The New Oppression

The other day, a walk down the block went awry. While heading to the corner store, I passed a man standing on his front steps 3 or 4 doors down from mine and, trying to be neighborly, I nodded towards him and said “how you doin’?” He responded with an unfriendly glare and a barrage of questions about where I was going, where I’m from and the like. Though I knew better, I unthinkingly stopped and attempted friendly chit-chat for a hot minute. After deducing my suburban origins, the vibe turned even uglier. Not wanting to engage any further in the interrogation, I tried brushing it off and walking past him, but he stepped in front of me. His blood-shot eyes boring into me, he said “you’re lucky that lady’s right there [gestures towards a woman observing us from her porch] ‘cuz otherwise I’d slap the shit outta you.” I tried going around him, but he kept side-stepping to block me. That lady was apparently on my team, as she smiled sympathetically at me and motioned for me to walk the other way.

So I’m once again thinking about the phenomenon of gentrification, the first topic I ever wrote about for BNV. I always thought I was an outlier as far as this stuff goes; I may be a white boy from the ‘burbs who migrated to the city, but I’m also a “starving artist” (if you consider punk rock, cut-and-paste collages and under-informed, conjectural ranting to be art forms). I just go wherever there’s cheap rent and a basement to make noise in. I’m not investing in a condo or renovated brownstone with which to jack up local property values. I don’t have any degrees. I barely have any money. The house I live in is a slum according to any legal definition. I don’t think I’m directly participating in the gentrification process.

Or am I? After all, I wasn’t born poor. If I had played my cards right, I could’ve applied my industriousness and initiative towards a lucrative career instead of the economic no-man’s-land of my art, but I chose what I chose for personal and ideological reasons. Having that choice at all is a massive privilege in and of itself.

I’m disturbed by the trend that’s been unraveling in cities across the U.S. of A. It’s the next logical step in the advancement of post-Reagan economics: a small minority with a disproportionately large piece of the pie to start with keeps breaking off more pie for themselves, treating every ‘hood they set foot in like a game of Monopoly. Just as Giuliani “cleaned up” New York so that it wouldn’t scare off people with money, the wealthy few are buying up every city with “fixer-upper” potential and pasteurizing it for their tastes. At the rate they’re swarming, they’re on course to homogenize this entire country in their image.

This isn’t “urban renewal.” This is colonialism.

I still don’t know where I fall into the whole mess. But at the end of the day, I don’t blame my neighbor for being mad at me.