We Are Not Broke But We Are Dying

Note: Cross-posted from our other blog, Occupy the Democrats for People Power. Check it out.

Chicago just faced its deadliest month in twenty years with at least 84 murders in the month of August alone. Unlike the gang wars of the mid-90s, most of these shootings and murders were retaliatory in nature and thus even easier to prevent via proactive actions of the city and state. We could easily and adequately fund violence prevention programs like CeaseFire, had summer activities for the youth at the local schools, reopened community mental wellness centers, hired and trained therapists to do wellness visits for youth and children dealing with trauma.

Again and again we are told we don’t have the money for that. We have the money. Don’t let Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel lie to you. We have the money and we sure as hell aren’t broke. Go downtown. We have the damned money.

According to Tom Tresser and a host of other civic watchdogs in the new Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, Chicago has hosts of untapped money, potentially up to 5 1/2 billion dollars that could be released annually. That money could be saved or found through addressing city-wide corruption (including in alderman’s offices, City Hall, and among the police and its accessories) [rough estimation at half a billion dollars a year]; ending police abuse [50 million a year]; slashing TIF slush funds [421.5 million per year]; ending and being reimbursed for toxic bank deals [one billion dollars saved from exiting the deals]; a state-wide progressive income tax (Illinois has one of the most regressive taxes in the union) [85 million per year would go to Chicago]; instituting a city-wide financial transaction tax [2.6 billion annually]; and establishing a public bank for Chicago [1.36 billion a year].We’re talking regular influxes of billions of dollars in Chicago alone that can go to public education, housing, libraries, parks, road maintenance, mental health service, jobs. And much, much more.

If you live in Chicago, this book is required reading. If you have friends or family in Chicago, buy this for them. At twelve dollars, we’re talking stocking stuffer.

Our tax dollars need to work for us.

Further, if we significantly reduce the jails, policing, and prison system in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois, we could save billions more.

Where could that money be wisely spent, in a way that will benefit not merely the top 2% (as TIF projects tend to do) but particularly the neglected and high-crime areas? The two-party system has previously only proposed incarceration as a direct solution to the crimes with deeper rooted problems. I propose the ideas highlighted at the beginning of this post, but want to significantly draw out wrap-around community schools.

I first heard of this notion through the work of the #FightForDyett campaign, where roughly a dozen parents and community members of the Bronzeville neighborhood dedicated themselves and went on a hunger strike to reopen a closed open-enrollment neighborhood high school, Dyett High School. They wanted Dyett to serve the needs of the community. While Dyett is reopening as an art school, they have provided fuel for further struggles.

A wrap-around community school would use the facilities and the campus year-round and day-around for the needs of the community: offering affordable/free child-care and preschool; youth-centered programs with sports, media, arts; night classes in GED, ESL, and other curriculum for adults, for example.

These schools can provide a safe-haven for kids, can equip residents by training them in violence-reduction efforts, can practice restorative justice and de-escalation during and after school hours.

They can be centers where the community participants are trained and paid to serve the needs of the community, long neglected in this apartheid state by the titans of industry and the civic leaders removed by segregation. They can be sources of middle-income wages, which also go back to local businesses and help to kick in to economic refurbishing of disinvested communities- without gentrification that merely displaces the impoverished without disturbing the poverty.

Properly and imaginatively funneling otherwise wasted, hidden, and untapped monies into our communities would literally save hundreds of lives a year. And aid in the flourishing of potentially millions more. What is there to lose but fear and violence?

Land, Dispersal, and Culture without People

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.

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MUCH LATIN! via Chicago Eatery

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.

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And it’s not just conservatives, sports fans, and Dan Snyder that do this racist mascotry.

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?

Racial Mascotry and the Space for “Enlightening Discussions”

Over the last several years, as students and activists of color have been increasingly organizing around issues of racial (and economic) injustice particularly as affects them, you may have also noticed more than a fair share of pushback from mainstream and liberal publications (whereas previously most of the counter-resistance was from conservative outlets). Washington Post, New York Times, The Atlantic, The Nation, etc, etc, seem to be in need of op-eds and features written by establishment, upper-middle class people about the perils of allowing these protesters too much space in the public imagination.

Their arguments are that the activists are too violent, that they are childish, pouting, not ready for the real world, denying freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the school. They argue that ‘woke’ Milennials seeking safe places are a threat to academic freedom and the classroom, and that they are being coddled and babied.

Most of these arguments are simply dismissed by applying the title of Adam Kotsko’s blog, “What If I Told You that the Whole World Is Your Safe Place?” to the very people complaining about the struggle of these students to find a safe place of their own.

But yet there is a part of me concerned about academic freedom and about workers’ rights (noticeably the right to secure employment that is not threatened by non-work related experiences and ambushes by social media). For me, seeking penal justice gives more ammunition (so to speak) to the very forces of White Supremacy that have criminalized people of color and organized forms of resistance (notice, for example, how in one state resistance to the police is now categorized as a hate crime–  a bill hailed as Blue Lives Matter Law in recognition of its counter to Black Lives Matter activism).

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It was in this frame of mind that I read Conor Friedersdorf’s highly-opinionated-yet-delivered-as-if-rational (which is to say, stripped of its context of racial violence) article “The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale” in The Atlantic and first came away thinking, “Aw man, that’s fucked up what happened to those professors.”

I had to come back to it later. The language in here made me think that the costumes were merely “offensive”, as if someone was bothered by clown make up. I thought at first glance that the email was largely harmless, certainly not on the order of a firing.

But riding on my bike, I thought about the gentrifiers coming into my neighborhood, Humboldt Park in Chicago, and wanting to tear down the beautiful Puerto Rican flag that has been a symbol of this Boriquen Oasis for decades on the grounds that it is somehow “racist” – despite the fact that it is the White people forcefully displacing Ricans. I thought about how White people had created a Facebook page calling themselves “The Puerto Ricans of Humboldt Park” and employing every racist, classist stereotype they could of my people – thugs, rapists, thieves, car jackers, drug users, lazy, welfare dependents. These are people, they heavily suggested in their caricatures, who deserve to be kicked out and denied access and opportunity. I thought what I would think if White people moving into Humboldt Park and Logan Square walked around in “Jibarito” costumes. I was then flushed with anger and resentment.

And then I was able to re-situate the Atlantic article. Yale, George W Bush’s alma mater, is well-known as one of the Whitest of the Whitest of White institutions. But Friedersdorf and the “provocative email” writers, Nicholas and Erika Christakis, assume that students of color can just have enlightening conversations with White students who wear their faces as if they are trophies on their walls.

Native Mascotry is a term created by American Indian activist Jacqueline Keeler to describe how Natives’ identities are being worn by sports teams and others as a way of cultural genocide. While not wanting to erase her work and what this means as it relates to Native American people and communities (particularly in light of the bullshit campaign by Dan Snyder and the Washington Post to once again pretend that a racist slur is a responsible and respectful honorific to an oppressed people group), I’d like to consider what it means that people of color are being mascot-ed through costume.

This extended mascotry – dressing as “gangsters” or “Chinese” for Halloween, as “Mexican” for Cinco de Mayo, as “Indian” for game day – is not separate from other forms of institutional racism and racial violence. In fact, it’s an integral aspect of racial violence. It is the physical and visual enactment of racist justification played out in the social sphere. “These people are no more than cartoons and thus are not hared by how we treat them.” The implication is that these mascot-ed/costume-d cultures and communities cannot and should not be taken seriously, nor their concerns; that they are not real or normal (read: White people). This mascotry is socially-inhabited psychological warfare.

It is not a simple feat to meet people committing psychological warfare against your very family and culture on any sort of level ground. The power dynamics are off and thus you are not entering a place for dialog.

I still do not know what any sort of proper response is to this. I don’t think the approach is as simple as firing or using the justice system. However, as resident life coordinators, however, it seems that Christakis’ were unsuited to the task that would make Yale hospitable for students of color.

Maybe the solution lies in White people not being so offended when they realize that they and their concerns are not the center of the universe. That would be a start.

Uber & The 606: The Worth and Work of Women of Color in the Neoliberalism Era

While riding with my daughter the other morning, we traveled down the new above-ground park-slash-bike/jogging trail called conversely The Bloomingdale Trail and The 606. While grabbing some water on the way up the 606, I noticed the trail was extra busy, with many joggers and walkers as it was such a brilliant, nice day. Two joggers I noticed in particular were white women just coming out of an Uber driven by a black woman. The moment was too delicious for simple irony, yet too bitter to b satisfying.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Bloomingdale Trail, a railroad line heavy with cargo used to pass through the Chicago neighborhoods of Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park. While the lines it adjoins to the west are still in heavy use, over the last fifteen or so years, the nearly three mile stretch grew weeds and would occasionally host the straggling jogger.

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Bloomingdale Trail pre-park via Field Guide to Nature

About ten years ago, members of the Logan Square and Humboldt Park communities would meet to discuss plans for how to use the railway to benefit the neighborhoods. At this time, both neighborhoods were largely working class LatinX and – with the exception of the large and beautiful Humboldt Park and the boulevard system running through it – possessed very little green or public space. So they began a dream of turning the infrastructure of the railway into a pedestrian park.

This dream was fast-tracked some years later under Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he realized this park was a way to build up a tax revenue base. Which is to say it was a good way to build more outside interest in an area already facing massive gentrification. The months surrounding its opening saw people being priced out of their homes as nearby rents dramatically increased 40-100% and long-term homeowners were scared off by the prospect of substantially higher tax rates.

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Normally not as festive. Credit: Adam Alexander Photography via The Trust for Public Land

What is becoming common knowledge in gentrified Chicago is that our city uses good things to draw in wealthier and wealthier people – not just to build a tax base, but to drive the poor apart from their collective actions so there is little recourse left but to give up. It is systemic disengagement and disunion of Black and Brown communities. This is especially lethal as Black and Brown communities cannot rely on common or familial wealth, nor of basic services. Thus they must and do rely on support networks in their communities. 

So gentrification isn’t making the community better, it’s using long-delayed improvements of the community which were called by the community to displace and fracture that same living and fighting community and replace it with a permanently mobile economic force. One that either cannot or does not need to fight back.

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Logan Square Neighborhood Assn protest against gentrification. Photo by Tyler ReViere via Chicagoist

What gentrification does to black and brown communities, however, the Sharing Economy as highlighted by Uber does to worker communities.

The taxi business has largely been run by immigrants and, while far from perfect, has been a means for people of color to survive when few other options are available. Because of the intimacy of the ride, the dangers of the road, the semi-freelancing of the gig, the potential violence that drivers face, the taxi business relied on safeguards such as unionization, licensing, and medallion-winning to protect the consumer and the worker.

Most of these regulations have been sidestepped by the would-be taxis in the ride-sharing business. When Uber and Lyft, et al, came to Chicago, the neoliberal administration headed by Emanuel did away with most of those regulations. But they came with technology that made it easier and faster to hail a cab, as well as an economic structure that made too much sense on the face of it. In its introductory phase, the cost of a ride in an Uber was considerably cheaper than one in a taxicab. Outside of the share that is given to Uber for the technology and use, the rest is given to the driver-owner, who is not leasing a car but using their own. Of course, this model is only possible because the driver is not an employee (and thus the costs of living are transferred to someone else, such as other employers, the drivers, and the government) and thus Uber gets to have and eat its cake.

However, in a model learned from Wal-Mart, as this cheaper model of taxiing begins to saturate the market, it forces out the old cab drivers and their unions – the communities that they built up. As the competition is being gutted, Uber raises the fees for both the consumer and the contractor. This has already started happening at certain peak hours, where costs are exponentially higher.

So Uber will eventually out-Uber itself as a de-unionized, untrained, and even unvetted workforce rises to replace an older community of working class people of color, only to themselves be ushered out by more desperate people looking for even fewer scraps.

In short, more working class women of color will be driving more professional class white people to a park dreamt up by working class women of color but implemented by professional class white people in order to drive out the working class women of color – but for less and less payout.

The Age of Late Neoliberalism is especially adept at not just taking crises and turning them into opportunities for the Investor Class, but also at taking lovely things – often things we create – and turning those against us. See for instance how the city of Chicago turns neighborhood parks into music festivals (often featuring artists of color from working class roots) as an aid in gentrification and homeless erasure. Or how art, artists, and art fests have been used to displace Logan Square residents (while LatinX and Black art are still drastically underfunded starting at the school level). Notice how a Logan Square developer/evil landlord boasts about investing in neighborhood as a means to drastically raise rents.

Despite these tactics, enjoy the beautiful and the lovely. I travel the 606 with pride, as do many WCPOC. This is our neighborhood. We’ve lived here and suffered the worst through disinvestment and we should have good things available to us without guilt. Like your music and your coffee shops. But it is to say that the tools of the Neoliberal Age toward its anti-communal goals are tricky, and we must recognize them to navigate them and beat them to the punch.

Enjoy your day. Party. And fight.

On Scabs and Transit-Oriented Living

I took my daughter to a gentrification protest earlier this week which I think highlights how White Progressivism works to undermine communities of color while (falsely) representing them. This kind of representation delivers itself in crafty manners that seem to support the marginalized that they claim to speak for until we recognize the work that is actually happening is detrimental to the health and existence of that oppressed community. In fact, the alderman we protested, Joe Moreno, and many of his supporters were themselves Latin@. If we were to judge by representational politics, Moreno could say that his actions – such as getting high-density transit-oriented development (TOD) skyscrapers in a residential neighborhood where most houses are two-to-three stories high – are more pro-Latin@ than his detractors. This would be an error, not least of because representational politics are a tool of White Supremacy. In this case, rich, White developers used Latin@ proxies to represent them and their interests, and this is who the counter-protesters were in effect operating for, but with darker tones and Spanish phrases.

I have lived in the Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods for most of the last 28 years, back when I was one of the most white elements at (now-closed) Humboldt Elementary. For many years Humboldt Park was very deliberate about maintaining its identity as a Puerto Rican base for long-marginalized Boricua, Black and Mexican/American residents. The highly stylized flags that overlap Division between Western and California are sources of pride, of the recognition of being recognized and belonging for the classic residents of Humboldt Park. I’ve walked with white visitors who gaze at the flag (often with a tinge of confusion) and they get asked if they’re here to take down the flags. The flags are signposts for a home for the very marginalized.

Paseo Boricua

Paseo Boricua

Belonging is integral for people of color and others marginalized by mainstream society. It tells them that there is a safe space for living, for being, where their colors, culture and way of life will not be automatically suspect. Of course, White Supremacy and its relations interrupt – Capitalism in the form of consumerism and underground economies; violence in the presence of guns, turf fights, police harassment; patriarchy in everyday sexism and street harassment, the poverty of single motherhood; Whiteness in the constant devaluing and disinvestment of the community’s resources – schools, medical coverage, mental health clinics, local businesses, etc, etc. They interfere. They interject. Whiteness is colonial. It is an empire and it will exist on every space it can find to make its home.

But to belong is to say there is a home for you, and a chance to fight against the interjection of Whiteness and for your home with your peers. Gentrification, then, is the process of unwelcoming. To gentrify is to disrupt black and brown self-determination, both in terms of dismantling organizing power and of distracting crucial self-awakening. These sound like amenities, but they are vital to black-and-brown survival in a White Supremacist world that seeks to choke them out.

This article by a transit-oriented blog is written from a perspective of whiteness. It presumes that adding over 100 new units where typical prices will run $20,000 per year for a one-bedroom apartment will actually help Logan Square residents remain in their homes. Because, you see, if wealthy folks move into these new buildings, they won’t take yours away from you and you won’t be pushed out because the wealthy people will live in their shiny towers and won’t ever bother you nor raise the property value taxes or squeeze out your businesses and hang-outs nor bring the price of living up. Nope, not at all, nosirree.

The truth is that the very existence of such Towering Monstrosities will force several people out of the neighborhood on its own. It is now a question of mitigating the damage as best we can in order to serve the community and allow us to survive. This should not be such a struggle, and it should not be nearly impossible. As these developers seek both public funds and public approval to help create their Displacement Machines, we should be able to ask for trade-offs in return that will benefit the public good and not just the coffers of the alderman and his people. To receive a Community Benefit Agreement is to enter an agreement where the community gets something in return for giving up ground. In these capitalist, White Supremacist cooperations of city and corporations, we are not allowed communal autonomy to reject these Infernos, but we should be allowed some trade for our willingness such as fifty percent affordable housing under community standards, living wage jobs, and trust funds to local schools for scholarships or supplies. I mean, that’s how we’re told the market works, right? Give and take?

But perhaps what is most troubling about this article is the presumption that only middle class white people are invested in public transit as a means of living. It does not seem to cross the mind of white mainstream and indie media that maybe us poor, black and brown people kinda need to remain around transit hubs in order to get to our jobs and families? That maybe we can’t afford to park in the city, that if we have a car, we only use it on occasion anyway? That someone like me who has only owned a car for two years relies on my feet, bike, bus or train to get every single location?

But no. To the white middle class progressive, we are predictably invisible. And if one brown person stands up and says that these devices hurt us and another brown person says “No, thank you for this,” the White Middle class trusts the word of the latter even though he may be stepping on the head of the former.

No, as I told the Chi.StreetsBlog, the TOD is yet another tactic of the progressive neoliberal used to exploit and undermine the working people of the community. We are constantly told by middle class white people what is for our own benefit when we know that these are tactics meant to divide us, which was also the goal of the counter-protesters. It is a century-old practice used to destroy unions and any other power that the people have.

That is why those counter-protesters are scabs.

Displaced by Rock N Roll

One major way that gentrification – the racist and classist displacement of residents and homeowners of color for increasingly affluent white people –  works in Chicago is that communities of color will band together and work to replace amenities they’ve lost as a result of white flight and disinvestment in their communities and the city will use the newly-gained victories against the community that fought for them. Another way is to gather a large amount of White People in communities of color to show that the ‘hood isn’t so “ghetto” and maybe pretty cool. It’s a marketing strategy, but also a way of taking the few public resources the community has as tools against them.

As the saying goes: People of Color can’t have nothing good in this town.

We see this happening in my community, in the dividing line between Humboldt Park and Logan Square called the Bloomingdale Trail.

Dialogue about turning an abandoned, above-ground rail line into an above ground park in a section of town with many children and little green space started ten years ago with Latinos from the two neighborhoods talking for several years, petitioning aldermen and the city and local businesses. Doing the work to bring good things into their neighborhood. But things didn’t really start kicking off until the neighborhoods started being reinvested.

By reinvested, I mean there was more White presence. More white people followed by other white people followed by a gradual westward displacement. We saw Latin@-owned businesses shut down because developers flooded them with city inspectors who charged them for infractions as petty as paper on the floor to drywall placement, knowing full-well that these are jewelers and hair stylists with low profit margins. At the same time, the developers would send delegates and aids into neighborhood committees and make friends with the neighborhood city councilors.

The result is that now property assessment – and thus property taxes – in the area around the trail has risen this year about 40%. That’s significantly higher than inflation and at rates that working class people cannot possibly keep up with.

Developers know how to market and bring in young White people – such as artists – who want to live in cool areas to be their initial colonizers; buy out lots, and tenant buildings; force out businesses, and consume entire blocks when and if possible (often through associated, partner and umbrella real estate companies); and, thus, considerably raise rents or flip houses or property quickly for substantial profit.

Because they have plenty of capital available, they are able to have their way with residents, with rents, with zoning permits, with architecture – unless there is significant push-back.

But the act of gentrification makes the act of organizing that much more difficult, because the long-term residents are now being scattered to the winds and the ones left have even less resources and fight more fights – just trying to keep the schools open and funded or bringing the kids to schools when the neighborhood schools are being shutted, as my elementary school, Von Humboldt, was and as was threatened to happen to most neighborhood schools in majority-black/brown communities.

There is already lack of funding, lack of time, lack of resources. But gentrification works by removing potential leaders and human capital and by treating people of color and the very poor as not as fully human (totally original concept I know right?) and therefore tabling, moving, ignoring, ramshackling, steamrolling their concerns until they can muster up enough people and action to disrupt the way of things.

Recently within the city, we see another agent and trend of gentrification, White People’s Music. Popular music has been accused of pilfering and gentrifying and stealing poor people’s – and specifically black and natives’ – music for profit for the last century, so it only makes sense that it would be used against communities of color.

Take an Uptown neighborhood concert for neo-folk pop artists Mumford & Sons, for instance. After floods nearly disappeared a homeless community living under viaducts in the neighborhood, the city was nowhere to be found. Until another day or so, when they came to kick the homeless people out. And yes, they are homeless but they are people who need community and security and stability that comes with community like anybody else. The neighborhood has been steadily gentrifying for the last decade, but this location – at the lake and a train or bus ride from downtown – has a large section of homeless people. The city has shut down several homeless hotels in the area (as well as one in Logan Square about three blocks from where I’m writing now) while claiming that the population will be served better by going to shelters. But shelters are not safe for many homeless people or families, where the children are often separated from their parents and the adults are separated from each other.

But we consider poor people to behave like middle class people, where needs are taken care of through money and access to resources. We need community, however, to watch each others’ backs, to take care of needs on a regular basis, to exchange works and skills. Plundering us from these communities of care is to plunder people, to keep the marginalized on the utter ends of the margins.

So to say that the city treated the homeless community in Uptown with disrespect and even outside the law is to cut it some undeserved grace. Alderman Cappelman and the city services in coordination and under cover of White pop music were doing what the powerful do: Breaking up any challenge to their power; justifying endangering marginalized people by considering them “hazards”, thus further marginalizing them; dispersing them with little-to-no preparation; underselling them. Yes, the city makes some money from these concerts, but how much of it goes to the very poor it pushes out?

Answer: Not enough to begin to pay them back. Neoliberalism is making wealth off the backs of the poor through corporate affairs while justifying it through the White Logic of personal responsibility.

Last year and the year before, the Riot Fest – a punkrawk-centric music festival and carnival – occupied Humboldt Park to put on a show that could be heard for roughly a mile away.  Our streets were flooded by strangers, by White people. Several years ago, it would have been an anomaly to see any groups of White people in Humboldt Park.

Riot Fest at Humboldt Park

Riot Fest at Humboldt Park

But remember, developers and realtors know to move in when they see white bodies. So this music event works in many levels to displace the community. For one, more whiteness means, to white people with investment dollars, security. Which means that White people flock around other white people and occupy those places where they see other white faces. They figure the place must be both cool because of the non-whites in the area but also safe enough for them because of the white bodies. Because of the power dynamics at play, they – willingly or not – move out non-white and poorer community members.

As my friend Sharaya Tindal notes in an article for Crain’s,

For the past few years, residents in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood have seen their namesake park fenced off from the public for weeks. We watched as large machinery tore up the community baseball diamonds and open fields, setting up stages and equipment for the Riot Fest music festival.

But not this year. After a combination of heavy equipment, rain and tens of thousands of people left parts of the park unusable for months last year, residents were fed up. Community members came together to force Riot Fest out of the neighborhood park.

Humboldt Park after Riot Fest

Humboldt Park after Riot Fest

In lieu of going to a non-residential park which could handle the traffic and disruptions, the city decided that colonizing another community of color is preferable. So without input and dialogue from the community, but with vague promises of community investment (again, investment goes to areas when developers believe they’ll get a handsome return), the weekend extravaganza is moving to Douglas Park, nestled between the Latinx neighborhood Little Village and the black neighborhood North Lawndale.

The reason is clear. To get a foothold of whiteness in those neighborhoods as well. This means more revenue at the cost of black, brown and poor people that make up the workforce and the heart of Chicago.

However, there are things that can be done to stall and perhaps even reverse this racist curse of gentrification.

End Capitalist control of housing, for starters. Housing is a human right and should be treated as such. Allow communities to have control of their own homes and property.

In lieu of such radical measures (lolsob): Note that the city is claiming eminent domain in these practices and demand that landowners and renters be rightfully recompensed for being displaced. Call organizers and artists to account for performances they are involved in.  Any artist worth their salt knows that a space is important to the performance. Fight for affordable housing. Get involved in community groups that push for resources while fighting gentrification.

 

Continuing Settler Colonialism into the 21st Century

 

chicago- logan square

Heather Phillips via Flickr (Logan Square, Chicago)

 

Scholar and activist Andrea Smith talks about colonialism and the disappearance of the Indigenous as one of the three pillars of White Supremacy. In this type of logic, the indigenous is constantly being removed from the land so that the settler can claim rights to it. We see it in Western myths about the Bad and Savage Indians and in current myths about the Terrorist Palestinian. We see it in the mascotry of Indian peoples, customs, costumes, and tribes for sports teams, and in the appropriation of spiritual practices of Native peoples.

To expand a bit further: Gentrification is a form of and repetition of settler colonialism. Which is to say that gentrification is a method of stealing land and disappearing native peoples from their property, institutions, history, and even cultures. It’s wealthier, typically white people actively disappearing poorer, typically people of color from their lands and their own communities. The similarities do not end there, though. When we try to argue that gentrification is actually a bad thing, white pro-gentrification forces argue that they are there to improve the neighborhoods. The implication argument, is that people of color and their cultures and institutions are intrinsically inferior. They will ask for proof of the worth of black and brown communities and receipts as if the only piece of value is how much to get from real estate. As if the only thing Black and Latino folk do is gang-bang1 and sell drugs. And as if those are more violent actions than intentional financial destabilization and wealth-denying of white institutions of power for the last five hundred and twenty years.

People of color as individuals, as communities, as institutions are not trusted to have value. Their restaurants and churches and businesses schools2 and social clubs are bulldozed, swept out, shut down, overcome because they are judged inferior by the very forces that want them removed. Settler colonialism needs to continually harvest cheap workers, and so keeps destabilizing the communities of its cheap labor force so as to keep them disorganized, to keep them from demanding more, to keep them from speaking of injustice in ways that will eventually lead to justice.

Are white people ok with these acts of displacement, whether they occur in Australia, or Bolivia, or Palestine/Israel, or Humboldt Park, Chicago3, or within the mostly White missional and emergent church experiences, because we’ve never made peace with the fact that we have and are constantly disappearing Native people from North America? In the process of stealing their lands and constantly stealing their lands, we have said that their forms of education were not adequate, so we put them in the first public schools, with the aim of enculturating them to Middle Class Euro-American values and ways of seeing and doing. When we did not actively work to physically and psychologically erase and shame their languages and customs from existence.

And this process continues, and is always continuing. In the same ways where Israeli propaganda claims that Palestine was not an actual possessed land outside of Jewish occupants and that there is no such thing as  Palestinians; in the same way that the First Nations did not have rights to the land since they did not operate by European laws and feudalities; in the same way that White missional churches enter into heavily churched Black and Brown neighborhoods to “bring the Gospel”; in the same way that children are being adopted out of Indian Country and into White families; so White hipsters, investment bankers, real estate agents, business bureaus, city halls, and developers converge to continually erase the identities and culture and institutions of Black and Brown communities to turn a profit and keep poor people in line.

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1 Remember that the KKK was the first and the biggest racialized gang. Remember also that POC gangs in the Northern urban centers grew out of reaction to the strolling and violent actions of white gangs entering into black and Latino neighborhoods looking for black and Latino youths to beat up.

2 In one year, Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel closed down fifty elementary schools – almost every last one having a population made up almost entirely of Black and Latino students. Almost all of them in poor black neighborhoods. But two of these neighborhood schools were closed in Humboldt Park, where gentrification is building steam. A neighborhood middle school in West Logan Square (also on the fast track for gentrification) that had seen huge investment from the community and was a source of pride and joy for all was turned into a military academy against the community’s wishes. Because we can’t trust non-violent forms of Latino organizing and educating.

3 Where I grew up and there was no investment from white people then. But years later, a white coffeehouse owner would ask me if the neighborhood was getting better while White Supremacist Fox News was playing overhead on his screens

Evangelicals, Suburbia, and the Mark of Cain

Cain and Abel is the prototypical story of brotherly jealousy-cum-murder. Agrarian brother versus shepherd brother. Both fight over the acceptance of land use, but the Lord finds the shepherd’s sacrifices acceptable and not the vegetable ones. Herds wander, but farmers stay put. I’ve been considering this since my pastor made note of not only how this story ends for Abel, but also how it ends for Cain.

For murdering his brother, Cain cannot remain in his fields – he must wander the country as a vagabond, with his special protection mark. But after some years, he settles again and builds a city.

I am reading this as a critique from a largely shepherding community of the very civilizations that they encountered: Egypt, Babylon, Ninevah. Cities have the mark of Cain impressed on them. Cities are birthed in violence, and that is something to remember in how we approach living situations. Cities have long been the epicenter of violence – both on the creating and receiving ends.

This violence is not borne of the citizens, but of the mechanisms of which civilization bears – industry, empire, colonization, economic injustice and disparity, pollution, exploitation.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7 (NLT)

The biblical and prophetic witness to the Abels of Israel was to “work for peace” while in the cities. This command I would argue would be extended to all of the people of God. We see it being repeated in Jonah and God’s concern for the inhabitants of the empirical/colonial/conquering city of Ninevah. We are also told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which I think is important considering the blood shed by the colonial and conquering Israeli government.

And yet, White Evangelicals – my own background – were among the primary White Flighters, those who not only left the cities to rot under the violence but took with them tools and resources needed to deal with that violence. As if White Evangelicals could leave the Mark of Cain behind them.

They refused to work for the peace of the city and were, en masse, culpable for the unrest, for the insatiable poverty, for the decay, for the water turn-offs.

Retired Cruiser

Retired Cruiser – Chuttlesworth, via Flickr

When White Evangelicals come into the city, it is often as another form of colonialism and conquering. Their churches act as if they’re carrying out terra nullius upon the spiritual landscape. We city folks are aboriginals to be converted and our churches like our rights to our land are void and nonexistent. It’s religious gentrification, values colonialism of white, middle class suburbia. Our values are not valid, our concerns are not valid. People who left us and took the money with them come back with money, to spend on each other as they push us out of the way of our own homes and dismantle our communities.

The missionaries of Spain and England came as emissaries of a military overtaking. The missionaries of suburbia are emissaries of real estate developers and gentrifiers.

So when Evangelicals borne of a post-Cain-ian suburbia complain about living in the city and how the suburbs were so much better, so much safer, so much cleaner, so much better for kids, I sigh. It happens often. Very often. Suburbia may be the womb of contemporary Evangelicalism, but it is also built upon the backs of those left within the city. It is us who have spent these years fighting the crippling effects that their removal have left. It is us that have invested in this city. It is our labor that have created the wealth of suburbia and it is suburbia that has refused to give it back.

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city” means to work for justice.  Means to partner with us while we seek liberation and peace. To do otherwise isn’t prophetic, isn’t biblical in any sense that is loving.

Gentrification Is Not a Solution to White Flight

Chicago has changed significantly over the last fifty years in some ways. In others, it’s been the same old thing – racial segregation tied to economic apartheid. But where and how this plays out has shifted. From the late 60’s through the early 80’s Chicago – like most other north urban cities still in the thralls of exercised anti-black racism in the post-Civil Rights era – experienced massive white flight.

Myopic Books - Wicker Park

Myopic Books, Wicker Park – by MA1216 via Flickr

Actually, that’s a horrible way to put it. First, white flight didn’t just happen to Chicago and second “white flight” is a problematic label that doesn’t in the least describe what was and is (still) happening. What happened to neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Ukranian Village, Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and South Loop is what happened to Detroit – white people decided their areas were too tainted, too impure, too scary. And rather than invest in them to make room for all, rather than welcoming, rather than giving back to the very people they’ve (we’ve) stolen wages, labor and wealth from, white people en masse thought it more convenient to relocate.

More to the point, not only did white people relocate to the suburbs and enclaves, but they took the resources, the investments, the capital, the wealth that was made for them by the bodies, the work and the below poverty-level wages and existence that black (and other POC) made for them. When they found that Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Black youth were enacting on the very violence that had been exacted through economic, political and housing segregation, the White patriarchy decided it important to sever ties with the city and retreat to the suburbs. All the better if they could continue to draw resources out of the city and back into the cul de sacs, of course.

White flight, we must understand, is not a problem primarily because White people and their White solutions left the city. White flight is a problem because White people took the dues owed to Black people with them. They stole and then ran.

After a generation of fleeing, they started coming back. In Chicago, they pushed Puerto Ricans east out of the lakefront territory of Lincoln Park and reclaimed it, all of it, for Whiteness. They also discovered that the beautiful buildings and centralized location of Wicker Park were too much to leave to poor black and Latin@ and even poor white folks, so they slowly reclaimed that too, beginning in the late 80’s. They brought in artists and young people, students. All white, all with a bit more disposable income than the current residents. All a little distant from the current community. All raising property value just enough to begin the displacement of the current population. The residents then begin to see their community erode as they lose grip on what they’ve worked so hard to stabilize – community organizations and resources that are mostly built in and through each other and relationships they’ve built over years, decades, generations.

When you are poor, you rely on each other. When you and your neighbors are being forced out, you lose that support. That is what gentrification is: forcing out of black, brown and poor bodies and destroying their supportive networks. But yet gentrification is often approached as a solution, as a counter to White Flight. As if the problem was that middle class and upper class White people and their White ingenuity and work ethic were what was missing. As if the neighborhoods were deteriorating because White People weren’t here. And as if their presence and their example (yes, that is the argument. Yes, that is what they say) would fix what their theft caused.

The main pro-gentrification argument is that the neighborhood improves and bringing in White people with their white money is the only viable solution to improving the neighborhood. What they mean by that is that the neighborhood wasn’t of value under black and brown management. That people of color and poor people don’t have any value to offer. That the crime and poverty is the fault of black and brown people – not their own theft. They are also assenting that property – that the buildings and lots they are referring to when they say “neighborhood” – is more important than humanity – what those of us being gentrified mean when we talk about the neighborhood. And particularly that property is more important than POC humanity.

See, gentrification isn’t the solution to White Flight. It’s the next step. When gentrifiers fill the neighborhoods and the barrios their parents abandoned, they begin a process of completing what their forebearers started – reclaiming their old homes and furthering the solidification of the permanent underclass.

This is what Detroit is about. Forcing out of black bodies so that the city can be reclaimed. To think it’s about anything else is to miss the big picture.

“Rising Property Values” = “Pushing Out Blacks”

The front page story on the daily Chicago rag The RedEye, “Taming the Bloomingdale Trail” is a feature on a long, thin park in the making, developed from unused railroad tracks running through newly gentrified and soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods here. And it’s sad that such great things are coming here, because the way that Chicago works, investment in the neighborhoods (like art spaces in my Logan Square or improved public schools) means higher property values.

And higher property values means mass displacement of poor folks – usually Black and Brown people.

Displacement is usually couched in terms of “improving the neighborhood.” And that depends on what one means when one says “improving.” There are other ways to reduce crime and living conditions that do not rely on kicking out Black and Latino residents. But those aren’t as glamorous, and they are investment heavy, with little going back into the banks and coffers of White investors –  investors who specifically profit from Black, Brown and Poor poverty.

House of Quality - 900 W Randolph

So investing in arts and parks is kinda expensive. But like investing in condos or privatizing schools, they know they’ll get their money back with interest.

The median family income for a family or four in the Chicagoland area is $70,500.”

Often, what passes for “affordable housing” in Chicago is targeted toward this manufactured “median”, comprised of pitting extremely rich and middle class  neighborhoods and suburbs against poor neighborhoods, rather than basing it on those who need affordability the most. Consistently, poor people lose when forced to go to battle with the wealthy on the terms of the rich. 

In the region, there are over 740,000 households with incomes at or below $35,000.”

For them, affordable housing that operates under the assumption that $70,500 is the normal income and if affordable means 1/3-1/2 of that spent on rent and utilities means they are displaced. This is the evil of gentrification in one form. The school closings and defundings; the shootings and murders placed in fluxed regions heavy with post-displacement people; the lack of investment; the secrecy of operations in City Hall; the silent white churches; the compliant white renters who talk favorably about rising property value; the white land developers who purposefully use dirty tricks to kick out black and brown businesses, renters, and landowners in fashionable (or soon to be fashionable) neighborhoods – these are direct effects of gentrification. They are only as distant from gentrification in the sense that the gentrifiers can erect protective walls to deny the evil effects of what gentrification does.

Here’s a game, White Chicagoans. Every time you hear someone talking about “Rising property values” think “Pushing out the blacks.”

Every time you hear the phrase, “This neighborhood has improved” add the voice, “Since we moved the Blacks and the Mexicans out.”

Because that’s what those phrases mean. Just be honest about the passive and active racism of White Supremacy. And if it hurts to think of it in those terms, think how much the effects of displacement and apartheid hurts.

Here’s another game: Invest in neighborhoods of color, in local businesses of color as much as possible. Then more people win.