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(en) US, Minneapolis, Daybreak* #5 - From the banker at the cabin door to the wine bar on the corner: White racism, gentrification, and owning our responsibilities

From daybreak@tao.ca
Date Mon, 1 Nov 2004 07:37:25 +0100 (CET)

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“Yuppies come to gentrify your neighborhood, crusties say we’ll fight it to
the end, but no one asks the black or the Latino, hard times are coming round again.
-Waco Brothers
Gentrification is when yuppies move in and working people move out, or
better phrased, are forced out because of high property values and
newcomers who don’t want to live by the old neighbors. Often white
punks and radicals are at the forefront of this clash, resisting rising rents
at the same time as they’re made to feel guilty (mostly by each other)
for even living in the neighborhood in the first place and supposedly
bringing on gentrification. Before we can start talking seriously about
gentrification, we have to figure out where we, meaning white radicals, in
this case, stand. Are we really responsible for gentrification and, if not,
why do we think so?

Some roots of leftist racism

The knee jerk argument that usually comes from leftists is that all white
people bring on gentrification. It exists under the assumption that the
neighborhood residents are all people of color and that any white person
(and yes, even if you are punk as fuck, everyone still sees you as white) is
an intruder. The leftist attitude that people should be segregated by race is
based on the myth that America never had multi-racial working class
communities (I don’t think most leftists even really believe there are
white working people, after all, they never saw any growing up in Edina!).
The problem is that many (but not all) white radicals grew up in middle
class white suburbs that were highly segregated because they were
created as an escape for affluent white people from people of color. Even
when these people adopt leftist or radical ideas, they still carry around this
feeling that the racial segregation of communities is the natural way of
things, updating it with the ‘progressive’ belief that in poor
communities people of color are somehow choosing segregation. This
attitude takes for granted that all people have the same amount of
privilege that their middle class parents in the lily-white suburbs do. The
harsh economic truth is that working people, even if they sometimes
wanted to, never had much luxury to choose who to live next door to.

What passes for strategy for white radicals against gentrification is the
‘trash the neighborhood’ mentality. This means that they think
garbage, crime, and just plain nastiness scare yuppies away (this is
different than the Yuppie Eradication Projects tactics of yuppie
harassment that I’ll bring up later). A friend told me the story of an
‘anarchist’ who said he felt guilty for being white and causing
gentrification in his neighborhood, so would purposely throw garbage in
the street. The stated reason for this type of behavior is that rich white
people will never want to live in garbage filled streets. But the degradingly
racist insinuation is that people of color don’t mind (since according
to this white leftist mentality a nasty neighborhood will keep white people

White privilege/guilt- owning it and our place in the world

When white radicals deal with gentrification they seem to do it more with
a white guilt that masquerades as consciousness of white privilege than
by practicing actual solidarity. If white radicals truly believe that
neighborhoods should be racially segregated and that they themselves are
the cause for gentrification, than they should leave. Unless people express
ownership of the place they live they will be a cause for gentrification
because they will be a transient population that has no real reason to
resist it. In order to be part of a community, we need to transcend the
barriers of ‘charity work for oppressed groups,’ own our positions
as relatively privileged white people, and take a stance of practical
solidarity by embodying dignity and consciousness of white privilege in
our resistance to gentrification. Anarchists, as a movement that is pretty
damn white, (not to belittle the awesome people of color doing anarchist
stuff) needs to be able to see that it’s not always about projecting our
racial insecurities onto everything around us. If we see the struggle over
gentrification not only as a matter of white and black, but also as an
undeniable issue of class privilege, does that change our approach?

Strategies against gentrification and for communities

In order to have effective anti-gentrification tactics we need to understand
that ‘yuppie,’ as the lifestyle, is the problem. If yuppies didn’t
flaunt their privilege in the trappings of their lifestyle (cars, condos, lofts,
posh restaurants etc.) then our rents would not rise beyond our means.
We have to realize that yuppies don’t want to live in the other side of
the duplex from you. They want lofts and condos with high fences and
gates. If we want to keep hold on our neighborhoods, our real focus
should be on sleazy real estate developers who build these projects. They
use their ties with corrupt city government to get grants and cheap land to
build yuppie developments in the name of ‘urban renewal.’ Right
now, developers are going crazy in Minneapolis. A dozen or more large
development projects are going on. The developers are hoping that these
projects will be successful enough to raise surrounding property values to
drive the neighborhood people out. If we can stop the yuppie
developments from being successful than we can stop the surrounding
housing from being taken over by yuppies too, and eventually, they’ll
abandon the condos to us!

In Minneapolis, we have a great precedent for this. In the 70’s some
developer got the great idea to build huge towers on the West Bank called
Riverside Plaza. They painted pop art colors up the sides and marketed
them as luxury lofts and student housing. 30 years later they are inhabited
mostly by east-African immigrants. According to the architect of the
Riverside Plaza, Ralph Rapson, the most important reason that these
towers failed (as in, immigrants and working people now live there) was
the furious resistance of citizens organized and opposed to the towers
(more were planned that were never built). The surrounding
neighborhood of the West Bank, populated by radicals, hippies, punks,
and immigrants, was too entrenched to be kicked out and yuppies simply
didn’t want to live by these types of people. The tactics used were
sit-ins, rent strikes, and angry protests in the streets and they worked!

The Yuppie Eradication Project started up in 1999 in response to the
dot-com yuppie takeover of the San Francisco Mission district. They
supported targeted harassment of yuppies and their businesses and cars.
More than anything, the YEP was a demonstration of how pissed off
people were about being forced out of the neighborhood. Obviously there
is little legal justice available for poor people, so this group took it into
their hands to do whatever they could to let yuppies know they
weren’t welcome. They attracted attention not because they burnt
down the juice bars during a riot, but because they made a poster (about
burning down juice bars) that focused attention on what was happening
and who was doing it. They created a focal point for anger that targeted
the symbols of class privilege that come part and parcel with
gentrification. We can undermine the privilege of yuppies by attacking the
symbols of it (condos, cars, etc.) For example, wheat-pasted posters or
spray paint on a development will make yuppies think twice before
shelling out 200 g’s for a newly built loft with exposed brick siding.
Radicals can use diverse and creative tactics to get the word out about
who yuppies are and why they’re not welcome to take over our

Although the danger falling into the ‘living in trash’ mentality
exists, it should be clear to radicals that it isn’t acceptable for working
people to live in trashy and dangerous neighborhoods. Isn’t it our
whole point that people need to be treated with dignity and respect? So at
the very least our stated goal should be affordable communities built
around safety and pride instead of violence and garbage. White radicals
need to be aware of the privilege that race plays in our interactions and
the community and take responsibility by doing what we can to do right.
There are always white radicals willing to talk about abolishing the white
race but as long as we’re not engaged in practical solidarity with the
people of color and other working white people around us than any
anti-racism is a sham. We need to organize with other neighborhood
groups to keep rents reasonable and build a larger community resistance
to developers selling off our communities. This is difficult work and there
are no easy answers about the best ways to do it. If we want to really
combat gentrification, which is essentially the displacement of working
people to far off suburbs, then it’s work we need to be a part of.

* Daybreak is an anarchist collective in the Twin Cities.
Basic outreach: a webpage, a distro, and a newspaper, as
well as activism.

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