Gentrification. This is no new phenomenon by any means. Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” was talking about this back in 1989. In fact, Spike Lee reminded a lecture hall full of Pratt Institute students about his strong opinions on the topic recently. We can certainly champion progression and enrichment in our communities, but what are some ways to do that in which communicate integrity, equity of worth and, very simply, love.
I don’t have a stockpile of thoughts on the topic, and don’t presume to know it all, but over the next week I want to offer my thoughts in three different ways: my thoughts to those moving in, to those already here, and finally to all of us.
I strongly think that a couple things are important if we’re going to see colliding cultures live together with a deeper sense of integrity, enrichment and community. I also know that I can’t speak for anyone but myself though my experiences and observations. If this is not you, cool, these are just some thoughts.
To those moving in…
The shift in the community is happening because you’re moving in with your affluence. I’m not looking to address the financial imbalance in our society, but I do want to speak into what comes from it.
Cultural elitism, in anyone, is poison. Kill it before moving in. There seems to be a mindset that implicitly sees themselves as more valuable because of how you can “enrich” the community. Now let me say, I don’t have a big problem with the different ways the community has changed – the growing diversity to a predominantly Hispanic community, an air of better business, etc.; but let me also say that it would be a generous thing to credit that utterly to the migration of the more affluent culture. There are some dudes in the community, from the community that are running great businesses up here. You’re not the first to do it.
Cultural elitism creeps in and what ends up happening is that we never learn how to team up and leave a imprint in the community. In other words, neither culture finds each other worthy to work together to cause real change to our community, for our kids and our kids’ kids to benefit from. If we want live in a way that really considers the next round of folks that live here, work here and do life here, could I encourage you to see the world bigger than you; bigger than anyone that looks like you, talks like you and thinks like you and even bigger than us. Our perception of each other will determine how we live with each other.
Your air of elitism also disregards that at a very fundamental basis are we are all of equal worth and dignity. I think none of us would intellectually disagree with that, but practically we assent to it often.
You might be reading this and saying, “that’s not my attitude, nor is it my intention to communicate that.” That’s cool. But keep in mind that our experiences and environments form us and inform our actions. If you have predominantly been part of an environment that doesn't praise and celebrate diversity of culture and socio-economic statuses, you might very well be communicating the former without even noticing.
All environments are blemished in some way. I believe it’s healthy to realize that there is equal destructive and dehumanizing potential in the affluent culture as in the poor and marginalized community. The difference seems to be that for the affluent it’s difficult seeing that because affluence is the goal in our culture, not poverty. In other words, if you have the majority of people seeing affluence as the goal in life, then certainly you won't see any blemishes in being part of the affluent crowd.
But what if we came together and created a new expectation and pursuit in culture? Wouldn’t that change the way we live together for the good?
Look to contribute don’t try to replace. Part of the poison in the elite mindset is the air of privilege and disdain it carries. Privilege in that your thoughts, your business, your families; your ideas belong in the driver seat of community revitalization. Disdain in that those who have been here longer and planted their roots here have done so for no reason or even worse, have “missed” an opportunity to make this community the best it “could” be. But then you have to ask, what makes a community great? What makes a community better?
Let me encourage you to take a step back and as opposed to overlooking what the existing culture has established in the community already, search for the beauty in what does exist because of us. If you can’t find anything, then can I encourage you to revisit how you define better, great or even beautiful? Do those words mean really “wealthier” when you use them? I’m not opposed to creating economic engines in our community, but I do believe the pace of how it happens is important. If it happens at a rapid pace we can kiss those from low-income homes goodbye! And the truth is, you might want that, but you don't need that to happen. We need each other.
Also, if we measure how well we're growing this community by how wealthy we're becoming as a community, we’re in trouble. We’re selling wrong “product.” Wealth and affluence is not what we want to sell. Certainly life is more than those. If we stop equating "making this community better" with "making this community richer" then we can stop selling the dream of affluence to the poor. We want our community to grow in their ability to be good financial stewards, but we don't want them to become money or possession hungry.
As good buddy of mine said, “affluence is not the enemy but it’s equally not the savior.” We all need something or someone more sure, more sustainable that brings us together. I believe that’s Jesus. Jesus delivers on what affluence promises but fails to provide - security, comfort, approval. When a community pursues the comforting truth that Jesus satisfies the greed of the rich and the envy of the poor we begin to see a unity that can't be broken by the temporal because it was never bound by it. Of knowing Jesus, a guy named Paul said, “I’ve learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
I believe every person from any culture has something to contribute. Not primarily because of our socio-economic status, but more fundamentally because of the image we all carry as people created by God. The minute we put our social status or possessions as the fundamental reason we are “better” contributors of culture is the minute we’ve missed the point. We've missed the greatest treasure. We've missed the greatest thing that makes us most valuable. And we've missed the greatest opportunity to trust God.
Next week I'll share my thoughts with those already here. To read that post and others subscribe to the link on the top right of the page or click below: