I see white people.
Usually this wouldn’t be so significant. I live in New York City. They’re not the majority here, but they exist in significant numbers — 47 percent, in fact. These white people that I’m seeing now have caught my attention because of where I see them and how many of them I see doing the unexpected, like getting off the A-train in Brooklyn at Nostrand Ave, cycling at midnight on Franklin, or carelessly walking down Albany and fumbling with their iPhones while they walk in the direction of the projects.
Of course, everyone — and by that I mean the black people who live in my neighborhood — has seen white people before. But that doesn’t stop the curious stares as they ride the train past the stop where everyone expected them to exit (it was Grand Army Plaza, then Franklin Ave. Every two years, the final exit is one stop further), or all the heads that turn — men and women – watching a pair of white girls in short shorts and sports bras, their real ponytails wagging, as they jog down the street, or the block guys with confused expressions or watching the skateboarding Goth teens (read: white) haplessly goofing off on the opposite corner.
I watch the guys, and I think of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and realize “oh, this is how they felt — sort of.” Then I think of a story I just read on “Clybourne Park,” a Pulitzer Prize play currently running on Broadway. It’s 50 years later, and the Chicago neighborhood of Hansberry’s make-believe family is filled with black middle-class homeowners, and white people are moving back. I make a note in my iPad to buy tickets.
Gentrification, that hazy mix of capitalism, race, and class that wreaks havoc or at the very least significantly changes existing communities (depending on your perspective) has come to yet another Brooklyn neighborhood — and fast. Of course, it’s not the white people who are the problem. Nor is it a fear, hatred, or some passed down DNA flashback of the Door of No Return that makes some black folk resistant to their arrival in their communities. lt’s the knowing of what’s to come because of what’s gone on in others. The arrival of people with more disposable income leads to building owners charging more rent, to bodega owners charging higher prices, to the businesses you frequented closing and opening up as someplace shiny and new, and eventually to the displacement of residents who’ve called that particular neighborhood home because they can no longer afford to stay.
As soon as the building of the Nets stadium in downtown Brooklyn became a serious consideration, people began to either fret about or rejoice over what would happen in my Crown Heights neighborhood — the still “black side” of Brooklyn where gentrification on the of-color side Eastern Parkway seemed like a trickle. I did a little of both.