Beyond the Surface of Gentrification Lies a New Generation

I’ve been thinking a lot about gentrification. About people and the spaces that they occupy. Why they occupy them and who they are disrupting by staying in them. I’ve been thinking a lot about our countries prison system. I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health, and how the poor don’t have access to proper doctors and treatment. This is what I would call a freestyle essay. It is free verse. Free thought.

I think we have quickly categorized gentrification as a: black and white thing. White people moving into areas and “colonizing” them. Young white post college kids moving into areas that are minority filled; white washing them. I have many times scuffed at white kids living in areas that are predominantly black. Scuffed at the businesses that follow them. The rent hikes that they’ll bring. The ignorant and those who are unaware of their privilege; I can’t stand them. The broke and just trying to make it in the city of their dreams? I can’t blame them.

Do I because of the color of my skin deserve to move into certain neighborhoods while those of equal economic status do not belong because they are white?

I have come to see gentrification as a clear induction that our government and political system are both racist and classist. That our banks are built to support those two groups and therefore small businesses are run not by young minds with brewing ideas but big those with money. Or those who look the right “American” way.

Cops are always around. They are always around black neighborhoods policing the every moves of black youth. They are present in gentrified communities to do the same thing. The NYPD as far as I’m concerned exists to protect white people. The jail system in our country is in place to enslave black people and minorities. To literally lock them up an throw away they key.

Black people have always had it (to put it very lightly) bad in America. Racism still exists in our country it is absolutely impossible to deny that. But in the same breath we must acknowledge that the gap between classes has become disgusting. Racism in 2014 means more than white vs black, it means rich vs poor, the educated vs the non educated.

White people have tried again and again to strip black people of their roots. When I fill out a census or a health form I am asked to check “African American”. As if it is a constant reminder that as a black person I must have come from Africa. Meaning I must be the descendent of slaves. Meaning I am less than a Caucasian.

I was having a conversation with someone about how much her neighborhood has changed. She is white and moved to a part of Brooklyn she could afford. A neighborhood mostly Hispanic. She said a line that stuck me: I make the same as many of my neighbors, I don’t have healthcare, economically we are equal. Young white people maybe for the first time in our history are broke and have similarly disadvantaged situations. The difference is our visual privilege. Race.

Business owners don’t pay attention to certain neighborhoods. They do not see opportunity with young black people. They don’t see profit from minority families. Police see crowds of brown people as threats. Doesn’t hostility breed hostility?

If an event like St. Patricks Day existed for POC I can not even begin to imagine what cops would do. Being that a tremendous chunk or the NYPD and the FDNY are Irish it makes, beautiful, disgusting, enraging, sense that the absolute ridiculousness and drunk tomfoolery that is the St Patricks Day Parade is allowed to exist.

Can you imagine a city filled with drunk, loud young black people? Replace bag pipes with African drums. Hear that noise. See stumbling brown people. Loud harassing brown men. Scantily clad brown women barely able to walk. HOW DO YOU THINK WHITE PEOPLE AND THE POLICE WOULD REACT TO THAT?

I’ve lived in New York all my life. We have parades for different brown nationalities. They are not the no holds bar fun and brew that the St. Patricks Day Parade is. Cops present at the Caribbean Day Parade feel like wardens. Their presence is not celebratory, it is hostile. Watching the police watch the Caribbean Day Parade feels much like what it would have been to watch plantation owners looking over their slaves. With a combination of fear, disgust, ego, and hate.

The structure of our country needs to change before our country implodes on itself. It is no longer the era of Jim Crow, and while we can’t say that racism is gone we must realize that it has manifested into something else. Our country is a buffet for the rich. White or black if you have money you have power. The poor haven’t been forgotten, they have almost been played. Giant corporations in our country keep the poor employed while ensuring that they will never become rich.

Take McDonalds or Walmart, both billion dollar businesses who profit of of those who work for them. College kids protest sweat shops in China and Malaysia yet little is said about corporations in America that are essentially of the same caliber.

Our prisons. Jesus Christ our prisons. We have young men spending lifetimes in jail for drugs. They are not rehabilitated, they are not taught valuable skills, or how to re enter society. They are not given a plan. There is a section on most job applications that most of us barely see. “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Here are the top 20 felony convictions in our country: ” #1) Drug abuse violations are exceptionally common, often the most common felony offense, with about 2,000,000 violations annually. #2) Property crimes include auto theft, burglary, larceny, arson, and theft. #3) Driving while intoxicated is so common that every one of the states spends an incredible amount of law enforcement time and expense on preventing and catching DUI offenders. #4) Larceny (theft), under the category of property crimes, is by itself one of the most common felony crimes in the U.S. #5) Assault is, tragically, tremendously common, with well over 1,000,000 offenses each year. #6) Disorderly conduct is a category that includes various crimes that pose a risk to society. #7) Liquor laws that limit the sales of alcohol, such as sales to minors, are broken regularly across all of the states. #8) Violent crime is another category including manslaughter, murder, robbery, assault, and forcible rape. #9) Public drunkenness is still considered a crime and is rather common. #10), #11), and #12) consecutively are the individual crimes from the violent crime category, namely: aggravated assault, burglary, and vandalism. Each of these holds a spot in the top 20 felony offenses. #13) Due to media raising awareness, most Americans are aware of the commonness of fraud in the business and political arenas. #14) Weapons violations include carrying a concealed weapon, or possessing a gun without a license. #15) Curfew and loitering laws exist in certain areas for different reasons, such as controlling gang activity. #16) Robbery is next in line, which is theft involving direct contact with the victim. #17) Domestic violence and child abuse are sadly pervasive crimes in every city in the U.S. #18) Stolen property violations include being in possession of stolen property, whether or not the possessor is the one who stole the property. #19) Motor vehicle theft is common enough that car alarms are a must-have item in many neighborhoods. #20) Finally, forgery and counterfeiting include writing checks on someone else’s account and printing fake money. Together these 20 most common felony crimes cost taxpayers billions of dollars a year and are the focus of much political debate on prevention and reform.” – http://www.schatzanderson.com/information-and-resources/20-common-felony-crimes-u-s/

I feel as though America has set it self up in a way, that the rich will prosper, no matter how many dirty things they do to succeed. The poor on the other hand must live by the book. Otherwise there is a lovely home waiting for them in jail. Our prison system is not set up for you to never return, on the contrary it wants you to return.

There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.

What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?

“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.” –  http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289

Maybe it is because I am a queer person, or maybe it is because I am black, or a Jew, maybe because I am trans*, or maybe… I am composed of many minorities. The histories of each of my parts have faced insurmountable levels of oppression. It is all of those parts of me that make me question nearly everything. It is those parts of me that make me distrust the mainstream, the government, the police.

I walk by the projects that exist all over New York, that exist all over our country. I see isolation. I think of Apartheid and the Jewish Holocaust. This “government housing” is no longer in place to help the poor. It is in place to keep them that way. It is a a country within our country, much like our prisons. I hear people toss around the word ghetto. People with privilege using a word that represents the poorest of the poor. I hear white people talk about privilege, talk about white guilt. Part of me is extremely happy that they get it, that they understand that the color of their skin gives them priority. That they are the privileged few in our country. But then I see parties being advertised as “queer” a word that I have come to realize in many cases is a mask for racism. If a black 20 something hears about a queer party, they do not feel welcome. How do we take that word back and mean use it to include all races?

I see Facebook invites flash across my Timeline, I see white promoter after white promoter creating spaces that are exclusionary in neighborhoods that have never seen white LGBTQ people before. YET do not include those who live there. I see them mindlessly engaging in cultural appropriation or even worse using the plights of black people has HALARIOUS promotion tools. Most notably done here: https://queergrub.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/if-youre-from-africa-why-are-you-white/

I do not know how to fix these problems. I don’t know how our generation can in essence: get it together. I see more and more so a division occurring between races. No we no longer have government laws telling us to be separate, but we are doing it to ourselves. We were always taught that you should not judge someone based on the color of their skin. But thousands of years have proved that humanity simply can not do that. White people are put on a pedestal that no brown person will ever even begin to grasp. So what now? Do we racially divide ourselves again? Should our government be made up of a representative from each nationality that exists in our country? Has the racism of our past crept so far into our subconscious that it is naive for any of us to ever think it will go away?

It is not that I have no hope for humanity, but our struggles run deep. Some of them run so deep that I wonder if something as great as an apocalypse is necessary. A total clearing of our history. A clean slate for all new life. I hate to think about what our children will be indebted to. Beyond social issues, they will inherit environmental issues that we can not even fathom. How do we start to fix these things? How do we get the selfish and the greedy on board with the rebuilding of society. Is it time we realized that those selfish and greedy can not be changed? That they were in actuality born and bred that way?