The Testament of a Gentrifier

Gentrification is both beautiful and ugly, each in many senses. It brings aesthetic benefits and social liberalism to areas formerly devoid of those things and it often drives the weaker members of our society from their homes and into less humane circumstances. Myself, I am gentrifier, I live in an apartment in the East Central neighborhood in downtown Charleston, South Carolina that was recently completed and is adjacent to public housing projects. I am white in a place that used to be black, I am middle-class in a neighborhood that used to be poor. I am not against my being here. In fact, the gentrification yet far has brought this parcel of Charleston more diversity, not less. It used to be overwhelmingly black and now it has a healthy mix of black and white. In that sense, the gentrification has done good. Although, the mixture of the ethnicities has not been interpersonal so much as merely geographic. The gentrifiers avoid the minorities and vise versa. I did make an attempt to engage my project-residing neighbors across the street but the interaction was brief and had them sling a number of homophobic slurs.

The gentrification could have been an opportunity for less racism, rather than more, yet the residents of my apartment complex, on the whole, have not made the effort to make that true. Coronavirus has made it more difficult to have interpersonal interactions but socially distanced conversations on sidewalks and in driveways would not add much danger. Rather than seeing gentrification as a means of purely class against class and race against race, perhaps we should try to channel, rather than oppose, the phenomenon, and channel it in a may that it creates mixed-income and interracial communities. Prior to becoming a gentrifier, I had mixed views of gentrification but thought there may be a way of doing with more net positive than net negative results. There is but there just isn’t the will or want to make a gentrification that increases the diversity and the interconnectedness of our locations.

The communities prior to gentrification were segregated by class and race and for the intermediate period between zero and complete gentrification there is a beautiful moment when the geographic segregation no longer exists and it is at that moment when the active push need be made to integrate the communities socially. It is that moment now for my corner of Charleston. Perhaps, the will to do so could be birthed from the current anti-racist movement but it would require that the gentrifiers organize themselves and not rely on the landlord company to be the sole organization for the community. This, next to cultural issues, is the reason that the potential will go untapped. It should also be remembered that this segregation is as much from the low-income minorities across the street from me as it is the people on my side of the street. On the occasion I spoke with them, they were intentionally provocative by using the word f*gg*t as much as they did. I’m not gay but being a middle-class person, they knew my views on gay rights were more liberal. There is a desire on the other side to oppose integration to preserve the historic culture of their community and out of an aversion to bourgeois culture for a myriad of reasons. 

In the end, one group is going to mostly ignore the effects they have on the people around them and the people around them are going to complain with misplaced nostalgia that the neighborhood is not as ghetto as it was in the golden days of 1990 in much the same way suburban NIMBYs complain that the hipsters moving into apartments near them are ruining the quietness of the soccer mom-style subdivisions they were so fond of when Brittany Spears ruled the music charts. Convenience versus nostalgia without a scientific analysis or set of hard abstract principles of ethics. My hard left political activism won’t get very far so I’ll just watch and wish that they could see the potential.  

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