Gentrification is a social force with its own reasons, justifications, and rules. It is one of the last remaining engines of blatant racism left to prosper openly in Northern and liberal urban areas like Chicago, New York, LA, and Portland. A primary reason for its thriving despite the harm it causes Black and Brown people is that gentrification is an economic powerhouse. But another driving reason is the very fact it harms Black and Brown communities.
That is to say, especially since the 1960’s, we’ve not liked organized poor people. And the one resource that poor people have when the capitalists have stolen our labor power and landlords, taxes, service companies, and mercs have taken what’s left, is organized power. The management political class in our communities do not represent us – they serve other powers, higher powers: namely, organized money. So the greatest wheel-house we have left for political power is the ability to be and the manifestation of being organized. That is how we survive. When people have little else, we depend on each other. Institutions serve their own self-survival needs, so while the poor often have access to institutions, the institutions are not at their beck-and-call; they tend to follow and obey the money. Often, our connection with economic and social institutions is of exploitation. Being very poor is to be marginalized from and within economic and social institutions even when they are ostensibly for our service.
However, if we only asked the city to merely deliver meager social services and fix potholes, the engines and friends at city hall would not mind so much. But when we demand that things be taken care of, that the wheels of justice be churned in our direction, that we receive jobs and programs, that the cops stop harassing and killing our young ones, that our parks are maintained, that our schools are furnished, lit, full of trained, positive teachers, books, and toilet paper, then the city, being first and foremost an extension of the bourgeoisie, aim to destroy our mechanisms of power and protest. That is to say, our communities.
We can of course afford to resource the communities after People of Color leave it*, but to do so while they reside here is to use government coffers.That, to neoliberals, would be too much welfare. Apparently, investing in communities is only ok if done with private money backed by public funds when there is private money to be made. That way, money stays fluid and can be detached from communities. As liberal economist Paul Krugman put it while talking about Puerto Rico recently (emphasis mine):
The safety net is there to protect people, not places. If a regional economy is left stranded by the shifting tides of globalization, well, that’s going to happen now and then. What’s important is that workers be able to find opportunities somewhere, and that those unable for whatever reason to take advantage of these opportunities be protected from extreme hardship.
[h/t to Rod Thomas for the find]
Of course this understanding erases place and the reality of a people connected to that place. It removes land from community and community from land.
For Puerto Rico, this is troubling for many reasons. While Puerto Ricans from the mid-20th century until currently have tended to migrate continuously between the island (colony) and the mainland (colonizer) – with my neighborhood Humboldt Park being a mainstay in the ever-transition – Puerto Rico is rightly considered home to most BorinquenXs. Their current debt crisis is a divestment leading to an undoing of the collective, spiritual home while gentrification was a divestment that lead to an undoing of the communitative, material home.
So, land of poor communities can not be protected, thus poor communities cannot be either. Somehow we can protect the people without protecting their communities. This is White Neoliberal Thought in action.
But not only that, we’ve learned we can also keep the legacy of the cultures of people of color alive, while at the same time killing off the communities of people of color. We can in effect maintain Latin-American drinks at prices most LatinXs cannot afford in an area currently swiping itself clean of LatinXs.
According to hyper local site DNAinfo/Chicago, “Estereo Bringing Latin-American Drinks, Vibe To Logan Square.” This is a very nice gesture from the same restaurant group that brought us such authentically LatinX restaurants as “Sportsman’s Club, Lone Wolf, Bar DeVille and Pub Royale among others” as Logan Square (adjacent to Humboldt Park) is running out of Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and various other LatinXs/Latin-Americans. I mean, what kind of vibe do LatinXs produce in their own space anyway, rite?
What this story and location eventually reminded me of was the habit of Indian mascotry, where American sports corporations, capitalists and fans claim to “honor the legacy” of Native Americans while parading around as cartoon versions of Natives. Meanwhile, actual, human Natives live in abject poverty on ‘trust’ lands overseen by the US government. These topics are not in the least unrelated.
The Homestead Act gave collective Indian land to private, White citizens of the United States. The way they were able to maintain this control and keep this control for White Supremacist Capitalism is by erasing all other people from ownership of the land.
LatinXs and Black Americans have “culture” that White America can mine while stealing their work power, detaining them, and dispersing them like riot police. Effective redlining, mass incarceration, immigration raids and sending back refugee children to their imminent deaths are only a part of the tactic. What does it mean that Black and Brown Americans always have worked the land but rarely own the land? When they do own land, they are dispersed from it via gentrification.
American Empire continually steals Indian lands. Think of pipelines and water rights. Think of the lack of sovereignty of Indian spaces. Meanwhile its inhabitants and corporations steal Indian “culture” (How many folks say their great-grandmother is half-Cherokee and spout ridiculous “Indian” chants? The ‘sexy Indian’ costume) and turn a people into mythological cartoons and costumes.
Gentrification – retaining cultural elements while destroying or erasing the community that it is situated from – is consuming to destroy. It is a win-win for racist capitalism: consuming of land and cultures of color and an assassination of communities of color.
Gentrification is cultural genocide.
- A different argument should be made for white rural areas that were jutted after mining. It’s a different engine itself and looks and works differently, but some of the same factors are in play. In this case, public resources stripped for private profit and delivered to public consumption using wage slave labor. And, now what?