During the Great Migration in the United States – when Black people left the shit conditions of life in the Jim Crow south for a better life up north- they moved into neighborhoods that were predominately White. Essentially, the reverse of what is happening in gentrified Black neighborhoods today. And while some raise a raucous over the takeover, others seem to Kanye shrug it off as some kind of organic cycle of neighborhood life. That’s cause folks don’t know history. The group effort (and trust, it’s a group effort. The only way that renovated apartment complexes, sky rocketing rent, updated hospital facilities, and a sudden boom of organic food markets and coffee shops can happen so quickly and effortlessly is with some degree of organized group effort) used to run Black residents out of their neighborhoods today is reminiscent of the collective passion used to keep their forefathers out during the Great Migration: “The changeover in Harlem was not a smooth one…in fact, the arrival of colored migrants set off remarkable displays of hostility, ranging from organized threats against white property owners who might sell or rent to blacks to firebombing of houses before the new colored owners could even move in…Panicked property owners drafted restrictive covenants in which they swore not to let colored people into their properties for fifteen years…and (some) went so far as to limit the number of colored janitors, bellboys, butlers, maids, and cooks to be employed in a Harlem home or business.” The Warmth of Other Suns, pg 249. And on top of dealing with the bullshit of leaving one racist part of the country in search of a better life in another part of the country only to find that it’s just as racist in many ways, Black migrants often found themselves paying double the rent than the current White residents because landlords were looking to profit off of their desperation. Eventually, the collective attempt to thwart Black migration couldn’t hold under the pressure to sell, and since White northerners weren’t bound to Jim Crow as the law of the land, they didn’t remain as committed to the mission as they intended to. Gentrification, on the other hand, has been more successful. Everyone seems to be on the same page this time. But despite the differences in their outcome, both events are riddled with the American legacy of “otherizing” and demonizing Blackness. Compare the language and tone used by White residents fighting the influx of Black migrants during the Great Migration: “a growing menace”, “an invasion”, “black hordes”, “common enemy”, “the greatest problem Harlem has had to face” (The Warmth of Other Suns, pg 249) to the language used by a Harlem gentrifier in an email from a co-op resident to other residents regarding the Mt. Morris park drumming circle: “Why don’t we just get nooses for everyone of those lowlifes and hang them from a tree? They’re used to that kind of treatment anyway!…I hope you all agree that the best thing that has happened to Harlem is gentrification. Let’s get rid of these ‘people’ and improve the neighborhood once and for all.” Well, damn. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/nyregion/06drummers.html?pagewanted=all. Ok, so now what? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m just calling it how I see it. (Though I do know that the people
bitching crying about Spike Lee’s recent rants on gentrification can dry their tears. You have nothing to fear. I doubt his two cents are going to stop the well-oiled gentrification machine from taking over. http://ideas.time.com/2014/03/01/dax-devlon-ross-on-spike-lee/) A ghost comes back to haunt us because there is unfinished business it must attend to. It creeps in quietly, discreetly alerting you to its presence. If it goes ignored and unchecked long enough, it will eventually run the show. So I guess, for me, the takeaway is to face facts. Be real about what gentrification is and make up your mind accordingly. There ain’t no future in fronting when it comes to a haunting.
*The book I referenced: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson