A bunch of white kids moved into the apartment below mine last month. There was something I didn’t like about them right away, something I couldn’t figure out, which I unearthed tonight as they threw a raging party. The narrow hallways in my building smell like weed, their friends keep paging my apartment by accident, there are people shouting on my stoop after one in the morning.
It’s obvious: These kids have no respect for anyone but themselves. They don’t have jobs, they run a “recording studio” out of the basement. They unsheathed dad’s credit card like a shining silver sword and butted out the black and Hispanic families that live here, a full hour outside Manhattan by train.
I was uncomfortable being on the front line of gentrification when I moved out here a year ago, realizing as I lugged my bed halfway up the stairs that everyone in my building was white but everyone else on my block wasn’t. It was something I didn’t mean to do, which is what every gentrifier says. No conscionable person wants to contribute to forcing people out of their homes. But something I hadn’t come to face was the culture of gentrification.
When June rolled into July and the leases went up, I saw something I’d never seen in my neighborhood before: Three consecutive white people under 25. A woman at my grocery store had to put milk back because her SNAP didn’t cover it; as I walked out I saw an ad for a Strongbow tasting scheduled there the next day. A shining new restaurant with $15 entrees sits empty, waiting for its forthcoming patrons like a hungry cat. The neighborhood is going, to twist an old phrase. These new goods and services can be argued as the positives of gentrification, and I can’t say I hate the noticeable decline in rotting produce at our C-Town, but like the white boys under my floorboards it filled me with dread like seeing just one bed bug.
I’m thinking about why this one party grates me. It’s not just the noise, god help us when fiesta season strikes. There’s something about the exclusivity of it. A loud block party welcomes neighbors and family, but these are just college kids who are still getting high because they live with no consequences. Gentrification is isolating, dividing communities, sequestering and containing individuals to shield them from guilt. Gentrification is not manifest destiny, it is a stain like blood seeping through cloth: no one takes blame because no one contributes to it with intent. These kids have no self-awareness. Perhaps worse: they know and they don’t care, because the least they could do is live with basic respect to the neighbors they are starving out for exposed brick interiors and slipshod instillation on modern faucets.
These are rich kids co-opting the lives of the poor. They will experience destitution as if in a living museum, walking through the dioramas of hunger: Not that they cannot afford to eat, but that they cannot afford restaurants. Not that they cannot socialize, but that they cannot buy drinks at bars. Not that they must move further out because they cannot pay their rent, but that they must humble themselves to ask their parents for money.
Gentrification is a cheapening of the narrative of suffering. They are enticed by the struggle-to-success-story and want some part in that. They want to have “earned” something. Watching gentrification is like watching a child jealously whine about wanting a turn in a kid’s wheelchair, and then getting it.
I’m probably far gone from the reality of this situation. It is late and I’m tired and annoyed; they could be good people, but inconsiderate idiots. Regardless, it’s 2 in the morning and I’ve got to go tell some white kids to turn down Kanye.