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“THE RICH KILLD NYC” reads the graffiti on the corner between the Brooklyn Public Library and the entrance to Prospect Park. I’ve seen this tag all across New York City. I ponder it every time. I wasn’t alive for the New York City of the ’80s and ’90s where artists ran the world and downtown apartments were dirt cheap. I only have remnants of this place, experienced mostly through music, movies and stories.
But you cannot talk about New York City today without talking about the gentrification that has drastically changed the racial, cultural and socioeconomic makeup of the city’s people. I have seen with my own eyes, in my own neighborhood.
White people move into the “trendy” and “urban” parts of Brooklyn their parents told them not to walk through as kids. Rents are raised that they can afford to pay, but POC families that lived there before cannot, and neither can their businesses. Caribbean restaurants with the best macaroni pies you’ve ever had in your life turn to vegan brunch spots where toast is $12. The place you got your hair braided as a kid where everyone was your auntie is now a specialty salon where none of the stylists have hair like yours.
I have seen the rich kill the city I know and love, but never have I seen such a blatant act of colonist-minded discrimination as I witnessed in the events that took place yesterday in the Upper West Side.
To fight the spread of coronavirus among those facing homelessness, the city has been housing people in vacant hotels to keep them from sleeping on the streets and overcrowding shelters. It is something many across the country have been calling for their own cities to do. However, in the Upper West Side, a wealthy and notoriously stuck up New York City neighborhood, members of the community are fighting tooth and nail to keep homeless people out, The New York Times reported.
Over 300 men being housed in the Lucerne hotel will now be relocated after residents formed a non-profit, hired a lawyer and threatened to sue the city if the men were not removed, according to The Times. They claimed their presence raised safety concerns and would diminish the quality of the neighborhood.
At first, I was enraged.
Then, I was disappointed.
I have been to the Upper West Side only a handful of times. It’s where me and my friends go when we want to feel fancy and pay $6 for a coffee with milk from a plant we’ve never even heard of. Every storefront window is decorated for the season. The streets are so clean and the sidewalks so straight. It feels like a movie set, and for an afternoon we pretend we are characters in this perfect, sterile little world.
I suppose that’s what the people who live there are doing too.
Because if they were honest with themselves and stepped out of their pristine fantasy, they would have to face the fact that the Upper West Side is not “their” neighborhood. Before it was the UWS, it was San Juan Hill, a neighborhood of Black, immigrant and working class people. It was home to the new form of music coined Jazz, home to emerging cultures and diverse communities Before that, it was home to Native Americans.
All of this land was.
So to the residents of the Upper West Side who feel threatened by the Black and Brown people facing homelessness being housed in “your” neighborhood, get a grip.
Remember, the neighborhood is not yours and never was to begin with.
Remember that we are in the midst of a pandemic and a racial justice revolution, and as of now you are on the wrong side of both.