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Gentrifier Beware

The weekly commentary from socio-political activist, Perry Redd

The weekly commentary from socio-political activist, Perry Redd

Just imagine: someone walks into your house—uninvited. That alone is enough to make you go off…but then they push you out of your easy chair, smack your wife on the behind and tell her to go get you a beer out of your refrigerator, tell your dog to fetch your slippers for him. Then grabs your remote, changes your HDTV and commands you to sit in the corner and be real quiet. Can’t imagine it can you? How would you react?

Well, that’s what happened to Blacks in DC. Whites have descended upon what was once known as “Chocolate City” with great fanfare and self-indulged praise. Contrastly, this change in demographic has also been met with displeasure and complaint. Much like the English colonists in 1607, moving in has usually led to resistance. The settlers walk in and declare the landing place their home, change the name, then move the furniture. It proves unfortunate to the people already there…so heads get busted.

In contemporary lingo,the people who move in are known as gentrifiers. Gentrification is the phenomena of shifting an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values, which precedes poorer residents being displaced by wealthier newcomers. Though I would never call the natives of North America in 1607 as “poor,” the characteristic of displacement looks eerily similar to Jamestown. The natives fought against the English incursion—only to finally lose their homes—much like the native Washingtonians being invaded by the gentrifiers of DC.

DC has seen almost 100,000 new residents since the early 2000s…and they are coming into the city at a steady clip—about 1,200 people per month. That’s like a horror movie with zombies…they just keep coming! The city’s new population is about 646,000. It grew by 13,000 in 2013 alone. These new residents are mostly young, employed and have two household paychecks. What’s more, the great majority of these newcomers are white. The ones being displaced are Black.

The unemployment rate for Blacks in DC is easily double that of whites. Many of the communities are segregated, as are the schools. Even the legislative body is majority white in a city that’s still about half black. Those realities are the seeds of resentment and frustration. “Chocolate City” is now an Oreo cookie.

The District of Columbia has seen an increase in assaults; the news has been led by sexual assaults and violent robberies over the past few months. Granted, some have occurred in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia (together known as “The DMV”), many assaults leading the news are occurring within the borders of DC.

Anecdotally, a woman was robbed and sexually assaulted by a group of six in the city’s high-priced, Adams Morgan neighborhood just the other night. The woman was walking by herself just before 6 in the morning in the 2400 block of Ontario Road NW when four men and two women approached her. They dragged her into an alley nearby where they robbed her. Two men then sexually assaulted her and fled. They are pure cowards, but my point is resistance to gentrification is met wherever it may find itself.

I seriously doubt that the six needed money; how much could six people split a robbery of one lone walker? This assault was about something else, race and class. The Black population has lowly grumbled for the last few years about the influx of whites. The white newcomers have moved in, changed names of communities, changed community dynamics, changed communitive law, changed real estate values and in all of the changes, ignored the Black people already there.

Groups of young Black kids are “flash mobbing” white-owned stores. Do the math. In a community undergoing gentrification, the average income increases. Pre-gentrification residents who are unable to pay increased rents or property taxes are likely driven out. Often old industrial buildings are converted to residences and shops. New businesses, which can afford increased commercial rent, cater to a more affluent base of consumers—further increasing the appeal to higher income migrants and decreasing the accessibility to the poor. That’s where DC is today.

It’s true that sometimes, in order to achieve a desired objective, one must work with precision focus and keep the blinders on; you can’t be distracted! That’s how white gentrifiers have operated. The Black population dropped by more than 39,000 over the decade of the 2000s, down to 301,000 of the city’s 601,700 residents. At the same time, the non-Hispanic white population has blown up by more than 50,000 to 209,000 residents, almost a third higher than a decade earlier. It’s visually evident with an explosion of dog walkers, bike riders and clownly-dressed joggers.

The census reflects a steeper change for both Blacks and whites than had been estimated. With the city‘s Black population dropping by about 1 percent a year, Blacks are already just below the 50% mark in the city. These shifts in demographics are being met with resentment. Whites have been targeted for muggings, smart phone snatches and simple face-to-face confrontations by young people. It is the sure result of an unspoken of racial disrespect.

Now, some readers of this column may not want to agree with me, but the evidence is irrefutable. People with the least resources shall get what they need—by any means necessary. It’s an ugly reality. I am speaking an uncomfortable truth: white people are under attack—physically. Yes, I said what you are afraid to admit. The truth is, where priced-out Blacks have been stripped of their homes, respect, culture and political power (and yes, they need to blame themselves), knuckles are the next best means of equalization. I hate that violence is a byproduct of disrespect, but violence does cause the object of that violence to take notice and leads to remedial response. Violence usually fails to win the day, but in the meantime, gentrifier beware.

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