Nathan Macintosh

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Gentrification. I don't know.

Gentrification. I had never really heard the word before I moved to NY. Well, I might have, but it wasn't said enough for me to really hang onto it. In NY, though, I've heard it a million times.
"I'll have a burger with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and gentrification."
"Sir, you can't get a burger with gentrification."
"You can't get a white person to make it?"
"Oh. Yes, I can do that."
"That's what I said! Gentrification!"
It sort of sounded like 'gentrified' meant that an area that was once radioactive wasn't any longer.
"You can't go into Chernobyl. It hasn't been gentrified yet!"
"Well, gentrify it! We have to put a vegan dog food store there!"
"Vegan dog food? That's great! My dog gets an upset stomach when he eats meat."
"Then gentrify it, goddamn it! Gentrify!"
Anytime someone said it, they talked about it as if it were the greatest thing ever. So I really started to pay attention, and started to become angry about it.

From what I can gather from the conversations I've heard, gentrification is just the act of rich white people moving into an area that they were scared to go into before. Am I wrong about that? If so, tell me – but this is what I've been able to take from certain conversations.
"Yeah, it's not bad over there now. It's gentrified."
"Oh. What does that mean?"
"It means that people who look like me live there now. You know, the non-bad people."
"What? I don't know. That sounds horrible."
"Why? Are you scared of white people? Man, they're not the ones to be scared of! Unless you don't know any Beatles trivia. They get pretty upset about that. Quick! Is Paul actually dead? ...Took too long to answer! They're gonna hate you."

The definition of gentrification is when wealthier people move into or rent property in low-income places, which generally displaces the poorer, pre-gentrification residents who can't afford the higher rents and are forced to move. Now, when you read that, does that sound good to anyone? Why move into a neighborhood full of poor people and push them out? Why would you love their neighborhoods so much but dislike the people who live there?
"Man, this neighborhood is great. The feel, the vibe, the music and art that comes from it. The landscape. The history. The only problem is the dirty poor people who created all of those things."
"I know. It's a damn shame. I love sitting here, looking at these nice paintings and listening to this music, but these damn poor people are EVERYwhere."
"I know. Let's buy these buildings we like so much, and raise the rent to something only people we like to look at and talk to can afford!"
"That... is... brilliant. Let's do that right after this jazz band finishes. MAN, these poor people are talented!"
"Yeah, but not at fitting into the tiny world we have!"
"Yeah!"
<High Five>

So let me try to understand – a neighborhood can only be deemed good when rich white people live there? Really? Is the Caribbean no good? Giant parts of Africa, Asia and South America?
"Honey, I'd love to go on this trip to Ecuador, but it hasn't been gentrified yet. I mean… <whispering> those uncivilized people live there!"
"But honey, once we get there, we WILL be gentrifying it. We can show those people how to live!"
"I never thought of that. You're right! Do you think they have an Edwin Watts Golf shop down there?"
"They will soon!"

I'm sure it's only a matter of time before rich white people gentrify all of these places. Why stop at neighborhoods? We'll take trips to poor parts of the world and only stay on resorts. Why not move into the rest of it?
"You can go to Kingston, Jamaica now, white people. It's been gentrified! We shipped several Ivy League families down there and they've really been making use of the land. There is now a yoga studio in Bob Marley's old house. Also, now there is a reggae studio and beanery! Learn how to make the music you love by people who scare you while enjoying your favorite latte!"

It's been done before. By definition, technically, the British gentrified North America. Right? The natives were living off the land and the British came in and raised the rent to something they couldn't afford. Their lives. You can pay once, but that's it. Moved in where complete 'savages' were – people who 'didn't know how to use the land' – and made it habitable for future generations.
"Oh, yeah, it's really nice over there. Well, NOW it is. At first, there were these crazy people living there off the land. Really nice, cordial and welcoming, but man, they had to go! It's a good thing they were into blankets. Killed them all off!"

Is that not to some degree a form of racism and classism? A place is deemed worthy to live in because one group decided it was okay once THEY got there? That seems completely awful, but these people will talk about it as if it's the greatest thing to ever happen.
"No, no. It's a great place now because people who look, act, think and dress like me live there! Yeah, beforehand, when it was just poor people who didn't look like me, there was no WAY I was going to go there. But now I can walk down the street and say, "Hey, do you guys remember Nintendo?" and have people who look LIKE ME come out and say, 'Yes! Of course we do!' Ah, man. It's great. I will say, though, that these poor people who don't look like me really made the neighborhood look interesting. The destroyed buildings, the dirty streets. They really did a lot with a little. Anyway, they're gone now. Want to go pretend to understand how they live by 'slumming it' in a expensive bar that was built in an old meth lab?"

Rich white people are fascinated by these neighborhoods, but won't go to them until other rich white people build over the poor people who live there.
"Oh, yes, there is poverty here, but we really like the view! So we build condos directly on top of these poor skeazebags. I mean, if they had any money, they'd have enough sense to move out of the way, am I right? Anyways, the foundation of a lot of these buildings is pretty weak since they literally sit on under-privileged kids and families. I keep telling the contractors, 'Don't build directly ON them, their bones are disgustingly weak from all the years of terrible, cheap food. But do they listen to me? Of course not. Don't lean on that wall. It's made entirely out of poor seven year olds. Nice, though, huh?"

Gentrification is a pretty slick word as well. A lot of times it's not just poor neighborhoods that are gentrified, it's predominately black neighborhoods. Rich white people are horrified to live around poor black people.  Remember the look of horror on the lawyers face right before the T-rex ate him in Jurassic Park? Same thing.
"Oh no! Poor AND black! I heard one of them ate a guys face! Ahhhhh!"
So, they will buy their neighborhoods for cheap and push them out. You can't do that and call it what it actually is.
"I have an idea for this process. 'We don't like poor black people on many levels. One, we don't know how to live with them. Two, we are completely horrified of them in every way. Three, they do not look like us'."
"I agree with you one hundred percent, but we can't put that on a sign. That is just too long to say."
"Okay, okay. How about, 'Get Out Poor Darkies'?
"Listen, you know I love it, but I don't think the public will respond to it so well."
"All right, well I'll come up with a word. You sure you don't want to use poor darkie? What about 'Not-Enough-Money-Colored-People'?
"Haha, man, you're killing me, but no. Ah, Jesus. 'Not-Enough-Money-Colored-People'. Hilarious. Want to get a Jamba Juice?"

One thing that's gross to me about it – is that rich white people have enough. You've got it! You need these neighborhoods? It'd be the same as if the first class citizens on the Titanic just decided to go down to the third class.
"Oh, my. Look at it down here! It's rather intriguing. My boy, give me four hundred dollars to stay or get out."
"Get out!? Where would I go? I'm not allowed up any stair case!"
"Well, you are allowed out that window. Don't touch it with your dirty destitute hands when you dive through it, though. I want to put my hat near it."

Most of the neighborhoods that become gentrified are completely torn apart! A lot of poor people don't even want to live there, but rich white people will come in and say how great it is.
"Look. It feels homey, right?"
"I don't know. It looks like old news footage of war torn Kosovo. That building has three walls, and that appears to be a stack of old abandoned cars."
"I know! Homey, right? And that's not just any stack of old abandoned cars. That's my new gluten-free shop!"
"Gluten-free what?"
"Gluten-free everything! Gluten-free-gluten even!"

I love as well, that when a neighborhood becomes gentrified, rich white kids will live there and try to act as if they are poor.
"I've had three floors in a house, a giant backyard, everything I ever wanted, a mom and dad my whole life. I hate it! I wonder what it's like to live in a place that even roaches throw up in? I'll try it, and if someone starts talking about being poor, I'll be able to relate by telling him or her that once, for Christmas, all I got was a Kia Sportage. What an awful Christmas."

What is a rich white person’s fascination with being poor? Why the hell must you mock people who have to live through it by dipping your toe in and saying you that you know something about it? Rich white people want to try and pretend that they also have it rough. They'll gentrify a neighborhood, only hang out with other rich white people in this neighborhood, and tell stories about how tough the area used to be.
"Guys, you have NO idea how bad this place used to be before we got here. I mean, for instance, these bicycles that are hanging from the walls of this bar? They were left on the streets by poor ethnic people! Yeah, I know. Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can hear them peddling, having a good time, having fun despite their surroundings, which for some reason when you have money is impossible to do. Oh, and this bar? It used to be a building where poor ethnic people LIVED! Yeah, right here! Where you are sitting, six years ago, could have been a spot where a poor person stood. Isn't that gross? I know. Let's order the cheapest beers and act as if we have it as hard as he did."

If you, as a rich white kid, want to live in one of these places because it's cheap, don't act as if you have it hard. If other people like you are going to buy this property, and raise the rent to something that poor people can't afford so they leave, don't then try to act like those poor people! Poor is not just a financial situation. It's a state of mind. Don't try to dress, talk and have the same demeanor. Don't have it all and act as if you don't. Don't be ninety-eight pounds ironically around people who are that weight because they have no choice, and walk through their neighborhood pretending to have culture.
"Hey, man! You're starving, too? Right on."
"Yeah, I don't have any money."
"Oh. Not me, man. My family has lots of it. I'm just trying to fit in with you. So seriously, when are you calling your parents to get a few bucks?"
"...My parents don't have any money."
"Ah... well, yeah, me too!"

Twitter- @nathanmacintosh
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