Pardon me for the misuse of English in this first post of 2014, but I can’t think of a better way to get across my point. What I want to discuss in this post this evening, is the concept of “Self-Gentrification.” What is that, you ask? Well, let’s just put a pin in that for a second. First, let’s start with the meaning of “gentrification.” Now I can just link the word to an online dictionary and you can read for yourself what “gentrification” means but I think I have a better way to get across what I am talking about by providing the following anecdote:
So you are a kid raised in a neighborhood/ward/island/city, living in a Brownstone/Row House/Creole Cottage/Seaside Rancher/80s Style Traditional, where you have your own culture. Only you don’t think of it as “culture,” but as a comfortable way that you live your life. Maybe your traditions include going door-to-door to sample food during the holidays, fishing with handmade nets, parading trick horses down the street, or dancing in Second Lines. That hole-in-wall eatery on the corner makes the best red rice/gumbo/seafood boil/okra, tomato, and corn in the world. That fruit and vegetable stand, has the juiciest peaches, the ripest tomatoes, and the sweetest watermelon. Your neighbors helped to raise you. The seamstress, midwife, and mechanic are all within walking distance. They know who you and your parents are. This is the way of life in which you were raised, your parents were raised, your grandparents were raised…and so on. So years go by and you grow up. You may go away to college, travel abroad, and/or get that corporate career. Then you meet someone and you are ready to settle down now. Only instead of returning to the neighborhood/ward/island/city, you settle in This City East, West That City, or Upwardly Mobile Metropolis. Wherever it is, it’s in the ‘burbs, with the silhouette of the downtown skyscrapers visible in the distance. No matter where it is, you are now living in that cookie cutter, corner lot, open concept, granite/quartz countertops with the island prep space, stainless steel appliances, luxury en suite, gargantuan-sized master bedroom, and equally gargantuan master closet. You just know that is the perfect house that says, “I’ve made it!” One day, you’re feeling nostalgic or you’re going home to visit the folks on the holidays, only to find that most your neighbors and friends are gone, most of the surrounding homes abandoned, that favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery is all boarded up, and crime has run rampant. And what happened to the AME church where you were Baptized? About now, you are thinking, “I’ve gotten out of here in the nick of time.” You try to convince your parents to leave as well but they say, “no way.” Nothing or no one will run them out of a neighborhood they have lived in and raised their family for X number of years. So as this new reality of what has become of your old ‘hood rattles around in your mind, you notice the new neighbors who are unloading their U-haul. They look nothing like the people you have grown up with. Their faces hold expressions of new beginnings, excitement, enjoyment, and discovery. Your parents explain that they are John and Jane Newcomer and they had moved in from West This City and bought and fixed up the Brownstone/Row House/Creole Cottage/Seaside Rancher/80s Style Traditional for the last few weeks and wouldn’t it be nice if you brought them some home cooking and welcome them into the neighborhood (they’d already introduced themselves when they first saw them – that whole neighborhood watch thing). While you’re wondering who in the world would live in this rundown place on purpose, you do as suggested and take food over to the new neighbors. They hesitate to let you in at first, but once you explain whose child you are (“Oh Mr. and Mrs Been Here’s child from next door!”), the fear in their faces disappear and you are invited inside. They are eager to show off what they have done with the place. The first thing that you notice is that the space has been renovated with the very amenities that you covet in your own home in This City East, West That City, or Upwardly Mobile Metropolis. They’ve maintained the charm of the original structure but there is the open floor plan, granite/quartz countertops with island prep space; original hardwood floors (what do you mean no carpet?), reconfigured master bedroom with spa-like en suite, and closet organizer. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit but I’m trying to paint a picture here. So you leave your old neighborhood and return to West This City, That City East, or Upwardly Mobile Metropolis, giving the changes a little thought as you settle back into your normal routine of perfect suburbia-tude. When you return to your ‘hood, you have found that more new people have moved in. These new “come heres” are not friendly like the first set. Although their curtains are drawn, they don’t speak to anyone, and they go about their daily lives, their standoffish and private culture contaminate the indigenous traditions. The homes have been fixed up but have kept the character that you have taken for granted. There is a Starbucks and a Subways, so there is no more desire for that down home hole-in-the-wall eatery and they have been run out of business. Where are the people you know? Well the high property taxes ran the rest of them out of the neighborhood/ward/island/city. Thinking of grabbing your trumpet and joining that Second Line that just passed by your door? The cops are about to shut it down before it gets to the next corner because your new neighbors just complained about the noise. Does the new security gate prevent you from taking food to the new neighbors during the holidays? What about church on Sunday? Oh no, that’s gone too. Replaced by the mega interfaith church outside of the neighborhood. I could go on but you know what I am saying is very familiar and you can fill in the blanks with your own stories of displacement. So with this transition, the people and culture of the neighborhood/ward/island/city has disappeared. And all of this that I have described is “gentrification.” I’m pretty sure that Webster’s does not cover the term to this magnitude.
So getting back to “Gentrifying your own self!” What I mean is sure, go away to school, join the Peace Corps, travel, spend a couple of years in that upwardly mobile place, and earn all of the promotions, but come back home. I mean do not sell the Brownstone/Row House/Creole Cottage/Seaside Rancher/80s style traditional that you have inherited. If you have not inherited one, return to your neighborhood or a place that is similar to your old neighborhood and buy one for an inexpensive mortgage. And if you happen to purchase a home where you are not familiar with the traditions, learn them. Make them yours. This way you are adding to the richness of the ‘hood, not taking from it. That money that you had planned to spend on your cookie cutter, corner lot, open
concept, granite/quartz countertops with the island prep space, stainless steel appliances, luxury en suite and so on, put that into your valuable historic home. The advantage? You can keep that hole-in-the-wall eatery on the corner that serves the best creole/lowcountry/wharfstyle/indigenous cuisine. You can keep the fruit and vegetable stand because you’re still there to buy the extra sweet peaches, ripe tomatoes, and sweet watermelon. You can go to the beach because you kept the beach access. You can grab your trumpet and join in on that Second Line that just passed by your porch, because who is going to call the cops on your own people? Do you see where I am going here? Gentrify your own self! Oh sure West This City, That City East, and Upwardly Mobile Metropolis have larger lot sizes, larger master bedrooms, larger walk-in closets, that illusion of security, the so-called best schools, and the famous mega church, but where does that really fall into the scheme of things? We are losing ourselves. Our children don’t have that cultural reinforcement they need in order to find their place in life and be successful.
This is not about separation or segregation. This is about reclaiming what is yours. This is about you finding the value in where you were raised and where your family was raised before someone else does and by the time you have realized that you gave up your diamond in the rough, it is too late to reverse that decision. This is about building a strong neighborhood that can maintain strong cultures, which is instrumental in giving our children a sense of purpose. This goes along the lines of my last post concerning the reasons, teaching history should still be relevant. Gentrify your own self! I’m talking to myself as well. It’s time for us to go home. To our real home. All of us.