Author's Talk Review: Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City

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First things first, I have not read the book by Dr. Derek Hyra, but I did speak with him while he was doing his research. So this is a review of a talk, not the book, which I'll read sometime later.

Tuesday, May 2nd there was an author's talk at the Potters House in/near Columbia Heights and so I and the Help attended. I was curious, as I am with any book that covers the area of Shaw. We sat in the rear and so we had a good look at the crowd that packed the room. We weren't the oldest people in the room but the average age was about 20 years our junior.
Hyra at Potters House DC
Hyra mentioned two themes describing the demographic changes in Shaw. The first being the "Dark Ghetto", the second "Living the Wire". I picked up a third, and I could be wrong, blame the Millennials, in a room crowded with millennials. The dark ghetto was cashing in on the black history of the neighborhood by developers. Well the developers are damned if they don't acknowledge the black history and in this case damned when they do in Hyra's talk. The second theme seems to come from social gatherings with white residents of the 00s in the U Street area who probably did gleefully tell stories of crime and shootings in the area. Hyra contrasts this to black residents at civic meetings seeking relief from the same crime. He said that those white residents were trying to live the "Wire," referencing the television show on HBO from 2002-2008. And for some reason he mentioned millennials being part of the gentrification process.

Those are interesting theories, where I can see how someone could come to those ideas, and maybe there is a better explanation in the book because I disagreed with most of it.

Let me start with millennials. As much as I like to pick on that generation, those 20whatever year olds wandering around staring at their phones were still in middle or high school when Shaw was on it's second wave of gentrification. There was an earlier attempt in the 80s to revitalize the area, but it really didn't kick off until the Mayor Tony Williams administration and the goal to increase the District's population. Speaking of, I heard little of Williams and more of Mayors Marion Barry and Adrian Fenty in this talk. Millennials are only guilty of maintaining and encouraging the gentrification that began before they arrived.

I'm going to skip over the dark ghetto part because I don't think I really understood what Hyra was communicating. The Washington Post in reviewing his book called it " black branding".

Related to the dark ghetto was living the Wire. Considering that Baltimore is just an hour's MARC train ride away and far cheaper than DC, anyone desiring the Wire experience could have it. No one seeks the Sex in the City experience in Newark or Philly. Maybe here too a better, deeper and richer explanation is found in the book. I do not doubt that white residents living in the U Street area regaled each other and the author with crime stories with a laugh. I had early neighbors (circa 2000-2008) do this and I saw it as a coping mechanism, because these same neighbors were dealing with other neighbors who saw them as an easy mark or easy to intimidate, the petty property crime that damaged their homes and cars, and street harassment because they were gay or a woman and not black.
I'm withholding judgement on his book until I've read it. Until then....

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This page contains a single entry by Mari published on May 4, 2017 10:08 PM.

Overheard- Missing Girl was the previous entry in this blog.

Thoughts on neighborhood change-1953 is the next entry in this blog.

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