Sunday, May 20, 2007

Death of the 1960's

And now, for the hippies. I woke up this morning to the sound of a Little Brother song playing loud and ceremoniously down my block. At first, I was scared. I'm one of the only black people living in my 'hood nowadays and I feared that the white folks having their morning tea outside the coffee shop might cause a ruckus in the form of a petition, letter or dismissively disgusted look. I imagined an SUV, rolling down the street, windows tinted --you get the picture. Then I began to smile at the thought of someone purposfully disrupting the peace with hip hp. At first I didn't know what the song was but as time passed I realized how much I was feelin' it. I got up and looked outside my window at the corner store across the street. But I didn't see an SUV. All of a sudden, I see a group of intoxicated white folks on a makeshift float. They were all dressed up as bees, milling around with corona's in hand, with a large sound system on wheels blaring a melancholy Little Brother tune.

I can't make this shit up. Welcome home to San Francisco.

Instead of being intrigued, I was disgusted. Here it is, 9 o'clock in the morning, and I've got some drunk fuckers outside of my window doing some dumb shit. Their saving grace was the fact that they were playing a Little Brother song. Today was Bay to Breakers, so there have been waves of intoxicated folks dancing around in costumes all morning. Maybe, just maybe, if this were not my home, I'd be one of them. I've seen the demographics of my neighborhood change over the past ten years and it's led me to question what mythical expectations young people move to San Francisco with. Nowadays I've realized that it's the same adventerous impulse that drives young people everywhere to pick up and start a new life. Every place has their myths, their drawing points. For some, the 1967 summer of love reigns supreme as they move to San Francisco amid a soundtrack of Joni Mitchell and the Greatful Dead. For me it's almost the same thing -- I dream of moving to New York as beautiful brown skinned poets serenade me with John Coltrane and BlackStar remixes. Of course, I know that's not going to happen, as I'm sure most of the young folks passed out on my front stairs know that the summer of love was just as much a figment of the imagination as everything else related to a prolonged LSD trip. But it's the image that draws people here, and once they're here, it's easy to build off of a fantasy.

Gentrification is a double edged sword. Once you begin to point the finger at the folks who pushed you out of your neighborhood, you begin to realize that your nomadic existence is based on displacement. Sometimes it's you, sometimes it's the people who you've displaced, and sometimes it's just the mere emptiness of living where there's no community -- and sometimes being too damn tired to try to (re)create one.

Granted, I'm overgeneralizing here. Gentrification, in its truest, most disgusting forms, involves a basic devaluation of humanity and lack of respect for that of which you're not familiar. Example: loudly and drunkenly holding up street traffic at 9 AM on a sunday morning as families try to make their way to church. Or disrespecting shop owners because they've ordered you out of their buisnesses.

More than anything, gentrification IS San Francisco, much less of a myth than hippies or utopian equality.

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