More than just black and white

The Intowner just briefly touched on it in this month’s article about gentrification in Shaw. One little thing is that it is not just a phenomenon of white people moving in and kicking out black people. There is an element of class and general self interest within the African American community that adds to the mix.

Who do you think owns the land
There are a lot of renters in Shaw. These not only include apartment buildings but also houses converted into apartments or whole townhomes rented out to families or made into boarding/group homes. Who owns those houses? Who owns the houses where people are getting pushed out by gentrification? It may be wrong to assume it is always “THE MAN”, the unknown white WASPY figure in the shadowy background ever exploiting minorities. It isn’t always so. If my own block is a good example, two Section 8 houses are owned by a man of African decent (can’t remember if he’s from the islands or from Africa), and the other is owned by the Jamaican lawyer. There are plenty of houses rented out to poorer Afro-Americans owned by middle class African Americans, who live elsewhere. So when the economic revival comes, do you think Black solidarity will keep black landlords from kicking out their tenants?

Two good examples are the building that once housed Sisterspace and the Kesley Garden apartments. The Sisterspace building is owned by an elderly African American man. Sisterspace, was a bookstore catering to the Black community. After many years of disagreement about the lease and a legal battle, Sisterspace was kicked to the curb. Gentrification was to blame. Yes, the economic revival was to blame, but the person removing this black business was another black business. The apartment building Kesley Gardens is owned by an African American church in SE DC. The church is working toward removing the tenants so the building can be converted into luxury condos.

The Good Thing About Gentrification Is….
When Whole Foods first moved in my Aunt was doubtful that blacks would take to it. The conversation didn’t get past, “Black folk, um, I don’t know…” Go into the Whole Foods/Fresh Fields on the weekend when it is packed, you will see a diversity of black faces, and I’m not talking about the ones behind the counters. There are African cabbies, who have discovered the joys of a central location with parking, eating in the booths near the cashiers. There are the all-natural brothers and sistahs, in search of the veggie/vegan organic food you cannot get at the corner quickie mart deep in Shaw. Products of Jack & Jill wander the aisles, possibly in search of something for a dinner party? Oh, yeah and me blowing no less than $12 on wine, fish, fruit, or chocolate. Occasionally, there may be a woman in FF with kids, whose class background could be middle class to working class, but hard to tell.

For those of us who survive the wave of gentrification or are waving it in, the fruits of it are enjoyed. The equity in the house is much appreciated. The new eatery that serves good food, and maybe a place to sit, is nice too. The shops catering to the middle and upper classes that come into Shaw do not have “Whites Only” signs in front. The only signs are for VISA, MasterCard, and American Express, because the only color that counts is green.

In Closing
The point I have tried to make is that gentrification is not necessarily anti-African American. Gentrification isn’t necessarily pushed and helped by Anglos only either. It is economic. But in Shaw the victims of gentrification have a black face and the new residents tend to be white, so it is easy to simply it and say that blacks are being pushed out by whites. It’s economic. People who do not have the means to stay are leaving, people who do have the means come and stay, and because the middle class in dominated by one racial group it is easy to lose site of the incoming minorities.