Thursday, February 27, 2014

Spike Lee’s epic anti-gentrification speech

From Salon:

"You can’t just come in the neighborhood like you’re Columbus and kill off the Native Americans"

Wednesday, Feb 26, 2014

Filmmaker Spike Lee has never been one to hold back his feelings. This, after all, is a man who’s compared Tyler Perry to Amos n’ Andy and said that Clint Eastwood ought to have an encounter “with a .44 Bulldog.” And at an African American History Month lecture at Pratt Institute Tuesday evening, he had some strong words for the mostly local crowd, this time about “the other side” of gentrification. His response to an audience member who brought it up: “Let me just kill you right now.”

Lee, who’s been famed for his explorations of class tensions and community ever since his groundbreaking 1989 “Do the Right Thing,” went on to expound about “some bullshit article in the New York Times saying ‘the good of gentrification.’” As Joe Coscarelli reports Wednesday in New York, Spike told the crowd, “I don’t believe that” before launching into an expletive-laced seven-minute discourse on the G-word.

“I grew up here in Fort Greene,” he explained. “I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed-Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherfuckin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park … The police weren’t around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.”

But what, exactly, does it tell you? Earlier this month, the reliably rage-inducing Times Real Estate section ran a piece on the controversial “Case for and Against a Bed-Stuy Historic District,” a piece on what’s still one of the most dangerous, crime-riddled neighborhoods in New York City that came replete with dainty captions like “In Bed-Stuy, many a playful turret is to be found.” And New York magazine recently asked, “Is Gentrification All Bad?” in a story that focused heavily on the “Dickensian juxtapositions” of changing lower-class New York neighborhoods like Inwood, where I’ve lived for the past eight years. My family and I moved here when we were squeezed out of our old, insanely gentrifying neighborhood in – where else? – Brooklyn. Now Inwood has become the subject of much of the recent conversation around gentrification. The Wall Street Journal sat up and took notice last month when the mostly Dominican area got its very first Starbucks — where it naturally began offering overpriced, “exclusive” café con leche.

With his trademark passion and irritability, Lee made strong points Tuesday night about the exasperation felt by long-term residents when newcomers arrive with an inflated sense of entitlement. “The motherfuckin’ people moved in last year,” Lee said, “and called the cops on my father. He doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic!” And he certainly can’t be argued with regarding his questions over “Why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed-Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!”

Yet in Lee’s eagerness to be enraged, he glosses over the profound complexities of neighborhood flux. He rather dramatically announces that “You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfuckin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people.” The opening of a Connecticut Muffin shop is not now nor ever will be akin to genocide. And Lee can rail about “the white people” moving in, but that simplistic breakdown ignores issues of income and class.

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