As if on cue from my article on February 19, the anti-gentrification warriors have sprung forth with a major offensive. But what exactly is their goal?
Forgive me for thinking that the big problems in America today are "poverty" and "income inequality." Where did I get that idea? Maybe from Bill de Blasio (November 5, 2013: "That [income] inequality . . . is the defining challenge of our time."); or maybe it was from Barack Obama (December 4, 2013: "[A] dangerous and growing inequality . . . is the defining challenge of our time."). I could quote many other left-wing activists to the same effect; in fact, many use the exact same words.
And now we have the horror of real estate investors and white would-be homeowners going through Fort Greene, Brooklyn and offering $1 million and up for homes owned by mostly African Americans who bought these houses often decades ago for under $100,000. The New York Times describes what's going on in an article from February 26 by Vivian Yee:
All of David Crouch’s longtime neighbors on stately Adelphi Street in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, have the same story: the phone calls or the mailings or the knock on the door, week after week, with the same coaxing question and the same shimmering offer. How would you feel about selling your home? What if we paid you more than $1 million for it? . . . . The real estate agents and developers who come knocking at Mr. Crouch’s four-story brick house have already won over most of his neighbors — most, like Mr. Crouch, the children and grandchildren of people who bought their houses for $60,000 or $70,000 when Fort Greene was crumbling and unwanted, except by black buyers. Now the holdouts on the block are him, his next-door neighbor and two across the street. Everyone else is a newcomer, and mostly white.
Hmmm. A substantial number of newly-minted African American millionaires, making their money by smart and well-timed investment in a private market and without need for government assistance or subsidy. How about that as a way to reduce income inequality? Well, famed film director Spike Lee, himself a native of Fort Greene, reacted on February 25 in a speech at Pratt Institute (itself just a few blocks from Fort Greene Park). In the speech, Lee launched for several minutes into what many have fairly described as a "rant" against gentrification and gentrifiers. Here is an excerpt:
Then comes the m . . .f. . .ckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing m. . . f . . . ckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-m . . .f . . . kin’-sixty-eight, and the m . . . f . . . ckin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the m . . . f . . . ckin’ house in nineteen-sixty-m . . . f . . . ckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the f . . . k outta here! Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re m . . . f . . . ckin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.
Ms. Yee of the Times, who describes the rant, says that Mr Lee "blasted a dictionary's worth of unprintable words." Actually no, unless Mr. Lee's dictionary consists of only one word repeated over and over -- seven times in just the one paragraph quoted above.
The gist of the rant is well captured in the pithy phrase "Get the f . . . k outta here!" How dare you offer an economic transaction that will turn an African American into a millionaire! Meanwhile, of course, Mr. Lee thinks it's perfectly OK for himself to get rich by economic transactions, including specifically buying and selling real estate. At this very moment, his Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse is on the market for $32 million.
Oh, and the Daily News points out here on February 27 that in the 60s (when Mr. Lee's parents and other African Americans bought into Fort Greene at low prices) "[t]he area surrounding the park was largely Italian." So should the African Americans have been allowed to buy then, or no?
Further to the gentrification wars, check out the news from Portland, Oregon. There the trendy grocery store chain Trader Joe's planned to lease a new store in a strip mall to be built on a vacant lot in a predominantly African American neighborhood. But then, according to the Pittsburgh Courrier here, the Portland African American Leadership Forum came out in opposition on the ground that the store would "displace residents and perpetuate income inequality" because it would "increase the desirability of the neighborhood for non-oppressed populations." A letter from the group to city officials said that it would "remain opposed to any development in north-northeast Portland that does not primarily benefit the Black community." Trader Joe's then withdrew the proposal for the store.
I think these people don't even realize that income and wealth are the result of economic exchange. How are low income people, including many African Americans, expected to raise their incomes if they are not allowed to participate in economic exchange like everyone else?