Sunday, January 09, 2005

# Posted 3:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLACKER THAN THOU: I sure like the way Colbert King began his column in yesterday's WaPo:
Drive-by news gathering, which passes as journalism today, conveys a superficial and misleading picture of gentrification in the nation's capital. The stories tell nothing of the wrenching consequences of people being pushed out of their neighborhoods. But how would those journalists know? They've never lived through the process of gentrification, and they don't spend nearly enough time in the community getting to know what they write about. Facile writers with clueless editors can get away with anything.
Damn right they can. Not all that long ago, I myself made some brief comments about gentrification in the nation's capital. After I spent this past Thursday and Friday in DC, my prior amazement at the pace and intensity of this process continued to grow.

On Thursday night, I stayed over with a friend who lives in a renovated townhouse at 15th St. & Constitution NE. I did a lot of walking on Thu. and Fri. because 15th & Constitution is nowhere near the Metro. Yet by walking, I had the chance to see just how far the gentrification had spread.

Personally, I think it's amazing and good that an ever-expanding part of Capitol Hill has begun to look and feel more and more like Georgetown. The heart of our nation's capital should be a safe, properous and intimate neighborhood. Yet according to Mr. King,
The tragedy is that this benign view of what's taking place in the city is also shared in top D.C. government circles, where our town's tightly drawn class and racial fault lines -- and those established residents who have been made to feel marginalized -- are ignored.
Now, I appreciate how gentrification uproots long-time residents by pricing them out of the neighborhood. Yet given the severity of Washington's decay before the current revitalization began, I don't think there is any other choice.

Colbert King may be right that the DC government should do more to encourage the construction of affordable housing. But he approaches the edge of delusion when he imagines that the alternative to gentrification is the sort of working-class utopia that King grew up in. According to King, the West End/Foggy Bottom of the 1950s
Was a community where a child could walk three blocks and run into someone, a relative or friend, who was known to the family. Financially embattled, yes. But no one went hungry. Neighbors, black and white -- like the Jones family down the block -- didn't let neighbors starve. People looked each other squarely in the eye. They spoke on the streets. We weren't afraid of each other. We enjoyed the same kind of food and music, and played the same childhood games. We were the community.
I will admit to being ignorant about the precise details of what came before gentrification on Capitol Hill. Yet I suspect that in addition to the good citizens Mr. King describes, the neighborhood had its fair share of drug dealers, gang violence, teenage mothers and illiterate adults. If those things are good enough for Anacostia, then why not for Capitol Hill?

King only makes things worse by compounding his self-serving view of the past with racially divisive attacks on (African-American) DC Mayor Tony Williams. King writes that Williams
Is much like the fabled senior black Army officer who, when confronted by overly familiar black enlisted men who thought they had something in common with him, put them in their place with the gibe, "I'm your color, not your kind."
That kind of reverse race-baiting will only anatagonize the corporate interests and white, middle-class Washingtonians who might otherwise welcome a more humane approach to gentrification. Calling the mayor a race-traitor may feel good, but it won't do much to prevent the dislocation and social disruption that King claims to be so concerned about.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment