It Ain't about Class, It's About Colonialism:
Gentrification 2013 Style --
White Hipsters Invade Bed-Stuy and Put Petite Bourgeois Buppies out of Business
A quick history of Bedford-Stuyvesant before we fast forward to the present.  In the 1940s, the black population of Bedford-Stuyvesant expanded rapidly with the extension of the A Train rapid transit line from Manhattan into Brooklyn. Billy Strayhorn composed Duke Ellington's  signature tune  "Take the A Train" circa 1941 and the lyrics, which came later, were "You must take the A-train to go to Sugar Hill  way up in Harlem."  However, in the 1940s large numbers of African Americans were actually taking the A Train in the opposite direction -- from Harlem into Brooklyn as they migrated into Bedford-Stuyvesant.  The A train known also as the IND Eighth Avenue line  runs in Manhattan along St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, Central Park West on the Upper West Side and Eighth Avenue in downtown Manhattan. When it reaches  the borough of Brooklyn it runs along Fulton St which became the main east-west corridor of Bedford-Stuyvesant.  Nostrand Avenue is the main north-south corridor and the intersection of Nostrand and Fulton is the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant community. Also running north-south  and intersecting with Fulton St are Bedford Avenue and Stuyvesant Avenue, the avenues from which the community derived it's name (when the neighborhoods of Bedford Corners and Stuyvesant Heights were joined).
The large influx of Harlemites into Bed-Stuy led, of course, to "white fight." As the ever-burgeoning black population expanded in the 1950s beyond the immediate environs of the  Fulton St corridor and pushed northward, there were serious but ultimately ineffective campaigns by white block associations to keep black folks out.  By 1960, the few remaining Italian, German and Eastern European Jewish residents rapidly moved out of Bedford-Stuyvesant abandoning it to the negroes.  The black working class purchased the handsome brownstones which were characteristic of the community, paying off the mortgage by dividing up these one and two family homes into several rooms which they rented to boarders, as in Harlem. Hence the brownstone housing stock began to slowly deteriorate.  Furthermore, in the mid-sixties, New York City used the law of eminent domain to raze brownstones along the east-west corridors of DeKalb Avenue and Gates Avenue and to build housing projects. The housing projects (and  tenement apartment buildings in community) became the basis for the first class divisions among black folk in Bed-Stuy, as brownstone dwellers were largely characterized as  working class while the poorer project and tenement dwellers were labeled  as an underclass composed of welfare recipients.  Indeed the brownstone dwellers felt that the underclass housing project subculture was spreading like a cancer and eroding the whole community.  By the late 1960s, Bedford-Stuyvesant had outgrown its sister community Harlem, and had acquired a national reputation as a crime-ridden ghetto.  Indeed the rites of passage for Bed-Stuy youth coming of age in the decade of the late 1950s through the late 1960s, were joining one of the rival street gangs such as the Imperial Lords, Untouchable Bishops, Marcy Chaplains, Bucanneers, Stompers, etc   When these black gangs developed black conscious and called a truce with each other in order to band together to fight the white "Patty Boys"  (St. Patrick-loving Irish boys) in neighboring Williamsburgh, the black community was deliberately flooded with hard narcotics.   We could gangbang and kill each other but not band together to beat up white boys -- militant anti-white black gangs were not to be tolerated. So they turned us into dope-fiends.  Teenagers rapidly graduated from drinking fifty-cent pints of rot-gut wine like Swiss Up, Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose, Twister, Orange Rock, Mad Dog, or Buck Gin mixed with Kool-Aid to smoking reefer and then to snortin', then skin-poppin' and ultimately mainlining "scag," e.g. heroin.
The  Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Complex, a community development corporation, which Senator Robert Kennedy championed, provided the community with a Skylight Gallery for visual artists  and Billie Holiday Theater for performing artists but was unable to stem the downward trajectory of Bedford-Stuyvesant, which was by then the second largest black ghetto in the United States, only surpassed by the South Side of Chicago.  Although the motto of the community was  "Bed-Stuy Do or Die" -- a motto made famous on a mural painted expressly for "Do the Right Thing," when Spike Lee used the community as backdrop for his film -- the fact was that were dying. My whole generation died of AIDS contracted from using HIV-contaminated needles, and the generations after me , now needle -wary, fell to a new drug plague in the 80s and the 90s --  a plague far worse than shooting heroin, -- i.e.,  freebasing, e.g., smoking crack cocaine.  They say that heroin junkies don't bother you when they are noddin', but crack -crazed junkies became the most violent criminal element ever,(other than the drug-trafficking posses themselves) as they brazenly committed thefts and armed robberies and murders to get enough money to suck on the pipe.
Anyone and everyone --young or old --was victimized by these desperadoes, and an absolute reign of fear took hold of the community.  Elders who had been the anchors of community willingly sold their homes to conniving real estate dealers who used high pressure sales tactics, ie., constant mailings and leafleting  promising to buy houses "all cash."  The real estate changed hands.
 In the mid-to-late nineties, as the crack epidemic ran its course and petered out, a young buppie class began to appear. These black upwardly mobile professionals had a cosmopolitan outlook and a black petite bourgeois consciousness, adding now a third level of class stratification to the community, i.e., the so-called underclass, the working class, and this new young and somewhat arrogant petite bourgeois class--many of whom had the capital to invest in opening upscale restaurants and small shops (e,g., black bookstores, black art and framing shops, clothing boutiques, antique shops, etc).  Cafe society began to emerge in certain pockets of the community --along  Stuyvesant Avenue, Lewis Avenue and Tompkins Avenue for example. Perhaps the pioneer in all of this was the wife and husband team (she an editor for Essence magazine) who converted their home into a "bed and breakfast" named the Akwaaba House (from the Akan/Ghanaian word for "Welcome") and then opened a nearby restaurant also named Akwaaba.
Catering to a Sunday church-going crowd it served a sumptuous "all you can eat" Sunday buffet brunch with everything from grits, sausages, waffles and eggs to fried chicken, fried fish, corn- bread, mac and cheese, potato salad and collard greens.  The three hundred and fifty pound brother who was the cook was occasionally outweighed by some of the church lady customers who heaped endless helpings upon their plates. But unhealthy though the food may have been, this was a black thing and the neighborhood welcomed and appreciated it.
Friday and Saturday evenings featured fare such as shrimp gumbo, fried catfish and other black southern delicacies and the dinner crowd was often entertained by talented local jazz musicians, like the songstress Tulivu Donna Cumberbatch.
As time went on the restaurant changed hands and changed names and became more upscale and a drinking and meeting place for young black single professionals. A cafe next door, with a small al fresco "backyard," originally owned by the Akwaaba folks, and named Mirrors,  changed hands became "Bread-Stuy." The cafe had an array of high end coffees and herbal teas, upscale pastries and muffins, and was one of the few places in the neighborhood wher you could find the New York Times.  It was WiFi equipped and became a hangout for a 20s something clientele who wanted to leisurely and meet their peers while sipping coffee while going online with their laptops.  Next door a black bookstore opened up with titles that were mostly fiction and mainly written by post-Trey Ellis "Platitudes" /post-Paul Beatty "White Boy Shuffle"-type writers or the Nelson George -type cultural commentators.  Still, although it was elitist and cosmopolitan and somewhat pretentious , at least it was a black thing.  As was the art  and framing shop next to the bookstore featuring a small selection of African American -themed lithographs.

Similar places began to sprout along other avenues, but the neighborhood experienced yet another change --and this was NOT a black thing. Even the Black Buppies who wanted to move into the community and rehab the brownstones found that they couldn't find houses, even if they had the cash to mortgage a typical two family home which now averaged a half million dollars. (yeah that's right --$500,000).  The culprits in this price rise --real estate agents who listed and sold the properties that they had bought up during the crack epidemic crime wave scare --exclusively to a white clientele. Feeling unsafe to move in as individuals, they only came into the neighborhood in hordes or packs, a half dozen to dozen white folks moving into this block, another half dozen or so moving into the next block. These are white people in their late twenties or early thirties at most, who have the wherewithal to spend a half-million dollars on a three story brownstone, or $650,00 to 700,000 for a four story brownstone, and yet they call themselves "hipsters."
Make no mistake this is not integration, it's an invasion.  Like my daughter said, "White people have just proved that they only lent the neighborhood to black people temporarily  and can take it back whenever they want to."
This gentrification is going on in Harlem too.  But what really pissed me off today and prompted me to write this essay was the fact that the buppie cafe, Bread Stuy, where I would occasionally stop in and buy a muffin and a cup of tea, or an overpriced sandwich, is closed .  Put out of business by some white people who bought the whole stretch of storefronts on Lewis Avenue between Decatur and MacDonough where the bookstore and art and framing shop used to be , and opened up a huge cyber cafe.  This is f**ed -up!  Yeah there were some class frictions between the underclass pants -sagging underwear showing kids, and the working class (also pants-sagging underwear showing kids, and the buppie back-packing kids, and maybe I belong to some vacillating class since I remember jitterbugging (e.g. 1960s gang-banging with the Python Lords and later on going into a deep nod off of scag, and yet I could, without too much uncomfortability or unease, sit in the cafes next to the elitist snobbish buppies, but this new Caucasian invasion is just too much to take.  They have taken over another spot, which once sold used books and records,  where I used to find a lot of deep metaphysics books (yeah I read metaphysics books!), which then became a Solomon's Porch -- an upscale cafe catering to black folk, and then became a bar catering to the buppie singles crowd, and is now a high priced Organic Food Markets catering to the new white population of Bed Stuy. (Which was once over 90% black --since we always had some Latinos, and other people of color here, but according to New York Times has now dwindled to 60 % black, and of course when this was the ghetto there was never a policeman when you really needed one, but white police now walk the beat in pairs to protect the new residents --who feel so confident that they are out walking their damned dogs in Bed-Stuy at 3 AM in the morning.  I am waiting for a 2013 style Rodney King verdict or somethin' to set off a major race riot, so that these new colonialists don't feel so smug and comfortable here. The scenes themselves are incongruous, white people sipping wine alfresco at a table with an umbrella awning on Fulton St and Grand Ave, while a brother n ragged clothes a few feet away -- the Invisible Man--is collecting empty soda cans from the nearby trash can to redeem for cash.  The white people may as well have been wearing pith helmets.
These scenes only add insult to injury -- last year the local mosque where I pray,  (yeah --I pray too!) which was populated mainly African immigrants, African Americans, and African-Caribbeans was forced to move to much smaller and more crowded space, because the white people who owned the new exclusive pizza restaurant next door catering to white hipsters, agreed to pay the landlord twice the rent that the mosque was paying. Back in the days when Muslims were Muslims there would have been some white boys with some broken arms or a bombed out pizza restaurant but hey, this post-9/11 America with cops snooping around in every mosque.
 Anyway, this is some Tarzan-shit, white boys lording it over the natives. It is colonialism pure and simple.  Yeah there's some internal class conflict between stratas of black folk, but Harlem and Bed-Stuy was our Little Africa, and the reality is that European settlers have now invaded!
 January 7, 2013

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