. But lo and behold, there they are. Walking down Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC; or Atlantic Avenue or Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; or down Lowery Blvd (though it will forever be Ashby Street in my heart) in Southwest Atlanta’s West End community. You know those places where seeing a white person initially made you do a complete double take; one that almost made you crash.

However, there they were walking their dogs or jogging as if they didn’t realize they were playing with their lives.

These are all people who today get “the e-mail.” Yes that one from the white listserv who told them that if they bought in now, they would see tremendous gains on their property value becasue the neighborhood was going to be flipped into an inner city enclave of diversity, though the goal would be 65 percent persuasion and 35 percent unpersuasion. If they could live with it for 2 years tops, their dreams of inner city living complete with all that the city has to offer would become a reality.

They took up the offer.

And it’s still going on across America right now. White e-mails are being sent out left and right. Neighborhoods that normally would be be black through and through are now becoming enclaves where white people feel safe because they got the email. It’s my thought that somehow when you’re born and receive a Social Security Number, that they tag you if you match the necessary criteria. They have some white indicator. This same white indicator pushes you to different white listservs if you marry a black person and have black children. You’re priority becomes different…however you’re still on the list and when you receive that first email, they make you pledge to never tell a person of color, unless your husband or wife is indeed, colored.

All thanks to the white listserv…existing in a community near you.

So um, yea, that’s my favorite conspiracy theory…what’s yours?? You read books, I know you’ve got one!

HAPPY GEMINI SEASON!

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. GET YO’ HAND OUTTA MY POCKET aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

***DC PSA: For all you suckas that don’t know, on June 2, 2012, VSB is bringing you another edition of the monthly party dedicated to all 90s everything: REMINISCE. Except this June edition is extra special because it’s not only the Gemini Birthday Bash…it’s also PANAMA’S BIRTHDAY!! So If you’re in DC, please come out and celebrate Panama’s birthday with him so he can personally thank you and try not to take so many shots that he passes out and doesn’t remember the evening! And remember…it’s free before 11pm with RSVP (link coming soon), open bar from 930-1030pm, and no dress code. It’s the best damn house party at a club in the city!! Wear shorts! Be comfortable. And party with Panama!!!!***