Gentrification is insulting to most Blacks

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Gentrification can be considered as an innovative move to promote developmental progress (which we all know is inevitable in life), but it can also be looked at as a slap in the face for the people who are displaced as a result. More often than not, those people replaced are African Americans who seem to be no more than pawns for greedy investors and developers capitalizing on communities weighed down in poverty and crime. The resounding winners in gentrification includes wealthy Whites.

These investors and developers in gentrification are taking advantage of communities that too often lack the financing to better their own homes, businesses, and communities. Banks or lending institutions are the main culprits in this endeavor. Banks deny African Americans and people of color loans or means of financing to redevelop their own properties and invest in their own communities.

The losers in gentrification are without question the long-term, poorer residents in the areas undergoing gentrifications. They are for the most part African Americans or marginalized people of color. The original residents who try to remain are burdened with higher rent, higher property values, higher taxes and higher living costs that eventually force them out.

Why is there not a more humane and equitable choice of choosing revitalization of a community over gentrification? At least revitalization would prioritize redeveloping, providing for the needs of those originally in the community instead of pricing them out. Rationalize or justify gentrification, but for African Americans and people of color it literally means ‘out with the poor and in with the wealthy’ (or worse), ‘out with Blacks and in with Whites.’

With the coming of gentrification are amenities that generally cater to Whites. Amenities such as new businesses, sidewalks, healthier food sections in stores, bike lanes, dog parks, fine dining restaurants, greater access to public transportation, more health facilities and gyms, more neighborhood policing, and housing or apartments more accessible to downtown. In fact, gentrification many times allows for living areas with all the basic necessities and amenities within walking range. Isn’t it ironic that these added accommodations are only considered when making areas more accessible to wealthy Whites? Blacks living in these urban areas are thought of as inconsequential.

Why can’t a more equitable, prolific approach be incorporated that keeps as many original residents as possible in these areas undergoing gentrification? Make a certain percent of the area affordable and make concessions to help those who want to stay in the area. The greed of outside developers and financiers with plenty of private money circumvents a fair outcome. Too often, politicians you thought you could trust are complicit in selling out their own neighborhoods.

It is disheartening for Blacks to see historically Black-owned business replaced with White-owned businesses and the subtle elimination of sentimental relics in the Black community. Progress at the expense of those less fortunate should be a crime, especially if those affected are not compensated for in some beneficial equitable way.

You find many critics who claim that Blacks or impoverished people of areas undergoing gentrification are complicit in their own community demise. But isn’t that like blaming the victim for their victimization instead of blaming the culprit? Is it okay to take advantage of less fortunate people because of their predicament in life? Where one stands in life often helps determine one’s position on issues, but that doesn’t change it being wrong or unfair. There is a fair way of resolving differences. Surely, the feelings of those in communities undergoing gentrification should matter.

Many people consider gentrification a gross injustice that we have normalized, but that doesn’t negate the pain, suffering, and degree of disrespect afforded to the original inhabitants affected by gentrification. African Americans are too familiar with the fight by so many of their White counterparts to keep them down and economically and socially depressed. As it stands now, gentrification is a well-oiled wheel in which wealthy Whites benefit at the expense of poorer marginalized neighborhoods.

The rhetoric of working toward a better distribution of the wealth between the ‘haves and have-nots’ will never be realized, especially if we don’t honestly discuss and try to change gentrification. I’m not saying improving a community is wrong, but there should be collaboration, which includes and respects the poorer long-standing residents of the communities affected.

(Note: Many Black residents in North Nashville are incensed about the bike lane barriers inundating streets such as Dr. DB Todd, Jr. Blvd., Buchanan St., and 28th Ave., North. They see the barriers as dangerous and conclude that the lanes themselves are only beneficial or accommodating to White residents moving into the area. Blacks, still living in North Nashville don’t see the bike lane barriers as a priority.)