Gentrification, Hipsters and “Ghetto Chic.”

This post by Wendy Muse on Racialicious just about sums up (really well) what I have been feeling about the hipsters all up in “our hoodz stealin all our fashionz.” I also feel old as I wore door knockers the first time around (NY in the 80’s) eeek.
Muse is discussing all her personal negotiations and some of the political stakes involved with “ghetto chic.” She says,

For one, it’s a matter of nomenclature. The term “ghetto� is evocative of “negative� images (poverty, housing projects, crime, drug use, lack of education), and remains racialized by the media. Ghettoes and poverty are typically associated with blacks and Latinos, even though as a result of the racial demographics of the United States, there are technically more poor whites. According to a U.S. Census Bureau Press Release from 2003, though “non-Hispanic whites had a lower poverty rate than other racial groups, [they] accounted for 44 percent of the people in poverty,� which makes me wonder why whites are virtually ignored in discussions of class and blacks and Latinos are always assumed to make up the majority of the poor population in this country. . . but that’s another article.

A few months ago I was sitting in a coffee shop in my neighborhood, a coffee shop I can no longer go to as I may fight somebody, and this white “hipster” boy sat down across from me wearing a red bandana tied on the front of his head, Tupac style. That’s right, he was “GANGSTA.” I am not laughing. I shot him the nastiest look and freaked him out so he didn’t want to share the table with me, but I was raging inside.
I worked in the schools in and around San Francisco’s Mission District for about 5 years and am very familiar with the problems that are tearing our schools apart and our communities. Our kids didn’t wear red. And I thought about how this kid, moved into the Mission and was just walking around wearing a flag, like he is on some shit. I thought that god forbid if he got shot (which is highly unlikely, I don’t want to further sensationalize gang violence the way the media does) how the media would cover it. They wouldn’t say anything about his ignorance of any of the local politics or any of the racist ways that these people just move on in and visually violate these communities. To move into a community, uninformed, taking from it, not giving back and flaunting your expensive Ipod and “ghetto chic” accessories, is a form of violence.
I may be sounding like a hater, and maybe I am just too old to get it, but I AM FED UP WITH THESE KIDS. I hate Vice Magazine and I hate this attitude that pretty much says, “I am so passed racist, I can act like this.” Wake up asshole, look around you, you are part of the problem.
This is much less articulate than Wendy’s post, lol. I wrote about this a few years ago, when I had heard about the “Kill Whitey,” parties in Brooklyn. I had hoped that the trend was dying out, but I was oh so wrong. I am so moving back to Oakland (although I hear they are invading there as well).

Join the Conversation

  • scott

    “To move into a community, uninformed, taking from it, not giving back and flaunting your expensive Ipod and “ghetto chic” accessories, is a form of violence.”
    Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but if a white person said the same thing of a black person moving into a white community wouldn’t it be extremely racist?

  • Fiz

    I think part of the confusion here is that the post was sort of about 2 different topics that overlap. First is the issue of cultural appropriation and second is the issue of being an outsider/newcomer to an area and not respecting some of the sensitive issues that might exist in your new area of residence.
    About the first issue: perhaps I am misreading the initial point, but I thought the problem was not about simple cultural appropriation, but the appropriation of a symbol wrought with race based, violent overtones. I actually have no problem with someone really liking another culture and emulating that (especially if they actually take the time to learn the language/actual culture they emulate).
    For all I know the guy in her example really was some gangsta kid, but the point is that there is a subgenre of white kids who did not grow up in an impoverished area that are emulating and, in fact, glorifying a cultural symbol associated with misogyny and violence against non-white people. In the lectures I sometimes give at elementary schools there are always a few white “street talking� kids and I’m pretty sure when they put on their red bandana tied a certain way they are referencing some vague knowledge they have of the Bloods. I really do believe that they are saying to themselves “I’m a gangsta and being a gangsta is cool!�
    Purposefully referencing gang warfare is bad enough when done by those involved but when some kid who has no experience with the actualities of what it means to grow up non-white or very poor glorifies a lifestyle that is based in real sexism and violence, it is more than just simple “I like the way this red look on me.�
    About the insensitivity to other cultural symbols and such – when I travel, one of the first things I do is make sure I learn the basics. Some of the work I did was in Micronesia where bare breasts are the norm but the upper thigh of a woman is considered very taboo. Would I go live and work there and run around in a bikini because I can? No, because I understand that other people have feelings and that there are culturally sensitive issues. Is it ok for me to wear a gang color because, damn it, it’s a free country and anyone who is sensitive to that can go stuff it? What about the family members of the person killed by the gang you’re unknowingly supporting.
    Finally, I very much doubt that some random white person walking down the street with a red bandana holding back her hair would be mistaken for a gang member. But when you get all Tupac with your red bandana you’re pretty clearly signaling something and if you don’t know that then hopefully one of the nice neighbors that you have befriended will tell you. Of course you don’t “deserve it� if you get killed for accidentally wearing anything of any color, but if you keep wearing your red Tupac bandana even when you know just cause you damn well think you have the right to, then there is some privilege somewhere that needs to be checked.

  • m

    i agree with some of the sentiments, but the violence thing. . . i don’t know. i have a relatively low sense of humor around this word because i have experienced actual violence as a “gentrifier” before and i can’t say i walked away from it feeling i deserved it. i think most people of all classes and colors should take a deeper look at the politics behind this sort of thing, but violence, threatened or imaginary, just tends to make people more reactionary and less open-minded.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Re: cultural appropriation
    It probably should be pointed out that sampling of pop songs in rap albums is very much appropriation. The reality is that we all live together, and that we should be thinking about each other and acknowledging each other.

  • http://norbizness.com norbizness

    There is also a certain irony in this, in that Tupac had a number of looks, including the preppie, striped long sleeved shirt with two-level high-top fade in his days as a back-up dancer and pinch-hit rapper for Digital Underground.
    Look, we all know wack when we see it. And look on the bright side: maybe some increased property taxes for inner-city school systems (devastated by white flight) isn’t the worst thing in the world.

  • Vervain

    Rin –
    I’m also very interested in Japanese culture, and have read a lot about it. Among other things, I’m fascinated by traditional Japanese clothing. I’ve purchased books and researched how much of it was/is made. I love looking at pictures of antique kimono. I even own a haori, myself. But I would never stroll around in Japan wearing it, unless for some reason I was specifically instructed to do so by a native. I might wear it in the company of Japanese friends who knew me well enough to know I’m not just co-opting their culture because it looks “cool,” but that’s about it.
    Am I allowed to wear my haori around Japan if I want to? Sure. But since I’m aware that by doing so I may be effectively hanging a sign around my neck that reads “stupid gaijin” to people of Japanese descent who don’t know me personally, I’d opt not to. I prefer to avoid making complete strangers think I’m a jerk, so as much as I love it, I’d leave the haori at home.
    I can understand where people are coming from when they wrestle with whether or not it’s “okay” for them to adopt a style of dress they admire. Even if they educate themselves extensively about its background and origins, there’s no way a casual observer can know that. So when does a person earn the “right” to wear style X?
    When I got into goth about a decade ago, it was the music that drew me in. While I knew goths wore a lot of black, I didn’t feel I had the right to do so myself until I’d learned a fair bit about the music that spawned it. The style of dress, to me, wasn’t so much about looking “cool” as it was a way of identifying my tastes in music to others who might have similar tastes. It was a signal to other goths that we had something to talk about that we couldn’t discuss with someone who listened to more mainstream music. Thus, it was vastly annoying to run into people who clearly spent a lot of time shopping at Hot Topic, but had never bothered to learn the names of (let alone actually listen to) even the most well-known goth bands. Because they were, through their appropriation of the style, effectively masquerading as something they weren’t.
    Now, in the case of goth (or punk, or any other music genre that has an style of dress associated with it) the “poser” problem can be rectified just by taking the time to learn more about the music. But when it’s a style that’s connected in some way with a culture or race, it gets more dodgy. No matter how much I learn about Japanese culture, I will never be Japanese. Therefore, if I appropriate traditional Japanese dress, I am dooming myself to perpetual poserville. Since I try to be respectful of others’ feelings, I consider this something to avoid.
    Just my opinion on the subject. Your opinion may vary.

  • Lucy Stone

    “I thought the problem was not about simple cultural appropriation, but the appropriation of a symbol wrought with race based, violent overtones. I actually have no problem with someone really liking another culture and emulating that (especially if they actually take the time to learn the language/actual culture they emulate).”
    Well said. That was my impression as well. It’s one thing to admire another culture and learn about it and appreciate it. That’s great and should (in my opinion) be encouraged. It’s quite another to use symbols of violence from said culture, especially mockingly.
    Is discrimination/violence against someone of any skin color ever okay? Of course not. I don’t think anyone was really advocating that, were they?
    As an aside, Elaine, I am originally from Oregon and I feel your pain on the whole how to say Nevada issue. ;)

  • EG

    The punk analogy misses the point and I think you know that.
    Indeed. The other reason the punk analogy doesn’t work is that black people, such as Don Letts, were pretty integral to the genesis of punk.

  • Jane Minty

    I also believe bandannas were originally made popular by Western cowboys, but nobody wrote an angry blog when rappers started wearing them. Just saying.
    They were also worn by my Grandpa Ted when he conducted large steam engines in Michigan.
    My mom also wore red (and other color) bandanas, since they reminded her of her dad. She continued to wear them to help conceal the large squamous cell tumor that eventually ended her life. They were both wearing bandanas long before these kids were conceived.
    So, if I wore a red bandana in menory of both, I suppose that would make me an asshole. WHATEVS.
    I never thought I’d say this, but I’m getting tired of people complaining about gentrification. The more I think about it, the more I truly believe that the initiative taken by anyone to travel, live, and educate themselves outside their birthplace outweighs the chance they might inadvertently cause a population shift. If we want to make good on all the “global community” crap we live to believe, it’s time to get along.
    How about focusing on true injustices here? This is crazy.

  • EG

    It’s not a question of “getting along”–it’s a question of over and over again transforming neighborhoods in such a way that the original population can no longer afford to live there. And yes, those of us who are the original population resent the hell out of it.

  • oljb

    I don’t remember the exact details, but I remember seeing an Appalshop documentary a while back about figurative violence being responded to with literal violence. It concerned a man in Appalachia and a French-Canadian filmmaker. There is a long history of photography being used to caricature, marginalize and dehumanize people in Appalachia, and which has had understandably caused a lot of justified resentment of outsiders looking through a camera lens. Although this is different than Samhita’s example above, I think it is a similar or equivalent kind of “violence” to the sort of appropriation she’s talking about.
    Long story short, the man whom the Canadian filmmaker was filming shot him dead rather than be subjected to what he perceived as a humiliation.
    Abstractly, you can look at this and see some degree of justification for the killer’s actions… there was a bitter history to what the filmmaker was participating in; a context of which he may not have been entirely aware. On the other hand, any self-aware Appalachian should be able to tell you that there’s a pretty vicious tendency towards othering outsiders in the region, whether justified, or just as often not justified.
    So while Samhita did not kill the do-rag wearer (quite the contrary, she went out of her way to defuse her anger), I think there’s always a question of how much antagonism towards outsiders is a reasonable reaction to problematic behavior, and how much is straight-up bigotry.

  • Fiz

    I just remembered what I think might be a better comparison – my freshman year of college I was Marxist rebel girl and had a Chairman Mao t-shirt that I wore all the time. That is, until an elderly woman approached me on the bus and said point blank (and more nicely than I probably would have) “Mao killed my entire family.� That was it, no rant, no angry words, just a statement.
    I can assure you I turned around, went home, and took the shirt off directly into the trash and then went to the library to read what Mao actually did (back in the day before the internets). I honestly didn’t know, I thought I was being cool. BUT, when I figured out what the symbolic import of Mao was to some people I got rid of it because he was, to some, a symbol of mass violence and death. That shirt was very different than my poser kanji shirt that I think said “love� but probably said “doesn’t read Kanji� or something.

  • SarahS

    Jane Minty, I gotta call you out on this. You think we should focus on “true injustices”? So when white privilege is used against people of color, that isn’t a “true injustices”? Cultural appropriation isn’t a “true injustice”? The opinions of various people of color on an issue near and dear to them just don’t matter because it isn’t a “true injustice”? The fact that poor brown people are being fetishized by not-poor whites who want to wear their clothes but not actually listen to their concerns or change their circumstances just isn’t a “true injustice”? You’re just expecting all the poor people of color in the world to unite behind your vision of “global community” and deny that the injustices they perceive as being true are real?
    I have to call bullshit on all that. As I think the comments here have proven, there are a LOT of people who have been victimized by this kind of behavior. Maybe you should be less defensive and actually LISTEN to what people are saying here. Trust me, it won’t kill you to check your knee-jerk attitude, read, and learn a little.

  • snappy mackerel

    Story time: a year ago I bought a gorgeous little house in what I called an “abandoned” neighborhood. The middle class left Baltimore in droves over the last several years due to drugs and crime, and my new house was one of a few on my street that went unoccupied for quite a while. I thought gentrification was wrong, but my buying this house was supercool of me–I was a pioneer, a brave soul coming in with my youth and my little bit of cash to bring vibrancy back to this street.
    Except that my abandoned neighborhood wasn’t abandoned. It was populated by low-income renters and a few stubborn holdout homeowners, POC all. By the time that I, and other kids my age and income level, bought up those empty houses, we’d brought enough cash and bougie taste into the area to run out several family-owned businesses (skyrocketing rent). Chomping to get the rest of the renters off our street so that they could finally sell those houses, landlords raised rents and started evicting my neighbors. Have you ever seen an eviction? I have now. It happens before dawn, so that you’re caught unaware and the police wake up the whole neighborhood, so that they all come to their front stoops to watch you pack up your stuff and plead for one more thing before the door gets boarded up and you go…somewhere.
    So this idea that walking around flashing privilege and cultural appropriation can’t be violence because no one gets hurt is bullshit. I’ve seen families evicted and their livelihoods lost. That isn’t bodily harm, but isn’t that just as devastating? I know that my white iPod-toting self doesn’t mean anything in my old neighborhoods and the streets where I usually go, but in my chosen neighborhood, I’m a symbol and a threat. And rather than get defensive about it and rail about how unfair it is since they don’t know me and reverse racism and all that, I’m really starting to get it. I moved into my house because I could, because it would bring so much good to me. I was completely ignorant about the effect it would have on the neighborhood. And now people who aren’t me are paying for that. In fact, I’ll live in (and get tax breaks from) property that’s exponentially growing in value, see “better” shopping pop up in those old storefronts, and reap the benefits of living in a privileged community that will be more likely to get city government’s attention when we need work done and get preferential treatment from companies (no more rolling brownouts during the electric company’s “conservation” week that oddly never affects the wealthier neighborhoods…). It’s bizarre to me that in the face of tremendous privilege, some people still get miffed over the loss of their option to wear a bandanna. This post isn’t even asking people not to gentrify neighborhoods, just to exercise a little restraint and sensitivity when flashing around privilege.

  • Jane Minty

    Part of my family lives in their “original” town of birth. The rest of us escaped. I was dragged around from place to place as a kid…even though we were poor, I’m sure some rednecks always thought of us as “outsiders.” Know what? It made me a better person.
    While I don’t hold it against anyone to stay in one place for their lifetime, don’t penalize those of us who choose differently. I agree it blows when a few people are pushed out due to such circumstances, but then again it was much easier to retain your residence when people were less traveled. Even then, population shifts occurred.
    Yup, I happened to live in the Midwest for part of my life. I’m not ashamed, and I resent the implication that anyone who didn’t grow up in a gritty urban area is less culturally sensitive than those who did. I’ve actually met a few very close-minded people from the 5 boroughs…are they by default more culturally sensitive than I am due to their birthplace?

  • mercuria

    If yuppies & hipsters want to ignore, resent or tire of gentrification’s decriers, why shouldn’t they? I only hope they don’t mind the locals ignoring, resenting or tiring or them–OH, WAIT. I forgot: the locals won’t be able to afford to stay there to do so. Naw, no injustice there at all!

  • the frog queen

    *sigh* I’m just gonna come out and say it. I think this article is racists. Furthermore, I’m actually offended that some of the comments on here are borederline racists. Can someone just tell me why it’s okay to be racists at white people? Cause I don’t get it. Frankly, I’m getting tired of trying to understand it. If someone can explain it to me in a non-condescending way, I’d totally appreciate it.

  • EG

    While I don’t hold it against anyone to stay in one place for their lifetime, don’t penalize those of us who choose differently.
    So, who’s penalizing you? Complaining and taking collective action to protect our communities is somehow penalizing you?
    I agree it blows when a few people are pushed out due to such circumstances
    We’re not talking about “a few people”; we’re talking about entire communities. The entire character of my neighborhood changed in the years it took me to grow up. It went from being a place with a mixture of bohemians and working-class families with a variety of local shops such as baby-supply shops, hardware stores, etc. to being a theme park where rich kids puked on the sidewalk and every other storefront was a bar that charged ten bucks for a glass of wine, and double-decker tour buses went by twice an hour. This wasn’t some kind of population shift of the sort that generally happens with succeeding emigration waves. It was dictated by the rich and supported by city policy–if you’re interested, you can read about a previous effort to gentrify the neighborhood that had been succesfully resisted in Janet Abu-Lughod’s From Urban Village to East Village.
    I resent the implication that anyone who didn’t grow up in a gritty urban area is less culturally sensitive than those who did. I’ve actually met a few very close-minded people from the 5 boroughs…are they by default more culturally sensitive than I am due to their birthplace?
    No, but they’re probably far more aware of and attuned to the cultural symbols, shifts, and significances of their city than you are. Plunk me down in a small town in the Midwest, and I’d have no idea how to read the street. It works the other way round, as well.
    And, mercuria? WORD.

  • http://www.justdreadful.com Jenny Dreadful

    I live in a community that’s being heavily gentrified. I moved here about three years ago, because it was surprisingly inexpensive to rent a place here, and I move wherever I can afford, which doesn’t include a whole lot of places, I’m afraid.
    Now, there are condos being sold for half a million dollars just down the street from my tiny apartment. Higher-scale shops are moving in, and old, beautiful houses are being torn down to make way for cheesey, slapped together condos that don’t match the existing look or feel of the community.
    I’m probably perceived as part of gentrification, but I don’t feel like that’s accurate. In fact, I don’t think it’s fair to hold individual people responsible for gentrification when it’s profit-driven developers and franchisers that buy up real estate and REALLY push people out. A lot of people, like recent college grads, just move where it’s cheap, they settle in, and then some marketing genius spots a trend and realizes the community could support a successful Urban Outfitters or two. The city governments should be held accountable, too. The zoning and rezoning in some areas is insane.

  • EG

    I agree, Jenny. When I move back, I will undoubtedly be taking up residence in a neighborhood new to me, and I might end up being an element of gentrification, whether I like it or no. But I sure don’t expect the people who live in that neighborhood already to like me.

  • bettieclem

    I already posted it once in this thread, but dammit if I’m not gonna post it again, especially for those commenters who are feeling offending that no one cares about the “racism” against whites:
    http://stickyrice.itgo.com/whiteprivilege.html
    (White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, By Peggy McIntosh) It’s a really great essay on privilege for white feminists to read, and a lot of what she brings up pertains to the specific issue of this thread AND the sort of snotty attitude I’m seeing throughout the thread. I feel like some people, subconcious or not, are just plain RUDER on certain threads that deal with POC issues.
    Also, snappy mac–do you live outside of Hampden by any chance? I went to school outside of B-more and spent a summer living on St. Paul (which I understand now has a Chipotle? WTF?!)

  • http://thecurvature.blogspot.com Anonymous

    Look, frog queen, I’m just going to straight up tell you that all of your posts sound like “boo hoo hoo, why is everyone so mean to white people when we try REALLY hard? We have it tough, too!!!”
    I don’t know what you’re trying to say. But that’s what’s coming out. And that sentiment is bullshit, it smacks of privilege, it’s racist and it’s absolutely NO DIFFERENT than when a man comes on this board while we’re talking about domestic violence and says “what about men who are abused?” or when we’re talking about rape and he says “what about men who are raped?” as if that’s some kind of EXCUSE to be a misogynist. It’s pissing me off A LOT and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. I’m white. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this post, either. But because I don’t know anything about being a woman of color in this situation, I’m keeping my damn mouth shut. You should probably do yourself a favor and try it.

  • http://www.justdreadful.com Jenny Dreadful

    Yeah, the people who are complaining about racism against whites need to have the power dynamic explained to them again. Samhita didn’t say anything that was racist against whites, anyway, and even if she had, it wouldn’t have the same impact as what Raging Moderate used as an example.

  • snappy mackerel

    bettieclem, I’m in Patterson Park. St. Paul does indeed have a Chipotle, and you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Subway sandwich shop.
    Frog Queen, I think I might know you from another board. If it’s you, you sent me really nice email once during a tough time. /end hijack.

  • Raging Moderate

    Are we really defending the idea that whites shouldn’t wear “black” clothing?
    How about immigrants who wear western clothing? Are they appropriating white culture and doing us violence?

  • Samhita

    Raging Moderate–You are not getting it. Listen more and talk less.
    How dare you talk about the experience of immigrating, the pain of forced assimilation and even begin to talk about it as violence against whites.
    Seriously, or I am going to ban you.

  • http://moderatelyinsane.blogspot.com Sailorman

    It is not white privilege to note that opposition to gentrification which boil down to “keep the whites out,” and racist actions taken to prevent “undesirables” from moving to “white” areas, are opposite sides of the same coin.
    It is not privilege to note that ragging on a white guy for wearing a bandanna, listening to rap music, and/or “dressing like a black guy;” and ragging on a black guy for wearing a business suit, listening to classical music, and working in an investment bank are opposite sides of the same argument.
    And you know what?
    Just because the arguments happen to be made by a person of ___ race doesn’t make them any more valid. Those arguments are bullshit when a white uses them to discriminate. And they are still bullshit when a POC uses them, either against a white person, or against another minority.
    Don’t call them “racist” if you don’t want to. But take a long hard look at what you’re really saying, and what types of interactions you’re really supporting, by this post.
    So, you think affecting “communities” is a dirty word? Do you still feel that way when the community is rich, or white? Is it just as bad to open a minority-owned store or restaurant which carries products designed to appeal to POC in a lilywhite area, as it is to open a white-owned store or restaurant in a nonwhite community?
    I know many fine New England communities that have transitioned from lilywhite enclaves to multicultural areas. Kudos to them. I support the rights of people to move where they want; build restaurants where they want; go to the schools they want. Christ, if someone would tear down a local fish and chips joint and build a Malaysian restaurant I’d jump for joy.
    But the reverse is true too.

  • http://thecurvature.blogspot.com Anonymous

    Sailorman, you are working under the extremely mistaken assumption that white people and people of color are starting out at the same level in this country. They are not. People of color have systematically been discriminated against for centuries by white people in this country. It is in fact privilege to compare oppressed communities who seek solace in each other through shared culture and experience and feel rightfully defensive toward outsiders to the segregation that whites used to legally impose and still informally practice to this day.

  • Raging Moderate

    Raging Moderate–You are not getting it.

    That’s true. I don’t see how white guys dressing like rappers is insulting or oppressive.

    How dare you talk about the experience of immigrating, the pain of forced assimilation and even begin to talk about it as violence against whites.

    I never said anything about forced assimilation, so I don’t understand your point. Unless you believe that all immigrants who adopt western styles are being forced to.

  • Dorion

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you participate in the trends, art and fashions of others, you’re “appropriating” or “selling out,” both meant equally derogatorily. If you keep to your own, you’re “racist,” “segregationist” or “privileged.” Good luck!

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    Besides the obvious reasons to hate gentrification because it forces low-income and often people of color out of their own communities, it does also suck for a lot of low to middle class white people, too. Bear with me now, before you set me on fire, but let’s face it: even the middle is struggling in NYC. Middle class white people have two options: live in a gentrified area, feel relatively safe, but scrape to get by because the rent is outside their means, or move into a less expensive, less safe area, where they will likely encounter some not so fun stuff, for whatever reasons (but probably because of their race), from the community. This may be totally out there, but I have the feeling that a person of color, no matter how much money they do or don’t have, can walk in way more places in NYC and not feel like they’re going to get robbed. I am, however, also aware, that the same said person can walk into a fancy shmancy store and will probably be followed around like they’re going to steal something – which isn’t right either. I’ve actually had black people tell me “don’t go to ____ unless you have a n***** (their words, not mine) with you.” This leads me to believe that I’m not just imagining things, that being white literally makes you a target in some areas. According to some of the comments on this thread, that is A-OK.
    As another poster stated, no matter what your skin color and what neighborhood you’ve dared to “invade,” violence against an individual because they’re seen as a “gentrifier” is way fucked. People on this thread are coming very, very close to condoning threatening or violent behavior towards people that they believe deserve it because they are just bursting with white privilege. It’s a little scary.
    I like Jenny’s first post on holding the people who are doing the developing accountable. Don’t blame a couple of white kids who moved into a “bad area” because that’s the only place they can afford.
    I can’t really afford the rent in gentrified areas, but I live in them anyway. You can’t put a price on your personal security and safety. Apparently this totally makes me part of the problem, but I don’t see anybody volunteering to walk me home every night.
    I think a lot of this debate is really more about the system vs. the individual. I hate patriarchy, but I am not resentful of every man I come across just because they’re inadvertently part of that system – some men, in fact, fight to destroy patriarchy. I get that no matter what, I’m white and therefore part of “whitey,” the system, the man, and I have to take responsibility for that, but I, and every other white person I know (because I am not friends with assholes) would destroy white privilege in a heartbeat if we had that power, because we know it’s wrong.
    This is really going to make some of you hate me, but just like patriarchy is harmful to men (to a much lesser degree than women, but it still is), racism can negatively affect white people too – obviously not to the disenfranchising degree that it has people of color, but it does affect us. The system “hurts” EVERYBODY – it sure doesn’t hurt everybody equally, but I don’t understand why some people think that I shouldn’t even be allowed to even participate in this conversation because of my inherent race. I am certainly not trying to minimize ANYBODY’S experiences, and I’d appreciate the same respect from others.
    And as for the idea that nobody is appropriating white trash trailer park culture (this was mentioned quite a few comments ago)…BULL FUCKING SHIT. Two words: Trucker Caps (which I believe quite a few black people wore as well). Have you ever been to Southern California? Social Distortion pretty much made it a requirement that EVERYONE looks like they stepped out of their double-wide.

  • http://dont-read.blogpsot.com Malaika924

    Samhita, great post. But these comments reek of bullshit, and the stench of white privilege is burning my eyes. I’m gone.
    And people wonder why WOCs blast on Feministing?

  • http://thecurvature.blogspot.com Anonymous

    I agree, Malaika. There are some genuine critiques of this post, but there is also a LOT of racism here, and it’s disgusting.

  • Jane Minty

    If yuppies & hipsters want to ignore, resent or tire of gentrification’s decriers, why shouldn’t they?
    Feel free to continue making sweeping generalizations about who I am as a person. That’s very mature.
    So, who’s penalizing you? Complaining and taking collective action to protect our communities is somehow penalizing you?
    No, but as was mentioned some of you are putting blame on the individual who just wants to live in a reasonably-priced neighborhood that might offer a different perspective than what the person is accustomed to. Perhaps we should all just stay exactly where we were born.
    It went from being a place with a mixture of bohemians and working-class families with a variety of local shops such as baby-supply shops, hardware stores, etc. to being a theme park where rich kids puked on the sidewalk and every other storefront was a bar that charged ten bucks for a glass of wine, and double-decker tour buses went by twice an hour.
    The old Italian American lady in my Greenpoint building (who grew up in the neighborhood) complained that the Puerto Ricans “ruined” the neighborhood in the ’50s. It’s all context…places like NYC have always changed. As far as recent gentrification, blame rezoning. Want your kids to grow up in a place that never changes? I’ll show you some lovely communities in scenic upper Michigan.
    No, but they’re probably far more aware of and attuned to the cultural symbols, shifts, and significances of their city than you are.
    So what’s your point? Being attuned to your neighborhood doesn’t excuse small-mindedness.
    Jane Minty, I gotta call you out on this. You think we should focus on “true injustices”? So when white privilege is used against people of color, that isn’t a “true injustices”? Cultural appropriation isn’t a “true injustice”? The opinions of various people of color on an issue near and dear to them just don’t matter because it isn’t a “true injustice”? The fact that poor brown people are being fetishized by not-poor whites who want to wear their clothes but not actually listen to their concerns or change their circumstances just isn’t a “true injustice”? You’re just expecting all the poor people of color in the world to unite behind your vision of “global community” and deny that the injustices they perceive as being true are real?
    I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Where did I say anything about white people? Jesus H. Christ on a cracker (pun intended), do you think gentrification only affects anyone not of caucasian origian?
    Um, fashion? We’ve all been stealing frome each other throughout history, and combining it with new ideas. Wearing aforementioned red handkerchief doesn’t make me an asshole (but I’ll pass on the “Dorf on Golf” pants – no one looks sexy in gigantic trousers, period). Holy crap, I can’t believe you would equate attire with lack of concern for the plight of a group of people, period.
    The same can be said for you – it doesn’t matter what personal hardships I may have endured over the years, it’s never “valid” enough. I would never claim “reverse racism” but damn, why can’t you look beyond my skin color as well in evaluating my opinion?
    Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I have no respect for your background; kindly extend the same courtesy.
    I guess I’m just really disappointed at all the assumptions some of you are making. It’s becoming a pissing match of “my people are more disadvantaged than you are.” I’m insulted any of you would resort to making light of my own background to get your point across.

  • Samhita

    Also, it is a class issue as well. If a white boy is actually in a gang his wearing a red bandana would be different than someone that is doing it for irony’s sake.
    We are talking about systems of oppression that treat different groups in different ways. It is not that just wearing it is wrong. It is coupled with being the privileged group in an urban area that doesn’t have to deal with actually living in the violent system that makes bandanas a cultural signifier.
    “Ghetto chic” is huge, it is everywhere. The popularization of hip-hop has affected style, music, art, food, everything. That in and of itself is not inherently bad. But have the “ghettos” become a better place to be. Have the same problems that affect poor, urban youth, disappeared. No.
    OK, I am not articulate right now, but these responses are jarring. I know it is hard to understand why white people aren’t allowed to do whatever they want, since our culture assumes that white people are entitled to whatever they want without consequences.
    Perhaps some white privilege 101?

  • bettieclem

    Wow, just…wow.
    I’m really getting the feeling, from the tenor of these comments, that some of the commenters here never actually interacted with POC, or, more specifically to this thread, low-income POC living in urban areas of concentrated poverty. And it sounds like some folks (EG, snappy mackerel, Jenny Dreadful, and others) have done so, yet are being unheard and/or discounted by what sounds like shrill, white men threatened by the idea that the world is not a big shiny coin with clear and equal situations etched on either side.
    And I’m on a *feminist* site? ::blinks eyes, slinks away from the internets::

  • EG

    The old Italian American lady in my Greenpoint building (who grew up in the neighborhood) complained that the Puerto Ricans “ruined” the neighborhood in the ’50s.
    Yeah, well, clearly the Puerto Ricans didn’t force out the old Italian lady, did they? You honestly don’t see a difference between racism against a group occupying the very same socio-economic niche one’s own group did when they moved in, and a massive socio-economic shift that turfs people out against their will? When Puerto Ricans moved into what had previously been Italian neighborhoods, it was because the Italians in question had moved out, usually moving up in the world from immigrant routes, to make a vast generalization. The Puerto Ricans took over that immigrant niche, as well as becoming the target of very similar bigotries as had been directed at the Italians (they’re swarthy, smell like garlic/strange spices, are loud, wear bright colors, are violent, won’t learn our language, etc.). You really don’t see the difference between that and people from up the socio-economic scale moving in and driving prices up to the extent that previous denizens are forced out? The history of immigration waves to the city is a very different beast than the maneuverings of rich people taking over the neighborhoods of the poor.
    So what’s your point? Being attuned to your neighborhood doesn’t excuse small-mindedness.
    Many of these comments have been about how it is possible to know the cultural significance of one’s fashion choices in a new environment. You asked whether being from NYC made people less racist. My point was that it makes them less ignorant about what certain symbols mean, which had been being discussed earlier.
    places like NYC have always changed. As far as recent gentrification, blame rezoning. Want your kids to grow up in a place that never changes? I’ll show you some lovely communities in scenic upper Michigan.
    Gee, thanks. It’s not like I know anything about the history of NYC. I’m so glad to be taught about how it’s always “changing.” Right. And some changes are better than others. Working-class NYers have always fought the changes that screwed them over. I have a pretty good handle on the forces that drive gentrification, thanks. Further, you seem to be arguing that objecting to a certain kind of change is the same as objecting change in general. It’s not. I object to gentrification–that’s not the same as wanting to freeze time. Though your casual dismissal of the culture I grew up in as somehow being the same as what I could find in scenic upper Michigan is pretty telling about how little respect you have for what is lost in the process of gentrification.
    I tell you what really gets up my nose: when out-of-towners move to NYC and assume that because their roots are elsewhere and hey, the city’s always changing, that they don’t have to respect or acknowledge the fact that many people have strong roots in the actual city. It’s not a goddamned theme park.
    I still fail to see how disliking someone is “penalizing” them.

  • Jane Minty

    Samhita, great post. But these comments reek of bullshit, and the stench of white privilege is burning my eyes. I’m gone.
    And people wonder why WOCs blast on Feministing?
    Stench of white privilege? Can you cite examples? I’m not trying to be a smartass, but what are we supposed to say and how do we act to keep peace in a community? I think it’s safe to assume all of us here are enlightened enough to respect and explore diversity…it just has to go both ways.
    This whole argument just wears me the fuck out. I honestly feel like some people aren’t happy with anything.

  • Samhita

    You know I know it is really controversial that I am letting some of these comments stay, but I think it is important to see what we are working with.
    It is profound, but I don’t mind being reminded that some people completely and totally don’t understand what white privilege is.
    TheSoyMilkConspiracy–I am hearing what you are saying. I think it is a system verse individual thing. I don’t hate every “hipster,” in some circles I am one
    and I certainly DO NOT condone violence against people who move into these neighborhoods. But to wear a red bandana in a neighborhood that has gang problems is rude and insensitive.
    But the bigger systemic issues cannot be ignored. No one can afford rent these days.

  • Jessica

    Great post, Samhita. Having just moved out of the hipster/gentrification mecca of Williamsburg, Brooklyn and having grown up in LIC, Queens (next on the gentrification hit list), this one is close to my heart.
    It’s kind of freaking me out how many people are missing the point. Samhita isn’t saying certain folks can’t wear certain clothes. Shit, she’s certainly seen pics of me during my Cross Colors phase back in junior high.
    What we’re talking about hear is the appropriation of cultural symbols as fucking irony–as a joke. Like the Kill Whitey parties, the idea is that these folks think are making jokes and ironic fashion statements under the frame of racism being “over” or them being “passed racism” as Samhita said. And–hello–they’re not the fucking people who get to decide that shit. It’s like the whole hipster scarf thing; I find it incredibly irritating. And I think the major issue I have with folks using symbols like this and claiming it’s for irony’s sake, it’s that you’d be hard pressed to find someone taking part in this who could has actually put any political thought into it whatsoever. Sorry for the ramble, just my two cents.

  • kmg

    Seriously, or I am going to ban you.
    Awesome. Really? You’ll ban Raging Moderate because s/he doesn’t “get it”? And because s/he apparently does not necessarily equate “immigration” with “forced assimilation” (which I am not in the slightest disputing happens, but also undisputedly is unjustified as a blanket assumption). That’s disappointing, to say the least, Samhita.
    I appreciate the link to the Racialicious post. Really well-written and thought-provoking. And some of the examples she uses are new to me–for example, I remember wearing door knocker earrings growing up in the Midwest in the late 80s and early 90s, waaaaay before hip hop had permeated into that area, so I never would have thought to associate them with “ghetto chic”. In fact, I’m still not sure I buy that they are inherently and uniquely a marker of the communities she’s talking about because it’s contrary to my own personal experience, but it’s something to think about, and I like having things to think about.
    But Samhita’s not the writer Wendi Muse is, and her post was all heat, no light. I’m all for blowing off steam, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that her primary anecdote revolves around a set of on-sight snap judgments she made about a guy who briefly shared a table–not even words, just a table!–with her at a local coffee shop. She made judgments (or, more accurately assumptions), about where he grew up, how wealthy he was, what his racial background was, whether he “gives anything back” to the local community, etc., ad nauseum. And then she decided never to go back to that coffee shop because on the basis of these bare assumptions, she might have to beat up this guy–probably hyperbole, but definitely because it caused her to become so angry she just can’t stand it.
    Please, let’s talk about gentrification and cultural appropriation and race and class and privilege, oh my! Let’s talk about how disgusting it is to feed symbols of violence and poverty through the marketing machine and then sell the output as a cute, stylish product. And let’s talk about what maybe ought to be happening to stop that process. But look, people are going to call bullshit on this post because the arguments are weak–just because the writer is a POC doesn’t mean she gets to assume whatever she likes about whomever she comes into contact with, with total progressive-politics immunity. She doesn’t get to be judgmental about this guy and everything about his past, present and future, and then chalk it up to righteous indignation without a few people suggesting that doing so perhaps doesn’t pass the smell test.

  • m

    i could also put in, there is a difference between being angry about oppression and resenting someone else’s privilege, and just being downright uncivil. i think people have the right to organize, resist, protest construction, etc. but just being nasty and threatening to people you have never met because they have more privilege and have moved into your neighborhood is hardly fair. i am angry about people having more gender and economic privilege than me, but i don’t attack people with said privilege if they are just going about their business.
    i would have found the above statement ignorant a few years ago but after someone threatening to rape me on the S train because of my race, i have taken a very different view of it all. i should add, none of the women said anything or tried to help me in any way. and yeah, i’m sure i probably have taken a very cheap apartment from someone who was born in that neighborhood, and i know i don’t give much back to the neighborhood except spend money, but that’s fucked—and that’s nothing compared to what my gay friend got. . .
    if people have some opposing opinion or ideas of how i should re-orient myself on this matter i would be open to it, but i never really have heard an anti-gentrification “they don’t have to like you”-type argument that can really sway my mind.

  • EG

    I don’t see why you have to re-orient yourself, m. It’s disgusting that a man threatened to rape you, and it’s disgusting that your friend was gay-bashed. Not liking someone is not the same as doing either of those things. I hope you and your friend called the cops, because both of those things are a lot worse than just being uncivil. You don’t have the right to expect people to like you, but you certainly have the right to live in safety.

  • TheSoyMilkConspiracy

    Bettie, honestly, I think EVERYBODY on this thread is being “unheard” and “discounted.” Raise your hand if you feel as if your point of view has been understood or respected. Yeah.
    Just like the world is not a black and white, double sided coin, there is quite a bit of room between being “racist,” (which a number of us, myself included, have been called) and simply just trying to understand or have a discussion. I can’t speak for everybody, but all I’m trying to do is learn more about, discuss, and debate a point that affects all of us, and do it without being mocked or insulted in a completely condescending “you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about” way, which isn’t happening. This is undoubtedly a frustrating topic and people are getting agitated, but it’d be nice if we could keep it educational instead of seeing who can out-scoff each other.
    And Samhita, regarding your most recent comment. No, wearing my red bandanna out of my pocket was not “rude and insensitive.” It WAS stupid, but it wasn’t a deliberate “fuck you” to the community (although I understand how someone would see it that way if they didn’t know the backstory behind it, which you did). It WOULD be “rude and insensitive” of me to CONTINUE wearing it, after learning of its meaning, which I haven’t. The idea that you’d call me “rude” for doing something in complete and total innocence kind of sucks. I’ll say it again: I’m sorry for being an idiot and not knowing what certain cultural symbols mean, and I certainly believe it is not OK to co-opt something that’s integral to a community’s culture as a shitty, not even really funny, joke, as Jessica said.

  • Samhita

    kmg–I don’t deny I am being a hater. You are right that I don’t actually know anything about the guy except that he is ignorant to wear a known gang signifier in a community that is struggling against gang problems.
    I am a writer, so work with me here, I am looking at the politics of representation.
    Your “just because she is a POC” comment is cute though. It is clear you won’t listen to me if I am or if I am not so I see, it really doesn’t make a difference that I am.

  • Jane Minty

    Samhita, I honestly don’t care if you choose to delete my comments. I just feel personally attacked if I make a comment, and my own race/background is used against me.
    You need to see that using “white privilege” as a blanket term might be offensive to some of us who want to be recognized by our own individual backgrounds (and happen to be caucasian). I’m not ashamed of who I am (even if I do retain a winter pallor year-round). To me the usage implies that I’m evil by default, and nothing I’ll ever do will make a difference.
    EG, I’m rather disappointed at your personal attacks. I’ve lived here 14 years, longer than any other place. Like it or not, I’m here to stay. I’ve poured plenty of energy into local activism…but again, since I’m not a “native” I’ll just never understand.
    Just so you’re clear, the lady in my building made the Puerto Rican comments, not me. In an above post you defended people like her, saying they were “less ignorant about what certain symbols mean.”
    People of all backgrounds are constantly moving to NYC (as you have indeed confirmed). Who is anyone to determine what kind of immigrant is good vs. bad? Is this all based on socioeconomic factors? Is the Brazilian trust-funder more of a valuable contribution to our landscape than the dirt poor professor from North Carolina? Again, I’m not trying to be an asshole but I think some of you are really jumping to conclusions.
    You can go ahead and dislike people for moving into the neighborhood. This is nothing new, no matter where you go. I just prefer to see people individually. They personally have nothing to do with my rent…my Polish immigrant landlord determines this, as well as the city of New York through zoning laws.

  • Lucy Stone

    Frog Queen: Since you asked for a non-condescending explanation, I’ll do my best. I honestly don’t think anyone is saying it’s “okay” to discriminate against people of any color, any more than they would advocate raping or abusing men.
    I mentioned earlier that in the past I experienced some people reacting negatively to me and assuming I was wealthy (and thus a part of the gentrification going on in that particular neighborhood) due to my skin color. I also said that I could understand why it happened. It doesn’t mean it didn’t sting at the time. Especially since I was doing volunteer work to try to make the community a better place for those already living there (I was only 18, first time away from home, and the thought that someone could see sweet little me as part of the problem seriously hurt my feelings at that time).
    But those were a few isolated incidents…not even a fraction of 1% of my life. As a white woman, I honestly don’t have to face discrimination based on my race on a day to day basis (I didn’t even when living in an area where I was the minority). I don’t have to live with it everywhere I go. It hasn’t been a part of my life from the time of my birth onward. I’m not sure if any of this is making any sense, or if it’s all just insane ramblings by now. It’s late on this side of the Atlantic, and I’m getting sleepy.
    If you want a better explanation, I really suggest that you read the article that bettieclem linked.
    SoyMilk: I wasn’t talking about people wearing trucker hats, really. I was talking about wealthier people moving into a poor neighborhood and driving the rent up. Not a problem in most rural trailer parks, in spite of Britney Spears’ fashion choices. It was more intended as an offhand comment about how I hadn’t realized such things happened until I graduated high school and moved to the city, in spite of growing up poor.

  • Samhita

    Yes, keep it educational. This is a very interesting and informative conversation.
    People get defensive and say shit is racist usually because a) it is, b) we are so used to having our words used against us c) we are so used to fighting within a system that privileges white voices even when we are talking about racism (in this case through gentrification) that “educational” usually just means “tell me about your people.”

  • Jane Minty

    Ok, so what if I want to reclaim my red bandana? Just because once upon a time some idiot wore one when forming a gang, why does this take precedence over my own warm and fuzzy association with red hankies (which predates gang usage)? Why can’t they adopt a universally loathed accessory, like the “gang scrunchie?” That scene from “The Jerk” comes to mind – “somebody hates those cans!!”
    (I’m not trying to be insensitive, but this thread is in dire need of comic relief.)

  • http://lawfairy.blogspot.com The Law Fairy

    WOW. I wish I’d had time to read all the comments… please forgive me if I’m repeating something someone else has said, but I really should be working rather than commenting… :0)
    Anyway, Samhita, thanks for posting this. I have mixed feelings about your post and to be honest, my initial reaction was to be a little pissed off. Like, I’m not supposed to wear bandanas in a poor part of town because I’m white? But then I thought about it and I realized that’s not the point. I’m not the point. Just like feminism isn’t about men, activism on behalf of people of color isn’t about whites. In the end, yeah, it helps all of us… but it’s counterproductive for me to sit here and think “how does this affect MEEEEE?” It’s besides the point. It isn’t about me. Which isn’t to say I don’t have a culture — but my white culture is not built up as in some sense a vanguard against an oppressive class. Hip hop culture or so-called “ghetto” culture (though I hate this word too) is. Funny enough, I think that infamous South Park episode probably said it best: the point is that I can’t understand. I can empathize, I can try to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution, but I can’t understand. I never REALLY will, because I’m white. And that’s simply how it is. And NO, this isn’t racist, because racism is INSTITUTIONAL, not individual. In other words, while there are definitely people who unjustly hate whites and commit unjustified violence against whites based on race, there is no racism against white people. It CANNOT exist because as whites, we are too powerful. WE ARE NOT VICTIMS OF RACISM, PERIOD. And I think that’s a difficult pill for my race to swallow.
    Also, I feel compelled to point out that this IS, at least in part, a feminist issue: our sisters of color suffer in a unique way from the intersection of sexism and racism and race politics. Something feminism is consistently and rightly criticized for is being preeminently a white women’s movement. But for us to ask men, a dominant group, to pay attention to us and our concerns and our needs, while at the same time using the exact same arguments MRAS USE AGAINST US, against people of color who speak out against white oppression, is beyond hypocritical.
    That said, I have incredibly mixed feelings about gentrification, which I see as only PARTLY a race issue. I think it’s just as much a class issue, and has to do with the economic stratification to which our country is rapidly falling prey. We’re losing our middle class, especially in the big cities. Here in Los Angeles, I’m lucky to find a hovel for 300K. 300K is a SHITLOAD of money, and it might buy you a crappy motorhome in the city. You want an actual HOUSE, and not even a big one at that, you’re talking a million dollars. A million bucks. I can promise you, not even high-paid corporate lawyers can afford that until they’ve been working and saving for a very, very, VERY long time. So in some sense it seems a little unfair to me to say “hey, stay out of our neighborhoods”… where else is your average middle-class white person going to live? Beverly Hills, where a 600 square foot studio runs you over a thousand bucks a month, (before parking or utilities)?
    At the same time, I don’t like looking at this from an us-versus-them point of view. Again, racism is NOT individual (even though there are some really horrible, hateful individuals out there… their problem is that they’re hateful, bad people, not that they’re racist. If there were no system in place allowing them to be racist they’d find some other outlet for their hate). Racism is institutional and systemic. So where we see racism simultaneously creating and destroying cultures, and overall harming a group of people — it seems to me we should look for SYSTEMIC solutions. My moving or not moving into a neighborhood isn’t the issue. The issue is the cultural forces that segregate us and that make life even less affordable for people of color than for whites. The problem is poverty. The problem is immobility. The problem is exalting of white culture as “real” or “serious” or “mature” and the demeaning of minority cultures as marginal. The problem is when it becomes “fun” to “play minority,” because when you’re finished you can go back to your “real” life where you’re an upstanding kid with good prospects and a solid future. When a Jamal can walk into a job interview wearing a bandana and be every bit as likely to get the job as Matthew wearing a suit, maybe then it won’t be so offensive for Matthew to wear a bandana and live in Jamal’s neighborhood, as though he understands Jamal’s life and lives Jamal’s reality. He doesn’t. And until we solve the institutional problems, he won’t.
    Sorry if this seems scattered… again, should be working…