On Gentrification…

November 4, 2009

I remember when the majority of buildings on 14th street between Euclid and Monroe were burnt out from the ’68 riots.

I remember celebrating the arrival of the metro in 1999 not because of increased property values, because it cut off 30 minutes from my morning commute to school across the park.

I remember walking to the Woolworths on 14th street when I was in elementary school to buy embroidery thread to make friendship bracelets.

My memories, my sense of home, and my sense of belonging are all rooted in Columbia Heights these days, it seems.

A little over a week ago, I was walking to the metro on my way to work when I passed by a neighbor who lives just three doors down from me. Still holding on to learned midwesternisms from college, I give him a bright morning smile, to which he quickly averts his eyes and keeps walking, not even so much as acknowledging me.

Now, I realize this was the morning and not everyone can smile before their morning cup of coffee, but this experience struck a cord with me that had me crying less than a week later.

In the things Mark and I have written about this project, we use the term animosity. Animosity, to my understanding of the word, means extreme ill-will and hostility.

This neighbor embodies that. When I first moved into the house I’m living in now, this neighbor took it upon himself to inform one of my white housemates of the street’s recent victory: getting the city to revoke section 8 subsidy status for a building on the block.

Several of my friends grew up in that building and were displaced as a result of his “organizing” efforts.

So, that morning last week evoked all of my insecurities about living in Columbia Heights right now. Although I come from middle class academic stock, I am assumed one of the public housing recipients in the neighborhood. I am black, and I identify with their struggles, so I’m not trying at all to distance myself from them, but highlight the racialized stereotypes that many of the white folks coming into this neighborhood hold.

That morning, I felt like this man was looking at me as if I was bringing his property value down. These are the experiences that I want to highlight in our community to bring people back down to earth.

We (black folks and other communities of color) have been in Columbia Heights for more than a generation. We’re quickly getting forced out of our homes, but we still have a long standing history here, folks. We belong here. So does everyone. Let’s make this work, mmmkay?

If I can work to make that happen, I will be happy.

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2 Responses to “On Gentrification…”

  1. sean Says:

    it really sucks that you have insecurities about living in your own neighborhood and you have lame ass neighbors that avert their eyes from you. i’m sorry you have to deal with that kind of thing.


  2. […] property owner from down the streets stopped by: “I wish my tenants would do something like this,” he said. […]


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