“When the Gentrifier is Black”

This piece by Dax Devlon-Ross on his feelings about being a self-described black gentrifier delivers a lot of food for thought. Very much worth the time to read. A snippet below. Read the whole thing here (published by the folks at the invaluable Dominion of New York website):

Witnessing both protracted blight and the sudden rebirth has been an education in class tension. Although the wealthy have the power to uproot, the marginalized have the moral authority to shame. Words like “invade” and “displace” carry weight. They suggest injustice, unfairness, and illegitimacy, words that in a democracy (nominally) founded on principles of merit, liberty and equality are tantamount to evil, criminal, insincere, inauthentic, words no one wants to be associated with. It is much more psychically pleasant on the side of the righteous, easier on the conscience to find common cause with the underdog. When One Percenter wunderkind Warren Buffet urged legislators to stop coddling his ilk in a widely circulated op-ed last summer was he not offering an olive branch to the disgruntled poor and middle classes? When nouveau riche rap icon Jay-Z tells us yet another cooking-crack-in-the-kitchen story is he not reminding us of his acquaintance with adversity?  When Jennifer Lopez claims she’s still “Jenny from the block” is she not suggesting she’s still “real”? Because we live in a society where, as Jay puts it on the song “Otis”, “everything’s for sale,” our identities are always in flux. As a result, our need to connect and re-connect our narrative with our version of hardship becomes pathological. We have to constantly prove that we are who we say we are, not only to others, but to ourselves. One way of accomplishing this is by literally affiliating ourselves with the struggle. And in America, as I’m sure is the case anywhere, the struggle has a physical location.  It’s the ‘hood, the heartland or a distant homeland that our ancestors left in search of a better life. Either way, our collective anxiety about who we are, particularly our desire to align our unique personal history with the perceptions others may have about us based on appearances, drives us to attach ourselves to these “authentic” spaces.

The evolution of the Occupy Movement is a prime example of how the phenomenon works. It started as a fringe group mash up that no one took seriously. By early October Zuccotti Park was a carnival of special interests. By mid-October old-guard unions were showing up at the park. By November Jay-Z was peddling “Occupy All Streets” t-shirts. Two weeks ago I was at a swanky gathering of the New York liberal establishment where every single speaker championed the movement to resounding applause. Authenticity is like Thanksgiving turkey. Everybody wants a piece.

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