Virtual Racism & Mediated Gentrification. by Lou Cespedes
The word “mediated” means – to bring something about. Gentrification is – in and of itself – a mediated action and result simultaneously. Gentrification, like racism, which is its most effective form of application, does not start or end anywhere specific, but is always evolving and regenerating and transforming. There is no scale or quantitative measure for gentrification, it just is. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity – “…you know it when you see it” – or at least we think we do. However, to “mediate gentrification” is something akin to fabricating or “generating” alternate states of reality. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard might describe it as a “storyline” so entangled or looped in with reality, that the truth is no longer distinguishable from the fabricated truth. It is so pervasive you don’t even realize how far the net has been cast. You are caught up in it!
A new white neighbor in a Caribbean community hears loud music late at night at the end of a long weekend. She calls the police. Later, she tells her story on social media where she receives an outpouring of support – it goes viral. Local activists respond on-line and with physical protest. Another recent white arrival starts a blog about “saving the character” of the neighborhood, and decrying development. In the blog she argues for keeping the neighborhood scale “intimate” because that’s what the community – she’s just invested in – “should be”. You install a Ring doorbell at home because it comes with a camera. You want to know who’s knocking on your door. As you sit at work you get “security notifications” of “suspicious black men” looking into doors or stealing packages. In The New York Post, pictures of a smiling white beautiful young lady, playing guitar, are placed adjacent to a story of her innocent life, full of promise, cut short at the hands of “brutal, savage” 14-year-old black boys. Single white females in black neighborhoods across the 5 boroughs are now on high alert. An exorbitant presence of police patrol cars, lights flashing incessantly at mid-day, and a surveillance birds nest towering high upon a crane in the middle of Nostrand Avenue emblazoned with “NYPD”, brings some measure of comfort to those that “are new here” but also a measure of harassment to those that have been dwelling here. A mom and pop shop are forced to shutter because of rising rents or Health Department violations. Facing changing demographics and tastes, they decide to close shop rather than continue depending on steady customer base, which is disappearing. Food is being ordered on-line from better more established neighborhoods bypassing local brick and mortar locations. It’s safer inside. Why go out? A black church closes as longtime congregants are displaced.
And so, it occurs! You don’t know exactly when or how, but suddenly you’ve been crowded out. You might catch yourself telling your neighbors “Hey, do you remember when”, and ending your conversation with, “yeah, it’s not like it used to be”.
Think back! In the early 90’s it was said that when “artists and gays” moved into a neighborhood, it would “improve”. That’s when communities like Williamsburg or Dumbo were industrial landscapes. Dangerous buildings with no fire protection, but huge unconditioned interiors, were rented out to pioneering kids. The DOB turned a “blind eye” on these illegal conversions, later “legalizing” them with the Expanded Loft Law. Slowly we saw those neighborhoods electrify with what Richard Florida once termed the “Creative Class” Then came a transformation we did not expect, Gentrification!, the bastard child of Jane Jacobs. Turns out, all that “diverse neighbor-hoody character” stuff brought out the worst in us – yuppies, baby-strollers, money, expensive restaurants, and condos, intolerance, more noise complaints, higher rents, evictions and racists, Bloomberg, and irrational exuberance. Do you remember that last one? We haven’t learned.
Yet this new kind of gentrification we are discussing here, the mediated kind, occurs as an exponential effect, accelerated by media. Let’s fast forward to 2004 and what I like to call the “Miranda Effect”. In the post 911 malaise of Manhattan, Carrie Bradshaw visits her friend Miranda’s new home in Brooklyn on the TV show “Sex and the City” and literally the floodgates opened. Suddenly and spectacularly between 2004 and the present, Brooklyn has become a brand name, a destination for people from all corners of America. It was the TV show that did it. It was Hip-Hop that did it. It is the new digital mediascape that sustains it. It is the alternate universe that has come forth in the third and fourth waves of gentrification in Williamsburg, and Dumbo. These are communities most of us now see through a vitrine.
Like Miranda, tossed from the tumult of Manhattan, in the house next door, on a quiet block in E. Flatbush, a new white couple with 2 children just moved in. They are the outcasts of other gentrified neighborhoods that found refuge in our accessible, inexpensive community. They began moving eastward and southward, swallowing Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights and Bushwick, Brownsville and East New York and now they are here in E. Flatbush. You never saw it coming. It all happened so quickly, while you were watching TV.
Jeremiah 12: v.4-5 Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: Loucespedes