Regeneration NOT Gentrification: Being Black in Gentrified DC
DC. Once known as "Chocolate City", has turned more into a Chai Latte City. Small pockets of DC that were once local owned and cherished have been monopolized by the "yuppies" & privileged alike.
I moved to the newly dubbed Bloomingdale area, previously known as a LeDroit Park , in July of 2014. Nested in a quaint, English finished basement apartment with my Sierra Leonean- American born roomie, and my Haitian & Chinese landlords, I was surrounded by older black families and interracial couples on my block. Our house was owned by one of the "Little Rock Nine", and we were in walking distance to Howard University & Howard Theatre.
As the seasons started to changed from summer to fall, my roommate & I started to notice a change as well. All the houses around our neighborhood filled with immigrant families and others of color started to go up for sale. The color was starting to drain from the neighborhood we so loved. As we walked in our own neighborhood, we were given side-eyes by white couples & those lacking in melanin gaggles of friends. They would go so far as to distanced themselves from us when walking down our own blocks. How did it happened that we were feeling uncomfortable in our own neighborhoods?
Even our favorite restaurants in our neighborhood started to lose its color & charm. Is respecting the locals still a thing in DC or is it best to run out all the people of color to make the new DC implants comfortable?
The incident with young Jason Goolsby, the student racially profiled at Howard University, made me think even more on this issue. If Jason, who goes to an HBCU where a student of color should feel the most safe, where is it safe to be in DC?
Southeast DC is even becoming gentrified. Described as one of the poorest and black dominated wards in the district, is now receiving a Busboys & Poets placed in their mist. Now, I love Busboys, but anytime there is one placed, housing prices are skyrocketed & the locals are moved out. Take notice in Hyattsville, MD , Brookland, DC, U Street in DC, and the list goes on.
There has to be more of a discussion and a movement for us to regenerate these poorer communities. A lot of those in privileged positions move into these "up & coming" areas because they are trending right now, but do not respect the local culture or people of the area. It is imperative we have these discussions because if we don't Jason Goolsby will not be the only Howard student racially profiled in DC.
Not only in Howard/Shaw area, but even in Georgetown, they have a secret surveillance system in the area that people report "suspicious" people being in the area. Most of these so called "suspicious" people are people of color, some who even attend George Washington University & Georgetown. [Check out this Washington Post article for more]
Respecting the locals and actually getting out into those areas & participate in the community you are inhabiting is vital. With the resurgence of privileged individuals moving back in urban cities from their suburban towns, it is important to accumulate them to the fact that there are people of color in the world & they do not serve as threat because they look different than you, which is probably the biggest root of the problem.
Check your privilege. It is this "Columbus" mentality to think there was no culture or history before you came into the area. Just because you come into an area doesn't mean you own it now, and you do not have to interact with those who have been there for years or even decades. You aren't bring civilization or history to the area because it was already a functioning system before you came into the area.
As minorities in America, we do not have the "privilege" to be surrounded by people who only looked like us. So we know how to interact with people of all colors & creeds because we've been so used to living in this "double-veiled" situation, we know how to see the world in different lenses.
" It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder." - W.E.B. DuBois
Moral of the story: Respect the locals. Regenerate the neighborhood you are in & step out of your comfort zone. Enhance your experience in these areas, but taking in the local culture & history and not just the newness that is placed in front of you. Remember, everything that sparkles isn't gold.