Home Pop Culture A personal rebuttal to Spike Lee gentrification mania.

A personal rebuttal to Spike Lee gentrification mania.

Spike Lee gentrification
One of the spoils courtesy of gentrification found at Brooklyn, Ft Greene. The much loved flea market on Vanderbilt and Lafayette which draws wide participation from locals and newcomers

Tuesday evening, seminal film maker, Spike Lee spoke in Brooklyn at Pratt Institute, close to where he grew up, in Ft. Greene on how the neighborhood has changed. He had come to talk about African American History Month, but instead by the end of the evening, the discourse veered of to an emotional diatribe on gentrification and how that shit ruined everything and how the locals only got things working again cause us white people finally turned up with our money.

Told in part Spike Lee:

Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every motherfuckin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294. The police weren’t around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.

Now before I reprint the balance of his address which you can find at the very bottom of this article. I would like to offer you, Spike Lee a personal rebuttal to your gentrification claims.

above image found here


Shall we then:

Dear Spike Lee,

My ‘motherfucking garbage’ never gets picked up; not even for us gentrifiers. In fact, along with whatever shit is outside, in my very building the trash has piled up, overflowing, for nearly a week and judging from the stench wafting into my apartment, it’s still there. Homeless men piss, smoke and shoot up between my vestibule doors of my apartment regularly.  The cops have come and say they can’t help unless I’m ‘explicitly threatened or endangered;’ it’s not glamorous, but it’s home. And I’m not leaving anytime soon.

I’ve lived in East Harlem for the past four years. I arrived here as a white, naive, nearly-broke, early twenties Pennsylvania transplant; I had visited the city many times but didn’t understand it. I’m still in my twenties and nearly-broke, and don’t know everything, but since we’re pontificating, let me tell you what I do know now, in my time here:

I met a Dominican man early on and fell in love. His family has lived in the Bronx then Washington Heights for nearly 30 years after moving from DR. They love me like a daughter and find my passion for and assimilation into the their proud Spanish community a welcomed blessing in their life.

The Muslim, Middle Eastern bodega owners on my block embrace me as a sister. One, detesting my pack-a-day smoking habit so much, stopped selling me cigarettes all together. It made me quit. The owner on the other corner? We exchange warm “As-salamu alaykums’ each time our paths cross; it makes my day.  

My old man friend Joe has lived in East Harlem since before its Spanish renaissance; he’s the quintessential old, Italian gentleman, and he reminds me so much of my own Italian grandfather who’s family lived in my very neighborhood over 30 years ago.  As we stop and chat with each other regularly, I often think how thankful I am to have him in my life.

This is my ecosystem, these are my people; some of my favorite humans in the world. I don’t ignore the history of Harlem, I inhale it. I eat, shop, and take care of all of the business I can within five blocks of my apartment. I work in and contribute to my local community. I belong here. Your diatribe is not as infuriating so much as it is ignorant.

Instead of flippantly casting all of us gentrifiers to hell for choosing to live where we do;  I’d like for you to judge me by the content of my character just as beloved neighbors, mi familia, mis comprades,  have chosen to do. I may not be the one you wish to see as you walk by in Harlem, but be assured, there are people here that would miss me if I were gone. 

I’d be foolish to not point out, that Brooklyn, in particular, does have it’s young, inauthentic opportunists, as does any growing metropolis. I’m acutely aware of the Cartier braceleted, Soul Cycling, bottomless brunching bourgeoisie; clenching Daddy’s dollars in their sweaty little manicured hands– gobbling up property, pomp and circumstance faster than they can shell (sell) out 7$ for a licorice flavored latte. Is it obscene? Sure. But it’s not unlike anywhere else in the world where a new kid with a weird world view becomes an early adopter and paves the way for a new ‘it’ neighborhood.

Misplacing aggression by casting a broad brush stroke based upon ‘what you perceive to be true’ is a dangerous game, Mr. Lee, one that I’d think you’d stand against.  For someone who should know better— what do your hateful words accomplish? This is not a race or class problem, it’s a human one.  People like you, who have  a voice that can be used for good; instead choose to focus on evil; the very attributes that keep us all from being a stronger, more accepting community— which, at least to me— is more vile than any motherfucking pile of trash. We’ll all be displaced someday, by some other group of somebody, and all we’ll have is our words and actions as our legacy, congratulations on yours. 

yours sincerely 

broke ass white girl 

Kate McDermott


And as promised the balance of Spike Lee’s address:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And even more. Let me kill you some more.

[Audience member: Can I talk about something?]

Not yet.

Then comes the motherfuckin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfuckin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherfuckin’-sixty-eight, and the motherfuckin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherfuckin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherfuckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the fuck outta here!

Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfuckin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.

You can’t just — here’s another thing: When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in motherfuckin’ Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!

I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now shit gotta change because you’re here? Get the fuck outta here. Can’t do that!

And then! [to audience member] Whoa whoa whoa. And then! So you’re talking about the people’s property change? But what about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore! You can’t afford it. People want live in Fort Greene. People wanna live in Clinton Hill. The Lower East Side, they move to Williamsburg, they can’t even afford fuckin’, motherfuckin’ Williamsburg now because of motherfuckin’ hipsters. What do they call Bushwick now? What’s the word? [Audience: East Williamsburg]

That’s another thing: Motherfuckin’… These real estate motherfuckers are changing names! Stuyvestant Heights? 110th to 125th, there’s another name for Harlem. What is it? What? What is it? No, no, not Morningside Heights. There’s a new one. [Audience: SpaHa] What the fuck is that? How you changin’ names?

And we had the crystal ball, motherfuckin’ Do the Right Thing with John Savage’s character, when he rolled his bike over Buggin’ Out’s sneaker. I wrote that script in 1988. He was the first one. How you walking around Brooklyn with a Larry Bird jersey on? You can’t do that. Not in Bed Stuy.

So, look, you might say, “Well, there’s more police protection. The public schools are better.” Why are the public schools better? First of all, everybody can’t afford — even if you have money it’s still hard to get your kids into private school. Everybody wants to go to Saint Ann’s — you can’t get into Saint Ann’s. You can’t get into Friends. What’s the other one? In Brooklyn Heights. Packer. If you can’t get your child into there … It’s crazy. There’s a business now where people — you pay — people don’t even have kids yet and they’re taking this course about how to get your kid into private school. I’m not lying! If you can’t get your kid into private school and you’re white here, what’s the next best thing? All right, now we’re gonna go to public schools.

So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!

All right, go ahead. Let’s see you come back to that.