lifestyle

Why Gentrification is Toxic to a POC Community

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Photo: AARON CYNIC for Chicago Reader

You’re walking down your neighborhood and you start to see that the new neighbors are moving in. No surprise, they are a nice white couple with a dog. You wave hello and carry on your way. But, you can’t help but notice a change in the environment. Your favorite bodega or corner mart is now a juicery. Your local mom and pop diner is a new “up and coming” hipster bar. You notice the neighborhood has changed drastically and you ask yourself, “how long will it be before they push me out?”

We are facing a real issue in America when it comes to our living circumstances. The issue that many major minority demographic & low-income areas are facing. The issue called gentrification. Gentrification in dictionary terms meaning “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” The dictionary makes it sound as a peaceful community clean up that involves those of the city to be proactive in the community. However, it has a double meaning as well to the people who are living in the area during the process of gentrification. The truth behind gentrification could mean erasing the neighborhood’s identity or culture to create a more upscale environment for outsiders’ comfort.

Neighborhoods that feature rich culture such as the Black community of Harlem, New York to Little Havana, Florida. It seems these community immigrants are popping in and pushing out the culture with them.

Smudging the culture and making it seem as though we don’t fit into the ideal “American Community” because of our ethnic differences. It causes tension between those of color and non-pocs. Creating a conversation that speaks on the fact that just because our tax brackets or lifestyles aren’t similar, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same opportunity of living as those in the upper middle class.

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There aren’t too many of these communities staying quiet about the displacement. More than ever we see protests and organizations vocalizing this major issue in America. Organizations such as BAN (Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network) are gathering their local neighbors to spread awareness that their culture is not for sale.

Another group making headlines is Serve the People LA. The organization has formed other groups in Austin, Portland, and Washington DC. The group is created to protect the Latin communities in LA. They have an aggressive tone but yet they strike a message that deserves to be heard,

“Our emphasis is not on hipsters and white people walking our neighborhood but when they come here … perhaps these folks should feel uncomfortable. Boyle Heights is not a poverty zoo for wealthy people from West LA.” -spokesman, Alex Brownson. 

By-standers claim that these groups are usually aggressive and make them feel uncomfortable. Overall that is the point. Silencing ourselves for so long about the many changes happening around us have led to this. It has led to outsiders feeling uncomfortable coming into a new environment and complaining about language barriers or food choices that aren’t desirable to their palate. But am I innocent in this? No, because I have been a patron to bars that feature upscale drinks and edgier ambiance.

Offering myself something cutting edge and trendy in an environment that used to hold sounds of Salsa and Merengue. I admit I was guilty as well, enjoying the “hipsterville” known as Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I had to take a step back though and analyze why did these newcomers feel so comfortable kicking out those who have lived here their entire lives. Bringing immediate awareness to my faults, I had to stop going to White-owned establishments that profited off Mexican culture, Vietnamese Culture, Thai Culture, and Black Culture. After hearing the stories and seeing so much tension within these areas from the gentrifiers vs. the Neighborhood. I knew which side I needed to choose.

Our culture is not for sale and our neighborhoods shouldn’t be either. In the end, we are a community of voices. Voices with history and stories that deserve to be heard. Whether it is the sounds of the Harlem Renaissance or the Tejano sounds in Corpus Christi, Texas. Our stories help create the American blend. Our communities and areas were built from the ground up when White & anything of a darker complexion was not allowed to integrate. Even in the north, it still had prevalent racism after slavery. We deserve to have our communities. Any outsider approaching should want to learn about our American history, the same way we are forced to learn about the whiter version of history.

Take charge and be proactive in your community. Locate a group that is assisting in change, in your community. Let them know our voices matter and we won’t be erased.

“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”
― Maya AngelouWouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

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