Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Because when the revolution comes

When I first got wind of the youth uprisings outside Paris in November 2005, two things shocked me. One, that black and brown youth were revolting en masse, gaining international attention. And two, the Parisian urban get up. The most impoverished neighborhoods lay about half an hour outside the city, in physical isolation from the country's economic and social center. The poor were literally out of sight and out of mind, fueling the tension that bred the rebellion. I wondered how physical isolation felt for entire communities that had been removed from the public sphere.

The United States now seems to be adopting a European model of shaping --and coloring --urban landscapes. From San Francisco to Los Angeles to New York, working class communities of color are being pushed farther and farther out. In the Bay Area, it might start with being pushed out of the Fillmore or Mission, and then moving along BART lines throughout the Bay to stay somewhat connected to the city, where the density of jobs exist. Even hipsters are finding it hard to maintain and are looking to colonize working class Black strongholds like West Oakland.

Is this way of life sustainable? One untold aspect of gentrification is its effect on government services. As working class families leave, public schools are faced with declining enrollment, a fact that probably means nothing since everything is being privatized anyway.

As crucial as an analysis of race is to any discussion about gentrification, it's important to note that it's not just white folks gentrifying your city's downtown. That pursuit of power, prestige, "civility" is a form of whiteness that anyone of upwardly mobile means can don as a mask. Whether it's Mexican American Princes, taking the reigns of LA politics, or freshly minted negroes with Arabic names and Stanford degrees, everyone who wants to be anyone is jumping at the chance to call a neighborhood "ghetto" and talk about its infestation of crack babies while listening to Jay-Z.

Race, as always, is complex and everchanging. In our limited American lexicon where we lack the language to dictate the obvious, race has become a hallow word we used because we're uncomfortable using words like "priviledge" and "power". More than anything, we're afraid of indicting ourselves. It's so easy as people of color to indicte white folks for everything oppressive and unjust, yet we ignore the power dynamics in our own communities that make mobilizing so difficult. I am a Black woman from a working class neighborhood -- a "surivivor" of gentrification. My family prized education, so to some, I talk 'white' and appear booksmart (yes, I've read Audre Lorde. No, my life didn't change as a result). In about two weeks I'm set to move across the country, iBook in one hand, ghetto survivor's guilt in another, and pursue my dream of becoming a "writer" in an affordable Brooklyn neighborhood, haunted by the ghosts of the families I've displaced. As you might have guessed it, I have an Arabic name, was born in the mid eighties, and graduated from an overpriced exlcusive liberal arts college. It ain't easy to admit, but admitting priviledge is the first step.

Like many folks in my shoes, I romanticize revolution. I wear it on my t-shirts and listen to it on my iPod while I'm on my way to my cozy office job. I believe in rebellion and resistance as an effective --even necessary--method of sustainable social change. Anger is the seed to action. But I worry. When I visualize revolution, I see a scene from an Octavia Butler novel, post-apocalyptic angst, roaring flames. I believe that youth will lead the way and that text messaging will be critical. But at that point of chaos, I fear that we'll have no direction. Perhaps like the Parisian youths who rioted for days and captured international headlines, we'll fight gallantly. But where will I be? It's not so easy as choosing a side. I feel like we all rotate along the edges of an octagon and when that public display of anger reveals itself, we'll all rush forward and attack one another because we were never certain of where we stood.

The revolution starts with the self. Hi, my name is Jay. I'm priviledged, and I'm angry.


Ima said...

Oh, how Daisy Hernandez of you!

and in the words of cheri oteri at her finest in SNL "simma down now" lets make a plan and start acting on it.

sincerely yours

Jamilah said...

still middle ground, i take it?