TheGrio Daily

What’s So Bad About Gentrification?

Episode 52
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“If a white girl moves in next door she’s probably about to Christopher Columbus your whole hood.” Can you detect the early signs that your Black neighborhood is on the verge of gentrification? Michael Harriot explains what to look out for and why the issue is so detrimental to people of color.

[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:04] In the mid-nineties at my college, Auburn University. There was this nightclub called the Ultravox. It was like right across the street from campus. It was basically the Black nightclub for all the Black students. And, you know, of course, a bunch of white clubs. And the thing about the white clubs is they had what they call a membership policy. So you just couldn’t pay your money and go in. You either had a membership or the fee was that you had to fill out this application. They’ll give you a card and you could go in because they were essentially private clubs. The most famous one, you could look it up. It’s called The Supper Club. But Ultrabox was the only Black club. It was the only Black the only nightclub for Black people until, you know, white people started coming and, you know, as it grew. You know, they’d be one or two white people there. And then, you know, more white people started showing up. As you know, this was the mid-nineties. Everybody was starting to listen to hip hop. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:14] And as more white people came, the club raised the price of drinks. They started playing more diverse music. And, you know, one of the things about the the Ultra was that if you went to the bar, you could, like talk to somebody because it was going to take a longbox time to get their drinks. But when the white people started showing up, they renovated and they put up a VIP section where you could get your drinks really quickly, but they would cost more. And in the VIP section, they had another deejay that played like EDM music and basically white music. And at first Black people liked it. Like, you pay a couple more dollars, get you a drink real fast. But then they started making more changes. You know, they up the price of all the drinks. And then sometimes you’d go there and the deejay from the VIP section would be playing white music in the regular part of the club. And then one day we showed up and they had a sign that said, no baseball caps, no gold chains and no jerseys. And just like that, the Ultrabox have been gentrified. Yep. The Ultrabox was quite a michael Harriot, world famous white apologist. And this is thGrio Daily, the only podcast that actually looks at you like one of your little friends. 

Michael Harriot [00:02:44] And today we’re going to talk about gentrification. What is gentrification? Because we got to know what gentrification is before we even talk about this. Now, according to our girl Merriam-Webster, gentrification is a process in which poor areas, as of a city, experiences an influx of middle class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses, and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of early or usually poor residents. Now that’s a long definition, but when I used to teach my class called Race as an Economic Construct, I could simplify it, right? I used the more relatable word for gentrification. I called it micro colonization. Now think about it. See, when the English colonizers from the Virginia Company of London showed up on the shores of Turtle Island, which is what they used to call home America or North America. This continent, well, they would say that they came there for economic development. Of course, the natives who were already there wouldn’t say that because the natives knew that they were basically there to gentrify this continent and that some people, of course, would think that there’s nothing wrong with gentrification. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:05] If you live in a neighborhood, you want a Panera Bread and a Starbucks, too. Like, I don’t drink coffee, but apparently Starbucks coffee is like totally different from all the coffees in the world. Maybe they get their coffee beans from whitelandia or the white version of some country in the caucus mountains. But the problem is there is a difference between neighborhood revitalization and gentrification. Now, both of them make improvements and add resources to neighborhoods. But the goal of one is to change or improve the lives of the people who live there. But the main goal of gentrification is to change or improve the area, to make it attractive for people who don’t live there. And that’s the most essential part of gentrification, displacement. Think of it this way. See, there was nothing wrong with those white people who came to Ultrabox if they liked the music and the atmosphere and the people who partied there already. But when they started bringing their friends, they wanted the music to change. They didn’t want to wait at the bar. So they wanted their own bar. They wanted to go to a Black club, but they didn’t like the stuff that made the Ultra Box a Black club. So they erased stuff that made them uncomfortable because of their whiteness, because of their privilege, because they were used to the Supper Club. They were used to all the white clubs. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:38] And the same is true with neighborhoods. See, there’s nothing wrong with a white person moving into a Black neighborhood. The problem is most responses. Most white people don’t like living in Black neighborhoods. Oh, I should say that’s not my opinion. There are studies that show that the vast majority of white people don’t live in diverse neighborhoods as opposed to Black and Hispanic people. And the thing is that because white people don’t live or don’t like living around Black people, there’s less competition for Black homes, which makes Black neighborhoods cheaper to live in, according to a study at the Brookings Institute. The average U.S. metropolitan areas homes with a population is 50% Black, valued at roughly half the price as homes with no Black residents in neighborhoods with no Black residents. And that’s even if they have the same amenities, same resources, same crime rates. And that study also said that 10% of neighborhoods are majority Black. That’s across America. And they are home to 41% of the Black population who live in metro areas. And 37% of the US Black population lives in Black neighborhoods. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:57] So as you can see, like what we’re taught when we talk about Black neighborhoods, we’re talking about a lot of Black people. And that same study shows that the differences in homes and neighborhood quality do not fully explain the devaluation of home in Black neighborhoods, homes of similar quality with similar amenities over 23% less, or on average, about $48,000 per home, less than the average white home or home in a white neighborhood, which amounts to $156 billion and cumulative loss for the home values. So. As you can see, just living in a Black neighborhood or just living around Black people makes it cheap, makes it a cheap neighborhood. And white people like living in cheap neighborhoods, even if they don’t like living around Black people. So they don’t just move in. They pave the way for other white people to move in. I mean, if a white girl moving to you next door, she’s probably about a Christopher Columbus your whole hood. So we’re going to talk about the ways that you can tell if your neighborhood is being gentrified. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:13] First. The biggest thing is. Watch what you eat. See, the changing food landscape is the easiest way to tell why people are coming. John Hopkins Studies on food deserts show that minority neighborhoods often lack well-stocked grocery stores, so poor areas have fewer grocery options, fewer food options. And when they do have food options, many of them are high priced and unhealthy. And you know white people can’t live like this. Before they arrive, they’ve got to make sure that they can get their gluten free vegan farm raised, free ranged, organic, couscous. Gentrification is usually prefaced by the arrival of healthy options and grocery stores and 29 varieties of tomatoes. And if you ever spot a sign that says Whole Food coming to this location, you better be scared. And the unabridged gentrification thesaurus, Whole Foods is a universal synonym for white people. Every time you bring up a pomegranate and spicy pumpkin seed quinoa salad, a white person hears the gentrification bat signal. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:20] And the second way you can tell that white people are about to move in is you’re probably going to get a rent notice. Brooklyn is the perfect example of how gentrification increases rent and pushes out lower and middle income minority families. As Brooklyn became the Mecca for New York hipsters, the area became younger, whiter and more affluent. A report by the New York University Furman Center says that the decrease in Black population affected Brooklyn in a number of ways, right. As the number of people with college degrees increase, so did the rent. And since 2000, the rent in Brooklyn neighborhood, in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg and Greenpoint has increased 79%. So when you can’t afford to live there, that means white people are coming. 

Michael Harriot [00:10:09] And the third way is Black owned businesses start to disappear. See, remember, I think I said about Starbucks. See, it’s not because Starbucks has like special kinds of coffee beans. Or remember the little Jamaican restaurant where you used to get jerk chicken because they were always are oxtails. I mean, like, I don’t know why, but Jamaican restaurant is always better oxtails. You know, that is an example of what is this place where white people move in. Right. Like when white people move in, they come in the same way that McDonalds keeps mcFlurry on the menu but the machine is always broken. Is the oxtail machine broken? I don’t know. Okay, I’m going to get off the oxtail. But that Jamaican restaurant is now a subway. Your barber shop is now a Starbucks. That beauty supply store where you bought a weave and your hair gel is now a Starbucks. In fact, everything is just a Starbucks. Because if there’s one thing white people love more than bragging on how they got the jeans from a thrift stop shop, a uncoordinated driving, to guitar solos and white supremacy is Starbucks. 

Michael Harriot [00:11:13] So minority owned businesses always disappear when a neighborhood starts gentrifying because they have to make way for high volume corporate stores because, you know, small businesses can’t afford the rent, which leads to economic disempowerment of Black communities because it is the important part. See that Jamaican restaurant? They took their uniforms. They cleaned the Black owned dry cleaners and that little Black owned sandwich shop. Right. They bought their bread from the local food distributor. But when those white corporate owned businesses move in, that money doesn’t cycle through your community anymore. And so they don’t hire people from your community. And that leads to the exiting of the Black wealth and the Black dollars from Black communities. So it’s not just about Black owned businesses. It’s about keeping money in the neighborhood. Or maybe you want to buy a bouquet of flowers for $534 a piece because you’d never see anybody in those white owned thrift shops. But he always around. I think it’s the Russian mafia. Either that or they’re selling reselling shit they found in other thrift shops. 

Michael Harriot [00:12:33] Number four. The schools get worse. Now, I know this seems counterintuitive that a more affluent population makes schools worse. But see white people don’t like sending their children to school with Black students. So they are more likely to enroll their children in schools outside of the district or in private schools. And most people who gentrify neighborhoods are young. So as they displaced families, they aren’t as likely to get involved with school related issues. They’re not likely to make sure that the schools are safe or good so they take advantage of other options because of their higher incomes. And because of that, the schools get worse. Even if they, you know, create a better school. What they’ll do is they’ll take the good performing Black school students out of the local public schools and put them in what they call magnet schools or private schools or the schools that they create, because, again, they don’t want their children to go to school with Black kids. 

Michael Harriot [00:13:46] Now, the fifth thing you’ll see is almost universal is an increase in police presence. See, white people will call the cops on your ass in a minute. As your community turns whiter, you’ll notice a larger police presence because white people’s interactions with cops tend to mean that they are safer, while Black people’s interactions with cops generally means that they’ll be less safe. They call it order maintenance. It’s when police patrol white neighborhoods heavily to keep the peace in San Francisco, which, you know, gentrified and really displaced a bunch of Black people. Police patrol more in the city’s gentrified areas, which have also seen a rise in cases of police brutality. They’ve also seen a rise in people calling 311, which is the non-emergency police number. they report people in the neighborhoods for stuff like noise violations and minor infractions. And many cities have installed quality of life phone numbers by which they can call the police about non-emergency issues. 

Michael Harriot [00:14:49] In Seattle, 23% of the disturbance calls were filed against people in gentrified neighborhoods, citing noise and other complaints. So when the police show up, that means your neighborhood is being gentrified. Like like once I got a letter asking for some advice. And this is a true story from a woman who moved into a neighborhood in New York, in Harlem, and she moved above a bar, a nightclub. And her letter was how to ask if they could keep the music down without, you know, being or seeming like a gentrifier. And I told them like, wait, you moved into a place that existed and that had a whole ecosystem, a whole economic ecosystem. Before you moved there, you said, Yeah, but I know it was a nightclub when I moved in, but every business around me should stop what they’re doing to cater to my comfort. That’s the difference between improving the neighborhood and gentrifying it. You want the whole population of that neighborhood to cater to your privilege. 

Michael Harriot [00:16:08] And the final indication that your neighborhood is being gentrified is white people shit. I mean, for real. Like, there’s no other way to describe it. If a basketball court is replaced by a dog park, that’s white people shit. When was the last time a dog got a college scholarship or played his way out of a rough neighborhood? But if you bring up Bud Air, we’re going to have to fight because he went straight to the pros. Plus, he was a terrible rebounder and his three point jump shot was trash. But if your neighbor knocks on the door and ask “if you don’t mind keeping it down between the hours of 3 p.m. and 1 a.m.”, because that’s when she’s meditating and doing yoga. That’s white people shit. If you notice your corner store, stop selling Black and Milds and 40s, but suddenly has SPF 201 sunscreen and a microbrewery with IPAs. There’s white people shit. If no one shows up at the Black Lives Matter March, but some white lady in Birkenstocks stops you in front of the Whole Foods to ask if you’ll sign a petition to erase the neighborhood mural of Tupac and Biggie because their misogynistic lyrics might trigger someone. And she wants that neighborhood to be a safe space. That’s white people shit. And you know, the cops are somewhere near and, you know, it’s too late to stop white people from coming anyway. 

Michael Harriot [00:17:20] So all you can do is, I mean, download the app, subscribe on your favorite podcast platform or on YouTube and tell a friend. And we’ll leave you today with that famous saying that has been uttered in every Black neighborhood just before it was gentrified. “Hey, I think it’s some white people outside.” See you next time on theGrio Daily. Thank you for listening to theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at theGrio dot com. 

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