Monday, June 22, 2009

White Blight

Holding on in East Harlem and Points West, North and South.

“Neoliberalism is the root cause of rampaging gentrification and displacement, from New York to New Orleans to Atenco, Mexico.” Keen observers of political-economy would agree with this assessment from Zapatista-inspired community activists in Spanish Harlem, who recently organized an “encuentro” with similar minded Black and Asian activists. All concluded that the issue is bigger than Harlem: “This displacement is created by the greed, ambition and violence of a global empire of money that seeks to take total control of all the land, labor and life on earth.”

The Zapatista-inspired activists of the Movement for Justice in El Barrio speak much the same language as their fellow New Yorkers (and Chicagoans and Atlantans). In the MJB's “International Declaration in Defense of El Barrio,” issued shortly before this month's gathering, the group said:

“This displacement is created by the greed, ambition and violence of a global empire of money that seeks to take total control of all the land, labor and life on earth. Here in El Barrio (East Harlem, New York City), landlords, multi-national corporations and local, state and federal politicians and institutions want to force upon us their culture of money, they want to displace poor families and rent their apartments to rich people, white people with money. They want to change the look of our neighborhoods, with the excuse of 'developing the community.' They want to remove from the street the street vendors, who earn an honorable and dignified living, the families that have their own small businesses and small restaurants, small clothing stores, and the small bodegas on the corners in our neighborhood. They want to displace us to bring in their luxury restaurants their expensive and large clothing stores, their supermarket chains. They want to change our neighborhood. They want to change our culture. They want to change that which makes us Latino, African-American, Asian and Indigenous. They want to change everything that makes us El Barrio.”

KAB says ---- Long before Europeans, Blacks, Latinos, Asians arrived in what is now East Harlem, the Wecksquaesgek Indians settled there. But, I suppose it was "greed, ambition and violence of a global empire of money" that displaced the Wecksquaesgeks. The Dutch, without permission from the Wecks settled and built in the area, then the Brits came in 1664 and eventually changed the name from Nieuw Haarlem to "Harlem"..

During the latter half of the 1800s the Irish, German, and Italians arrived to Harlem. Between 1870 and 1910 approximately 65,000 apartments were built in East Harlem, a testimony to the demand for new housing and the ability of the private economy to provide the supply. The German and Irish began "moving on up" and out. In the 1930s, the Italian community in Harlem was the largest in the country.

"At the same time, Puerto Ricans began to arrive with some African Americans and West Indians. "Spanish Harlem" had a name by the 1940s. It was the natural destination for the migration from those sources to meet the economic boom of World War II and the dress and textile industry postwar. These populations replaced the Italians and Eastern Europeans who were moving out to the Levittowns, etc. By 1950, East Harlem was predominantly African-American and Puerto Rican."

Of course, during those eras the neighborhood cultural changes were not seen as evil; the Wecks did not accuse the Dutch of gentrification, nor were the centuries of change blamed on "neoliberalism," as that word only came about around 1945, and only very recently has the Left used neoliberalism as the scapegoat for current economic policies, rather than the failure of massive social programs.

So, to be fair ... if you really want a movement for justice, to stop the "white people with money" ... then give Harlem back to the Wecksquaesgek Indians. If that's not doable, then perhaps you should expect those white German, Irish, English, Dutch and Italians who moved out, to move back and gentrify the place. And of course not all those "culture of money" people who return to Harlem will be white. During the early years of the last century half of Harlem was owned by black American businessmen and entrepreneurs; most moved up and on. Yes, there were cultural turf disputes in Harlem's history, but the evil "culture of money" was not the mantra until most recently.

Remember the 1995 "Freddy's Fashion Mart" incident when the United House of Prayer, a large black landlord in Harlem, raised the rent on Freddy's Fashion Mart. Freddy's white Jewish owner is forced to raise the rent on his subtenant, a black-owned music store. A landlord-tenant dispute ensues. Many blamed Al Sharpton's belligerence as he said "We will not stand by and allow them to move this brother so that some white interloper can expand his business" and his group, the National Action Network set up picket lines; customers going into Freddy's are spat on and cursed as "traitors" and "Uncle Toms." Some protesters shout, "Burn down the Jew store!" and simulate striking a match. "We're going to see that this cracker suffers," said a Sharpton colleague, Morris Powell. On Dec. 8, one of the protesters bursts into Freddy's, shoots four employees point-blank, then sets the store on fire. Seven employees die in the inferno. The employees were Black and Latino. I guess Al and Morris missed the part about being judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skins.

This is why I have pulled away from Left mentality - they have one rallying boohoo for all injustice: rich white folks, and while that may have been a major factor a few decades ago, the "blame the rich white folks" thinking no longer works on me.

The Left create a cultural racial divide with warm fuzzy words like "movement" and "justice." This cultural justice club is funded predominantly by white folks in the distance, who seem to loathe assimilation for colored folks - who they encourage to raise a fist in air and chant, down with rich white folks empire, while straightening and bleaching their hair and skin, wearing Tommy Hilfiger and slopping on a BigMac - encouraged to be disdainful and fearful of absorbing the "white" folks capitalist system (never mind that their lives literally depend on the system). If you want to see a good example of what becomes of a culture forced into dependence and which cannot, will not, or is not allowed to assimilate - look no further than the Native American reservations.

These self-appointed leaders tell you to resist, resist the empire. Why not just say death to America since the pot isn't melting? Resist the white culture of money my tribal friends, while expecting the same "government and institutions" of empire to pay for the bulk of neighborhood amenities, housing, schools, food, utilities, and create jobs. All while claiming they want barrios safe from murder, drugs, robbery but every other arrest is deemed harassment and/or brutality - don't be a snitch, blame the system. Maybe, Bill Clinton (first black president fairytale) can lead the way from his offices in Harlem.

The Left tell their followers not to let whitey's "culture of money" machine control them - and rather than help one another move up or out as centuries of displaced immigrants have before, they would rather cling to "... the look of our neighborhoods ... what makes us Latino, African-American, Asian and Indigenous" ... which apparently is ethnic food and piñatas surrounded by crime, poverty and blight.


Anonymous said...

Was it Tina Turner that said something like this: I have been rich and I have been poor, I prefer being rich better.

If she didn't say it, I still agree with the statement.

Kate-A said...

Mae West - "I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me rich is better."


But it's also been said that money can't buy happiness and the best things in life are free ...

Then again, I think the Beatles sang give me money, what it won't buy I don't need?

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