Brooklyn Brownstones

The Inner Conflict of Being a Black Gentrifier

What happens when Black folks are the ones helping to price others out of the neighborhood?

by Andrea Moore, May 23, 2016

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Brooklyn Brownstones

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I’m from the part of San Francisco James Baldwin dubbed, “The San Francisco America pretends does not exist.” Gentrification in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood is likened to the despair and plainness that happens when Christmas decorations are taken down and the tree is left barren, shrunken, abandoned and unremarkable.

While I mourn Bayview and its neighbors that once were, I find myself a transplant in someone else’s neighborhood contributing to the reason generations of locals are being displaced.  Many young Black professionals find ourselves journeying from college to a new socioeconomic status that has landed us in a place where we have become the modern day “invisible men”— Black gentrifiers criticizing gentrification for its polarizing effects on hometowns we left behind to attain the American Dream, though benefitting from the effects gentrification has on the neighborhoods in which we’ve chosen to live, work, and raise families.

Being a Black woman at a time when so many women who look like me are silently dying with no one being held accountable, I have no choice but to stay “woke.”  To be anything less than conscious is dangerous. And so here I am simultaneously awake and invisible, disheartened by the recent headlines from my hometown about the racial tensions, cultural, economic, and class divides that are becoming as much a part of San Francisco as the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet, I find myself 3000 miles away, living in a historically Black neighborhood and somehow removed from the struggles of longtime residents who are being displaced because of the very tensions and divides that ravage my hometown.

Gentrification is often a narrative of young white people moving into historically Black neighborhoods. But as one of many new residents who have moved into a Virginia neighborhood that, before desegregation, was once the center of Black intellectualism, I too am as much a gentrifier as the white neighbors, and the Starbucks, Whole Foods, and trendy cafes rocketing the cost of living.

My ambivalence about my role as both the gentrified and gentrifier gives me a self-inflicted case of survivor’s remorse. With each trip home to see my family the chances of running into an old friend without pre-planning a trip across a bridge, or a BART ride and bus transfer, is nearly impossible. Running into friends who once lived within walking distance, but at some point during the ‘90s, moved to nearby Oakland for more affordable housing was expected ten years ago. But over time these same friends have been forced to move further into the East Bay to make room for developers that cater to the techies who helped to create Google, Netflix, Twitter, YouTube, and an insane hike in the cost of housing.

I must be honest, though. My level of chill has quadrupled now that I have Netflix; Twitter has expanded my global dialogue; research became easier with Google at my fingertips; and my twist-out game has been elevated to epic proportions thanks to YouTube. Being able to walk a few blocks to a neighborhood wine bar from the home where I grew up, or indulge in a spa service just blocks away from the Opera House–a Hunters Point institution–are the benefits of a growing, albeit changing, neighborhood. But they are amenities that many native residents have been priced out of enjoying.

In one regard I balk at the changing landscape of my neighborhood, and the blatant ownership new residents have that give them the false consent to change the names of landmarks and neighborhoods to fancier sounding ones like “Upper Bayview.” These changes not only erase Bayview’s history, but also alters the place for the generations who once called it home. But true to the inner conflict that prohibits me from connecting with any neighborhood other than the one that raised me, I more readily accept the donut shop that brings wealthy college students who could be prospective tenants when we decide to rent our house. I shrug in indifference at the quaint café that recently had its grand opening, and I nod knowingly at the local newspaper headline that confirms that this once predominantly Black city is now officially a thing of the past.

Sure, my curly haired Black child and dreadlocked husband aren’t the image of gentrification. We’re not even included in the statistic that gave merit to the recent headline about the city in which we live no longer being majority Black. We are conscious and invisible, indifferent and enlightened.

I’m finding peace by reaching one hand back to the only place I’ll ever call home and one hand forward to help try to give back to a neighborhood that which has been taken from it: respect.

 

Andrea S. Moore is a San Francisco native who frequently writes about lifestyle, culture, healthcare, politics, and marriage. Her work has been featured in JETmag.com, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, Clutch Magazine and xojane to name a few. 

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