When The Gentrifiers Aren’t White


This article from the Washington DC City Paper is a few months old, but a reader just brought it to our attention and it seemed relevant to some of the discussions that have been going on around here recently about gentrification and shifts in the population (like this and this). The author, a young black woman who graduated from Howard University in 2006, writes in the first person about changes during her school years as well when she moves back to LeDroit Park neighborhood in 2010 after a four-year hiatus.

White professionals and hipsters trickled in, slowly, visible even through the bubble of being a black college student, surrounded by 10,000 other black college students, in a largely black neighborhood, in a mostly black city. By 2004, they were regularly spotted making their way to and from the Shaw–Howard University Metrorail station. And by the time I graduated, white people were jogging up 4th Street NW through the campus, and walking their large dogs on the green lawn of Howard’s Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library—something longtime black residents never did.

Four years later, the author is walking her own dog on the green lawn.

For neighborhoods where it suddenly feels like white people are “everywhere,” the U.S. Census Bureau says the vast majority of residents in LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale (and Petworth, and Brookland) are still black—more than 80 percent of the residents in some gentrifying census tracts in a 2009 estimate. Perhaps that’s because just as “black people” is a proxy term for poor people in D.C., “white people” is a proxy term for the young professionals who have moved in—and neither term is being accurately used….Newcomers to D.C. of any race tend to arrive for the same kind of high-powered jobs, the kind of jobs you can’t get without education and social capital. The people who are already struggling to find work when newcomers get here, though, are likely to be black.

Later in the piece she writes this:

“Gentrifier” can’t be equated with “white person.” After all, most poor people in this country are white (though it’s definitely a numbers game; whites are still less likely to be poor than blacks and Latinos—there are just more of them). The gentrifier is a person of privilege, and even if she doesn’t have much money, she’s got an education and a network of friends who are striving like she is, and she has the resources to at least try to get what she wants.

Any of this resonate with gentrifiers of color out there?

Photo by Angry Eel

34 Comment

  • Personally, it’s another “DUH” moment. When is the world going to accept the fact that there are people of color with money? Not just crazy money, like sports figures and entertainers, but the same money that most successful college educated, upwardly striving persons with marketable skills have, if they pursue the American dream of working in a good job? Or if they have the entrepreneurial skills to create something successful with their talents or business savvy.

    You’d think after 60 years of loud and active civil rights action, we’d have gotten to the point that if you look at your average 30-something white person and black person exiting a building at the same time, there wouldn’t be the assumption that the white person was better off than the black. But there it is.

    I think that the great secret in neighborhoods like Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, etc, is that the “gentrifiers” have been there for, oh, 80 years or more. Black folks, working in civil service jobs, teaching, nursing, or even holding 2 or more jobs, have been quietly living here for generations, making the same money as their white counterparts in the same jobs, but living in very different neighborhoods. The new black “gentrifiers”, often the children of these people, now work for finance companies, or are lawyers or other professionals, but they have been at the vanguard of making these neighborhoods appealing to those who never would have set foot here, only 15 years ago.

    Until we as a society can see beyond color, there will always be the assumption by far too many people, that the black person is more likely to be on welfare, while the white person is not. The black person is less educated that the white person standing next to him. Or that when you stand at the subway stop at Nostrand Avenue in the morning, waiting for the A train, the multitude of young white hipsters are going to better jobs than the larger crowd of business clad black folks. It ain’t necessarily so!

  • I totally agree, Montrose.

    The folks over at Brooklynian had a conversation on it back when the article came out

    http://brooklynian.com/forum/crown-heights-and-prospect-lefferts-gardens/confessions-of-a-black-gentrifier

  • Having gone to Pratt in the late 80′s, then living in Ft. Greene for almost 20 years (before moving further south), I have to agree 110%.

    At the time that I was seen as a possible “gentrifier” (at age 21, holding down a $15/hr job), I found it quite comical to be called that when my block had Black and Hispanic home ownership. By the 1990′s, while the influx of a more mixed community happened, and Manhattan expats were purchasing brownstones, the income levels for most of the folks living in the area was near equal. By 1999, that had changed, and more affluent white folks were displacing more working class folks (of all shades). By the time we left in 2004, the shift had gone again with more affluent Black and Hispanic couples moving back to the neighborhood, which had changed immensely in the past 20 years.

    One of the most disappointing scenes i witnessed and was involved in in 2003 was a newly opened real estate office, Black owned and run, was about to show a 20-something black woman the neighborhood, saw me heading towards Fulton and one of the realtors said to her “he’s why the rents are so damn high and the neighborhood has changed.”

    We exchanged words, mostly to the effect of the fact that these realitors were the gentrifiers, not a resident of almost 20 years, which was me. The young woman was mortified. I was deeply saddened.

    I guess it’s how well you know your community, they know you and your pov.

  • East New York

    I think MM says it all quite well.

  • In the late 1980′s, when I first moved to New York, I lived in Ft. Greene, We, young white girls, picked the neighborhood because the neighborhood and apartment looked nice, and it was close to public transportation – and we could afford it, barely. We were making next to no money. Our landlord was a very well off African American. Very well off. Nice guy, hard working, owned serveral brownstones in the neighborhood.

    We had some problems with crime that seemed to be racially driven/anti gentrification (hah!) – some guy stole my pocketbook and punched me in the mouth while at least a half dozen others just looked on- and quite a few African Amercians in the area would throw out disparaging anti-whitey remarks at us. I met many more Arfican Americans that were well-heeled and well-educated in that time than I did well off caucasians.

    The trend towards living in urban areas is going to continue to displace people of lesser financial means from areas closer to the urban centers, simple supply and demand….. has nothing to do with race and everything to do with money.

  • Ms. Morris is right and i see it all the time myself

  • You nailed it Montrose. Lord knows, I live in Crown heights and am a lot less well off than most of the people who see me with Black friends on the street and think Im ust be the one with money. I think its an insult to Black people and who knows when it will change. One thing I have noticed, as more and more whites have moved into Crown Heights- I don’t see a lot of them making an effort to be part of the community. At least, not the many many students I see renting in the area. And that’s sad too- because Crown Hieights has been a very warm and welcoming neighborhood to me. Much more so than Brooklyn Heights where I lived for a very long time.

    I think the resentment is more than just money though. Neighborhoods with demographics that change rapidly after many years of an extablished identity do have clashes. Look at some of the issues in Harlem these days. For good or bad, Harlem is a culturally rich, strongly cultural neighborhood and the clash between old timers and gentrifyiers has a lot to do with that self-identity too. Gentrification is a reality and sometimes gentrification brings benefits- I love the new coffee shops and upscale bars (Black owned, btw). But I hope that as more ad more people discover Crown Heights and move here, it won’t be to change it to their idea of a “good” neighborhood, but to add to this already rich and vibrant one.

    • Unfortunately I agree with you bxgirl. I’ve lived in Crown Heights North for most of my life and when people ask me how I feel about the influx of whites in the community I tell them it’s slightly saddening because we have been a mixed community of Blacks, Jews, West Indians and other ethnicities for years and although we’ve had differences for the most part we all moved and lived around each other respectfully like a synchronized dance. However, I’ve found that our “new neighbors” have no such desire to try and be a part of the community and sometimes you get the feeling like you’re being given a look of “oh, you still here?” It does breed feelings of resentment especially when my first reaction to the influx was not so negative.

      • @ sleemah: if you could define what it means to be a “part of the community” that would be helpful. What is sounds like is that you don’t talk to people and you think that people are looking at you strangely. I bet those people are thinking the same of you: does he resent me? he thinks why am i here! why won’t he let me into the community?

        Not saying either of you are more/less at fault. But community is a two way street where everyone has to do a little give and take…

    • Unfortunately I agree with you bxgirl. I’ve lived in Crown Heights North for most of my life and when people ask me how I feel about the influx of whites in the community I tell them it’s slightly saddening because we have been a mixed community of Blacks, Jews, West Indians and other ethnicities for years and although we’ve had differences for the most part we all moved and lived around each other respectfully like a synchronized dance. However, I’ve found that our “new neighbors” have no such desire to try and be a part of the community and sometimes you get the feeling like you’re being given a look of “oh, you still here?” It does breed feelings of resentment especially when my first reaction to the influx was not so negative.

  • daveinbedstuy

    As far as I could tell, Bed Stuy was “gentrified” by the people who had been living there already for so many years.

  • I think a lot of you miss the point. Its not an arguement around the pure definition of gentrification. Obviously the influx of $$$ and cultural differences contributes to gentrification. But its the cultural differences that are more likely to cause discomfort.

    Like a poster above said, white gentrifiers are less likely to work at being a part of the community. Like simply saying “hello” in the neighborhood. All the while, naive gentrifiers of color (like myself) are too busy complaining about the white gentrifiers to recognize that the historic community sees me as much of an outsider as the white folks moving in.

    • “white gentrifiers are less likely to work at being a part of the community.” Change “white” to “any” and I’ll agree. My neighborhood has changed over in the past 6 years and the first thing I do to tell if someone wants to be part of the community is say “hello” to them when on the street or on my stoop. Very telling…

  • @newstoner. The “white” people don’t say “hi” canard? I (as a white man) can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said good morning or hello to my neighbors – some say hi back, some look at my funny (well most people look at me funny, especially when I am wearing my five-toed vibrams). I shovel my neighbor’s walk, I clean out the storm drains, I call the police when there is a beat down on the block.
    And while some white people might not get involved in some community organizations (church in America can often be quite segregated), I think it would be hard to attend long-time community groups like the Society for Clinton Hill, block associations, organizations seeking to landmark Crown Heights or Bed-stuy, the new food Co-op, etc, and claim that white folk don’t get involved.
    Just saying…

    • Putnam- But you’re not everyone. In my section of Crown Heights I see a lot more young white (I’m assuming) students in the neighborhood since I moved here. They don’t say hello, don’t look at you- just barrel down the street. And I’m white- I don’t necessarily say that it’s a race thing, but they really son’t seem interested in the neighborhood. But I know quite a few white people who for the most part (some owners, some renters) who love CHN as much as Ido and are involved.

      I smile and say hi to everyone- like your experience some sile back or look at me funny. But then again, that happened in Bklyn Heights too- maybe it’s simply some people are friendly and some aren’t.

      • “I see a lot more young white (I’m assuming) students in the neighborhood since I moved here.”

        iPods and smart phone have been the downfall of stoop/nabe culture. I cannot stand when a new neighbor “take a call” 3 steps before being able to say “hello” or Wassup?”

        Manners people!

  • East New York

    @newstoner. The “white” people don’t say “hi” canard? I (as a white man) can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said good morning or hello to my neighbors – some say hi back, some look at my funny (well most people look at me funny, especially when I am wearing my five-toed vibrams). I shovel my neighbor’s walk, I clean out the storm drains, I call the police when there is a beat down on the block.

    **

    Yeah, I agree. Some white folks who’ve moved here get involved with the block, some don’t, and the same is true for new black folks. In the same way, some longtime residents are welcoming and outgoing, some aren’t.

  • East New York

    @newstoner. The “white” people don’t say “hi” canard? I (as a white man) can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said good morning or hello to my neighbors – some say hi back, some look at my funny (well most people look at me funny, especially when I am wearing my five-toed vibrams). I shovel my neighbor’s walk, I clean out the storm drains, I call the police when there is a beat down on the block.

    **

    Yeah, I agree. Some white folks who’ve moved here get involved with the block, some don’t, and the same is true for new black folks. In the same way, some longtime residents are welcoming and outgoing, some aren’t.

  • Putnam.. Let me clarify…when I say “get involved” I don’t mean “involved in community activism for one’s own selfish reasons. good or bad. And I don’t say that to insinuate anything about you. So I hope you don’t take offense. When I say “get involved” I mean intimately get to know the folks in your neighborhood. I don’t doubt that you say hi often. There is always a minority. But here’s an example of what I mean…I have toddler age youngsters. I Take them to blue park on Fulton & Stuyvesant often. Some parents of my kids friends, who are white, can see me every day… have been introduced to me several times… and if they see me again, it’s like they’ve never seen me b/4 in their lives and won’t bother saying hello. I have tenants, who are white, and if they see me anywhere other than in front of my house, will walk right past me completely oblivious. Neighbor across the street is white. I’ve actually gotten IN her car and helped her get her car out of a snow bank…. has NEVER said hello. Now saying all that, my next door neighbor is white, and says hi all the time. In fact we have copies of each others keys to our houses. So there is always the exception.

    My point again, is it doesn’t matter that I can point out these perceived issues…. I am still seen as an outsider. As one local put it…. because “I’m on some Huxtable Sh*t!”

    • slopemope

      As one local put it…. because “I’m on some Huxtable Sh*t!”

      ROTFLMAO I nominate this for quote of the month.

      Let’s have Mr B spotlight interview your neighbor and make this a blog with substance!! I’m serious btw

    • “But here’s an example of what I mean…I have toddler age youngsters. I Take them to blue park on Fulton & Stuyvesant often. Some parents of my kids friends, who are white, can see me every day… have been introduced to me several times… and if they see me again, it’s like they’ve never seen me b/4 in their lives and won’t bother saying hello. I have tenants, who are white, and if they see me anywhere other than in front of my house, will walk right past me completely oblivious. Neighbor across the street is white. I’ve actually gotten IN her car and helped her get her car out of a snow bank…. has NEVER said hello.”

      Newstoner, this comment stuck out to me, because this happens to me, too! People I know well from the nabe or work don’t seem to recognize me outside of the office apt building I live in a lot of the time. I can wave at them like I’m flailing around for a life preserver in the North Atlantic and they will just walk by me. I thought it was just me! Just FYI, I’m white, so I don’t think it’s a white/black thing. Maybe it’s some sort of collective facial recognition problem that society is having? Or maybe people just don’t like me. *Awkward laughter here*

    • “But here’s an example of what I mean…I have toddler age youngsters. I Take them to blue park on Fulton & Stuyvesant often. Some parents of my kids friends, who are white, can see me every day… have been introduced to me several times… and if they see me again, it’s like they’ve never seen me b/4 in their lives and won’t bother saying hello. I have tenants, who are white, and if they see me anywhere other than in front of my house, will walk right past me completely oblivious. Neighbor across the street is white. I’ve actually gotten IN her car and helped her get her car out of a snow bank…. has NEVER said hello.”

      Newstoner, this comment stuck out to me, because this happens to me, too! People I know well from the nabe or work don’t seem to recognize me outside of the office apt building I live in a lot of the time. I can wave at them like I’m flailing around for a life preserver in the North Atlantic and they will just walk by me. I thought it was just me! Just FYI, I’m white, so I don’t think it’s a white/black thing. Maybe it’s some sort of collective facial recognition problem that society is having? Or maybe people just don’t like me. *Awkward laughter here*

  • iiliiiiill

    I think the issue is getting out of hand. If you have a signed deed, what more validation do you need to show you’re a part of the neighborhood. There’s a-holes in every neighborhood. I think most have a sense of fear of fitting in. Well you know what, forget fitting in. You bought because this is where you can afford, now let everything else come naturally. Before the year is over, I predict that somebody is going to manufacture a pamphlet for “First-time gentrifier – do’s and don’ts…”

  • iiliiiiill

    I think the issue is getting out of hand. If you have a signed deed, what more validation do you need to show you’re a part of the neighborhood. There’s a-holes in every neighborhood. I think most have a sense of fear of fitting in. Well you know what, forget fitting in. You bought because this is where you can afford, now let everything else come naturally. Before the year is over, I predict that somebody is going to manufacture a pamphlet for “First-time gentrifier – do’s and don’ts…”

  • callalily

    This article seems to be more about the author finding her own identity and figuring out where she fits in than anything.

    I hope the many positive aspects of Bed Stuy, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights become better known and don’t go away.