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Reclaiming our land when gentrifiers lurk

November 3, 2017

by Jacqueline Bediako

Jacqueline Bediako speaks at the Brooklyn March Against Gentrification, Racism and Police Violence in New York City on Sept. 9, 2017.

Gentrification is the process in which neighborhoods where people of color have lived for years become desirable, especially from the viewpoint of the white gentrifier.

This process frequently begins, but most often ends in the displacement of long-time residents. It seems contradictory that white hipsters who support progressive movements, liberation and climate justice are the very people who contribute to the elimination of marginalized communities.

From my apartment in Kensington, Brooklyn, I’ve watched white people slowly edge into my building and push out those who made it exciting, dynamic and homey. The Puerto Rican couple, who smoked incessantly and argued in that destructive yet comforting pre-divorce phase, gone; the Black intellectual with slits for eyes, a fluffy beard and a mind that never rested, gone; the little boy who blew bubbles and gleefully bounced on the steps outside, gone, and the Pakistani family, whose patriarch would leave at dawn to drive a yellow cab, gone.

These people – women, children, workers, immigrants – who defined my home have left. And I’m faced with awkward and disingenuous encounters with capitalism’s beneficiaries.

Gentrification is the process in which neighborhoods where people of color have lived for years become desirable, especially from the viewpoint of the white gentrifier. This process frequently begins, but most often ends in the displacement of long-time residents.

All too often it’s women of color who are left fighting slumlords and greedy management companies. Fierce and informed, they refuse to move – and quite rightly so. But landlords recruit their pathetic minions – opportunistic superintendents and go-betweens – who collude in this domestic terror to drive people out.

So long as tactics which serve to permanently eliminate Black people are employed, life will be a struggle. Such tactics are manipulative and violent and involve pushing people out of the homes and communities they’ve nurtured for years.

It is these unjust acts, which are so deeply inhumane, that caused many including myself to participate in the Brooklyn March Against Gentrification, Racism and Police Violence on Sept. 9, 2017, in New York City. I attended the march with members of the New York City chapter of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, a national membership-based organization challenging systemic violence and anti-Black racism.

Residents in Brooklyn buildings are pushed to leave by mysterious loud noises, which prevent them from sleeping at night. Many with leases specifying rent stabilization are harassed and offered cash payments to leave. Or, necessary repairs fail to happen for months, forcing tenants to live with vermin and other pests.

People can only take so much pain and suffering before they break.

So long as tactics which serve to permanently eliminate Black people are employed, life will be a struggle. Such tactics are manipulative and violent and involve pushing people out of the homes and communities they’ve nurtured for years.

When people of color leave, the refurbishments and repairs start to take shape. We see walls painted, new floors laid, and bushes and trees trimmed to perfection. The usually scruffy appearance of the area is quickly rectified in favor of something aesthetically pleasing. Long-time residents notice these gradual changes and in turn become anxious about whether they will be able to continue to live in their homes.

With gentrification comes an increased police presence, leading to the criminalization and isolation of residents who no longer feel safe in their communities. This isn’t limited to Brooklyn. Indeed, in Detroit, Michigan, the gentrification-to-prison pipeline has functioned as another method of evicting residents. In an article by Lacino Hamilton, published by Truthout, Hamilton talks about his experiences in Detroit in the midst of gentrification:

“I saw with my own eyes how economic and social development dismantled the downtown Cass Corridor area and created internal refugees of American citizens, many of whom join me in here, in prison.”

With gentrification comes an increased police presence, leading to the criminalization and isolation of residents who no longer feel safe in their communities. In Detroit, Michigan, the gentrification-to-prison pipeline has functioned as another method of evicting residents.

Hamilton highlights that:

“Forcing people to evacuate a neighborhood or entire section of a city cannot be achieved by democratic means. It is inconceivable that anyone would vote to displace themselves, right? This explains why police, courts and prison are often used to remove and disappear some people.”

Gentrification involves the creation of a new community primarily comprised of white gentrifiers, who pretend to be oblivious to their own privilege and the violence that enabled them to move freely and relocate. For Hamilton, “Gentrification and colonialism are the same processes largely because they share the same goals – dislocation, expropriation and the pursuit of profit.”

With gentrification comes the erosion of the energy, character and vibrancy that made these communities so magnetic and inviting in the first place. Indeed, communities are catapulted into an unnecessary reconstruction. When residents become homogenous and neighborhoods lose their authenticity, something unique is lost and unlikely to be revived.

Gentrification involves the creation of a new community primarily comprised of white gentrifiers, who pretend to be oblivious to their own privilege and the violence that enabled them to move freely and relocate.

As an alternative to pushing people out we need to build affordable housing and impose restrictions on the power and greed of landlords. We need to repair and restore existing forms of affordable housing. We need to ensure those protected by rent stabilization continue to be looked after, and shielded from the domestic terrorism running rampant in their communities.

With gentrification comes the erosion of the energy, character and vibrancy that made these communities so magnetic and inviting in the first place.

We need to understand that people of color built their communities and we need systems that demonstrate gratitude to this history by donating land and property to them. This property should then be passed through the family to create generational wealth. People of color who choose to purchase homes have every right to do so – they should be able to exercise this right in any neighborhood they pick.

Home ownership should not just be another feature of the white privilege package.

These suggestions are not radical or extreme, but logical and necessary. Gentrifiers take note: Your freedom of movement exists only because the oppression and subjugation of people of color also exists. Until gentrifiers accept and challenge their compliance and active role in this evil, the cycle will continue.

Jacqueline Bediako is a writer, artist, educator and organizer. She is a chapter leader with Million Hoodies Movement for Justice NYC and a member of African Communities Together (ACT). Jacqueline’s work focuses on challenging anti-Black racism, defending the rights of immigrants, and providing access to opportunity for marginalized communities through education, political engagement and exposure to alternative healing practices. A graduate of the University of Bristol in England and Brooklyn College in New York City, Jacqueline has lived in Brooklyn for the past nine years. Learn more at jacquelinebediako.com.  

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