It’s a last minute "let’s-catch-up" meeting with a homegirl who I haven’t seen in ages. We are riding the J train to the L train in Brooklyn and she notices some things have changed since our last visit.
Her: We still in Brooklyn? (Note: Her orientation sucks.)
Her: Bed-Stuy! So many White people now...
Me: Yup, gentrification will do that...and have you question whether or not you belong in the place where you grew up.
Even if you've never visited the Big Apple, you're likely aware of the fact that Brooklyn is changing. Brooklyn has changed. Folks like me are being pushed out and they are being led in, single-file like elementary school students on a field trip. The hipsters, yuppies. The others who can afford $6 bottles of Kombucha and $1500 studios.
I am a Brooklyn native. Born and raised. I’m too young to have partied with Rosie Perez at Wesley Snipes' parties that are said to have envied Diddy's; old enough to remember the East vs. West Coast beef starring Biggie and Tupac and the funeral of the former, which brought Brooklynites young and old to the streets in mourning. And now, old enough to witness neighborhoods change aesthetically and financially at a time when I'm thinking quite seriously about where I might live and raise my own family.
African hair braiding spots, West Indian restaurants with smells that‘d detour you from an original destination, barbershops you’d avoid walking by due to the cat-calls of men further emboldened by the confidence of a fresh line-up, bodegas that made a serious hero sandwich, dirty streets and overflowing trash cans. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was my ‘hood—held together with culture and imperfection.
My Brooklyn was the outline of hopscotch sketched into sidewalks with colored chalk; loud chants of “arrreee-youuuu-readyyyy-readyyy-steaddyy…” and double-dutch battles. It was water ferociously pouring from fire hydrants; late nights sitting on the trunk of someone’s hoopty; the sounds of ambulance, police sirens combined with lilting accents. It wasn’t the Brooklyn of Lena Dunham‘s Girls, a post Sex and the City mini-Manhattan. In fact, they avoided it at all cost. It wasn’t trendy based off real estate and infrastructure, but was cool because Biggie said it was. Hell, it was cool just because. We said so.
But that is old-school Brooklyn. Today it stands unrecognizable. I’ve circled blocks in search of parking and in that moment realized most isn’t the same. Where is the character? The air is different. My childhood has been practically erased.
Brooklyn today is cleaner streets, swanky restaurants that serve misconstrued interpretation of jerk chicken, overpriced boutiques and housing, fresh produce and a streamline of White faces. The aforementioned aren’t necessarily my problems with gentrification. My problem isn’t with Whites moving in, not by far. My problem with gentrification is the abrupt uprooting of beautiful family trees without any explanation. My problem is that tearing down 'mom and pop' owned businesses means tearing down livelihoods and dreams.
My problem lies with self-esteem killers. The message that we didn't deserve the attention of the city and needed services until other people moved in. This pretense of upward mobility that is of gentrification is false. Statistics have shown that residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant are entering homeless shelters at high rates. What good does this do for one’s self-worth? Absolutely nothing. For Brooklynites forced out, a question of “what’s wrong with me?” stirs within. I know, I’ve asked myself.
I asked Marcy's own Jay-Z his opinion on gentrified Brooklyn during his recent impromptu Twitter Q&A session, in which he responded “buzzkill, the world is changing for the better AND the worse.” In Nelson George’s Brooklyn Boheme, a documentary showcasing the changes in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Spike Lee referred to gentrification as the “Christopher Columbus Syndrome,” discovering sh*t that was already there. Tell them, Spike!
Brooklyn been here! We were here! I was here!
No matter what, the values and experiences I’ve acquired as a Brooklyn girl are worth more than the current listing of any Brownstone in the Stuy. So it's all good. Word to Biggie.