How to Erase Black Brooklyn: 101

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This month I celebrate eight years as a resident of the historic Bedford-Stuyvesant. The ride has been full of high tides and changes, but none has been as gut wrenching as the gentrification of my neighborhood. When I moved here in 2007, i lived in a 3bedroom apartment that took up the entire floor of a massive brownstone for a measly $1600. I walked by my old building a month ago only to see it being completely gutted. I texted my old roommate a picture of it and she simply responded, “Yeah, she sold the building for pennies.”

There was something off about Tuesday morning. I walked out of my building and my street was eerily quiet. I started walking to the train looking around for familiar faces and these tweets poured out.

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I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the idea that Bed-Stuy was being eroded, but Tuesday, I just couldn’t pull myself out the funk I was in. Lunchtime rolls around and NYMag posts an article that can only be summed up as the official guide to displacing black New Yorkers. It is an excerpt of writer DW Gibson’s “The Edge Becomes the Center: The Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century”, which is filled with three years of research. In this snippet, Gibson is talking to Ephraim, a Hasidic developer and landlord who is more than candid about his business practice. Illegal mortgage deals aside, Ephraim details how displacement actually works. You may want to get your barf bags before reading this.

“We’re small, so we look into places that haven’t caught on — we just did a place on Nostrand Avenue. People are not even there yet. We put in $600,000 and everyone was laughing at us. “It’s crazy, you’re over there. A building for yuppies, white people? It’s not going to work.” The building was full of tenants — $1,300, $1,400 tenants. We paid every tenant the average of twelve, thirteen thousand dollars to leave. I actually went to meet them — lawyers are not going to help you. And we got them out of the building and now we have tenants paying $2,700, $2,800, and they’re all white. So this is what we do.

My saying is — again, I’m not racist — every black person has a price. The average price for a black person here in Bed-Stuy is $30,000 dollars. Up over there in East New York, it’s $10,000 dollars.”

 

::sigh::

I attended a roundtable for blacks and whites to have a hard talk and of course the topic of gentrification came up. The above quote from Ephraim spoke directly to all of my rambling during the talk. Mayor Bloomberg wanted to turn New York into a playground for the wealthy, so of course gentrification is systemic, but there are things that we can do as citizens to combat this on a basic level.

Black residents must hold out as long as possible. The idea that we can be bought out for a measly $30,00 speaks to our ideas of self-worth. We undervalue our neighborhoods when they have so much potential. The brownstones that were largely owned by blacks when I first moved in are worth millions of dollars now. In our haste to “get up out the hood”, we leave behind a goldmine of real estate and aide in the deluding of once vibrant neighborhoods. Black urban professionals, move back into black areas and purchase homes. We owe it to ourselves and the community that raised us to pour our resources back into our neighborhoods. Lastly, black landlords need to decide what is more important, maintaining the culture of the neighborhood or displacing the people that make New York what it is for the sake of a come up.

White gentrifiers, Ephraim said exactly what I’ve been yelling from the mountaintops also known as my tweets for the last two years. You are being preyed on by landlords and through your naïveté, setting an exorbitant standard for rent. We all live in Brooklyn because it’s supposed to be cheaper than Manhattan remember? Ephraim went on to say that many white tenants are unhappy about black residents in their building. Listen, if you have a problem living next to black people, do us all a favor and do not move into our neighborhoods. Your presence does not “help” our communities unless your idea of help is considered bars and coffee shops. That thinking seemingly persists in the gentrifier circles and it’s only causing a larger rift between the races. Keep in mind when moving into black areas that there are codes and traditions in place set by natives that all of us transplants must abide by. Instead of opening your own businesses, patronize the ones that are here. Speak to the elders walking down the street. Bed-Stuy is packed with cultural programming in the summer, you should participate. Encourage your children to play with their neighbors and bring them to the children’s movie nights every Friday night in August. Above all, be respectful. It’s just that simple.

One of my biggest dreams growing up was to live in Bed-Stuy. I was drawn to the family feel and black nationalist agenda that hung in the air like fresh dew. It reminded me of the neighborhood I grew up in and where I wanted to raise my children. As our country becomes an indistinguishable pot of gumbo, I see the value in maintaining our own enclaves in order to preserve our history and culture. At times, I feel pessimistic that we’re too far gone to reclaim what is ours. Yet, I must remember that black people are phoenixes and we will always rise again.

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