It is interesting to me how much New York is segregated by race. Having grown up in Alabama, I saw a lot of this, but I want to think New York is so much more civilized. Of course, I know it isn’t. I saw “Do the Right Thing,” which takes place in the neighborhood where I live and paints a fairly accurate picture of what the neighborhood is like.
I live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn called Bedford-Stuyvessant, or Bed-Stuy. It is a very large, mostly black, mostly lower class neighborhood. One of the main drags, which runs about four blocks south of my block, is Fulton Street, which was apparently one of the main thoroughfares of the Underground Railroad. In fact, there is a movement afoot (getting resistance from some of the other neighborhood) to rename the street Harriet Tubman Boulevard or something of that nature.
Friends of mine tell me that lots of people, by which they mean white people, are moving to Bed-Stuy these days, but still I rarely see another white face. When I do, they seem to disappear into their apartment buildings quickly and silently as ghosts. Sometimes, I do get strange looks when I walk down the street, probably due more to the way I dress than the color of my skin. But I can’t help wondering if it’s just because I’m white, and I’m walking around as if I live here. And I do live here, at least for the time being.
Once, walking down Fulton Street, I passed three white cops. I saw one of them point at me, and I’m sure I heard him say, “There’s a pioneer.” I understand that this is the local vernacular for white people, especially young people and artists, moving into questionable neighborhoods, typically neighborhoods that are mostly poor and black or Hispanic. But the term caused me to reflect on its several meanings. I like thinking of myself as a pioneer. It suits me.
The pattern of gentrification appears to begin with artist types looking for cheap quarters. The next step is that since a neighborhood has started to fill up with artists, art events start happening, followed by bars, restaurants and nightclubs. People start buying up and renovating property. The hipsteratti (I just made that up – cute, right? I think it’s clear whom I mean) move in. Before you know it rent is as high as in the Village, the artists start looking for another ghetto, and the pattern begins again. This is something that everyone in New York knows and accepts as part of life.