elephant in the room

Gentrification is a term considered by many to include negative implications, especially when seen as a white vs. black issue.  This morning, on my ridiculous commute, I heard an interesting story on NPR.  Garnet Coleman, a Texan state representative of Houston’s 3rd Ward, is fighting off would-be developers in his district.  Gentrification has started to creep into the 3rd Ward, directly next to Houston’s downtown.  With Houston’s sprawl problems, there is a rising need for residences in close proximity to its downtown.  Houston’s lack of urban planning and zone enforcement is another story, but one that contributes to the 3rd Ward’s fight against gentrification. 

When I checked the NPR story and comments online, it appears that many people from Houston have distinct opinions of Coleman.  But, he brought up a point that has smacked me in the face since moving to my neighborhood: black people feel that whites are taking over their neighborhoods.  I’ve heard racist lingo thrown around the gentrification topic before, but NPR’s Steve Inskeep finally asked a million dollar question (in my book): What is your biggest complaint about the new, higher-income whites moving into the 3rd Ward?  Coleman replied that when white people move in, they are only buying a house, and they don’t care about the neighbors that have lived there for generations.  He said that white people aren’t becoming a part of the community.

I wish that were the only complaint of dwellers in my neighborhood.  While I have a great relationship with the older black people on my street and am active in the civic association, some of the newer members of the neighborhood (including myself) have been accused of racism by a few.  The new issue?  We’re trying to take over the neighborhood by being too involved in the community!  So, where is this magical balance?  I would love to have a grown-up discussion and get past the elephant in the room because the new white people in my neighborhood are here to stay.  We love the area, we love (most of) the people, and we want to be a part of this neighborhood.

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One response to “elephant in the room

  1. This is one of those many situations where people are unsettled by change, but are powerless to do anything about it (Mr. Coleman in Houston will inevitably fail), so they concoct rationales for feeling as they do, and those rationales can be contradictory. The residents who are complaining can’t legally prevent new and different people from moving in, due to fair-housing laws, and they know it’s morally wrong to say they just don’t want whites in their community (for whatever reason), so they are basically left with grumbling and grousing as the alternative.

    The irony is that in many cases, the neighborhood used to be white but the population shifted to black over some period of time. If that was OK, then why is it not OK if it then shifts from black to white or mixed or whatever? As long as expropriation isn’t used to achieve the change, what’s illegitimate about it?

    The only thing you can do is do whatever you would do in any other neighborhood: participate in community affairs (or don’t participate) to whatever degree you want. As some of your neighbors know, the only mature and moral response is to treat everyone as an individual. If you live out that creed, no one can criticize you without looking intolerant and mean-spirited.

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