Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Are "We Gon' Be Alright"?


Joyful protestors
Susan Walsh/AP
Hello Everyone:

One of the recurring subjects of this blog is gentrification and its impact on all facets of urban life.  We last touched on the subject of race, segregation, and gentrification on December 20, 2016, in a post titled "A Surprising Look At How Race Affects Racial Boundaries." (https://historicpca.blogspot.com)  Today we are going to revisit the subject via Brentin Mock's CityLab article "It's Not the Gentrification, It's the Resegregation." (http://www.amazon.com)  Mr. Mock looks at a book published, on September 13, 2016, by hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang, titled We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation.  The first half of the title comes from Kendrick Lamar's 2015 song of the same name and was one of the key anthems of the Black Lives Matter playlist.  The timeliness of the book is apropos because the song speaks of faith in the future.  However, the election and imminent inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, this calming reassurance has been thrown into doubt.

Jeff Chang

The second part of the title-on race and resegregation-is the crucial part because that remains constant.  Mr. Mock writes, "The U.S. is, in many parts of the country, resegregating to levels not seen since before the Civil Rights Movement."  Mr. Mock focuses on a critical chapter of the book titled "Vanilla Cities and Their Chocolate Suburbs."  In this chapter, Mr. Chang observed, "...the average white student attends a public school that is at least 75 percent white and lived in a neighborhood that is at least 77 percent white.  Meanwhile, people of color are moving (or being pushed out to) the suburbs, and more white people are moving into the city."  This reverse migration pattern frequently goes hand-in-hand with class and racial displacement of gentrification.

The cover of We Gon' Be Alright
As disruptive as gentrification can be for many, low-income African-American and Latino families in contemporary society, it is an incomplete image of oppression.  Brentin Mock quotes, Jeff Chang's argument:

[G]entrification offers a peculiarly small frame for trying to understand these paradigmatic shifts.  When rents reach the tipping point, when old industrial buildings flip or are razed for flimsy new ones made of glass and chipboard, when poor residents have to leave, the gentrification narrative hits its limit.  It has the odd counterintuitive effect of privileging the narratives of those able to hang on in the changing city.  But what of those who are displaced?  Gentrification has no room for the question, "When did the displaced go?"  Instead, the displaced join the disappeared...

Gentrification is key to understanding what happened to our cities at the turn of the millennium.  But it is only half the story.  It is only the visible side of the larger problem: resegregation.

President-elect Donald J. Trump
President-elect Donald J. Trump fueled a campaign of racial exclusion that aroused voters who, in the majority of instances, did not have a problem with returning to segregations policies-in fact, they welcomed it.  As a result, many Latino and Muslim immigrants, African Americans, LGBTQ, and women are fraught with concern over whether they will be alright.  Will they be safe in their sanctuary cities or find themselves trapped between a political party that objects to their presence administers the state and federal governments?

Brentin Mock writes, "Chang was prescient in exploring these questions before Trump's ascendence, traveling to cities like Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of their uprising to talk to activists and residents about their living conditions, both within and outside of city centers."  We Gon' Be Alright links the grassroots movements to the greater dialog about race in America within the context of pop culture, as heard in albums such as Beyoncé's Lemonade.

Lemonade (2016)

CityLab spoke with Mr. Chang before and after the presidential election about his book and what lessons can be learned.  Below are excerpts from that interview.

CL: So, it must be asked: Are we really gonna be alright, living under this new president?

JC: I don't know,..., but I still trust and have faith that folks are gonna get it together.  One thing we have now that we didn't have in 2009, or even 2000, is an infrastructure of justice movements that are like in so many different kinds of ways that weren't before....Occupy and the Movement for Black Lives, the Dreamers movement, Standing Rock, reproductive justice-people are really mobilized and communicating and making plans.  That's the thing that makes me think we have a shot at this.

When Obama was elected, we were dancing in the streets, and as soon as Trump was elected, people started marching in the streets, and it continues...I do take heart in the fact that folks are already getting prepped.

Anti-Trump protestors

CL: You write in your book: By itself, gentrification can't explain the new geography of race that has emerged since the turn of the millennium.  Can you unpack that a bit more?

JC: It's inadequate because gentrification, just even the word, is about the gentry, the movement of wealth into cities.  It doesn't account for people who are displaced and forced to leave the city.  The ant-gentrification movement doesn't account for where people are forced to move, and there is less of an infrastructure built up in the movement to account for what's been happening in the suburbs...

But the reality is that people are forced to move and the management of the suburbs is looking increasingly like the management of the inner-city during the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, with the politics of containment happening and the rise of states funded upon incarceration and intense policing.  If we look at it in a larger sense, at the impact of resegregation that's actually happening, gentrification is just a part of resegregation, which is the larger frame needed to understand what's going on...then we can understand the shifting geography of race a bit better because we can put displaced people back into the picture.

Ferguson protests August 2014
Ferguson, Missouri
CL: So what's the solution?  Do people of color need to flood the suburbs to integrate them, to overcome the tyranny of racial gerrymandering, or can they accumulate and sustain political power from within the urban centers?

JC: It's about trying to think about the both/and.  It's about forcing the hand of these largely liberal cities to enforce fair housing laws and establish new policies that to preserve longtime residents in their homes, to strengthen renters laws...under a Trump presidency we can probably assume they're going to intensify.

But to talk about what people used to call "metropolitics" or a regional kind of politics, to be able to build up power in the colorized suburbs in that folks have been doing in Ferguson and the northern county of St. Louis,...it's really about trying to think about all those things at the same time and building movements in those kinds of ways.

Black Lives Matter
CL: Explain how you were able to incorporate Beyoncé's Lemonade into your book.

JC: ...I  looked at the arc of Lemonade as a metaphor for a work that's in dialogue with the Movement for Black Lives.  [The album] starts as this sort of lovers quarrel and ends with this transformation in which not only is Beyoncé is transformed but she's also allowed space for her lover to transform...Lemonade came out right when I was finishing up the book and I realized it summed up the entire direction of the Black Lives Matter movement has been about...They found concrete language for this through the Movement for Black Lives platform, which is...a glossary of big ideas around transformational justices...the chapter is called "Making Lemonade" and it concluded with a combination of ideas from people Grace Lee Boggs' vision around revolution and Carrie Mae Weems' idea around grace, and Robin D.G. Kelley's reading of James Baldwin's thoughts on revolutionary love.  It's not just about healing those who've been harmed, but also about how those who've done harm can be healed themselves.

A scene from "Sorry, I ain't sorry"
CL: How has that played out, particularly in places where have been uprising like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charlotte:

JC: For me talking about the question of anger and protest, it's not about saying that anger is unjustified or irrational.  It's really more about: How do you build vision for a sustainable movements with all of the emotions at play, from anger to redemption, and in ways where [those emotions] are not in opposition to one another?  What's interesting about how people perceived Lemonade is that it's reflective of what we've been conditioned to think abut in terms of what the proper response is to being wronged...But at the same time we haven't all maybe considered what the end of the that album means in terms of reconciliation and grace.

The Mother Emanuel AME Church (L)
Memorial to the victims (R)
Charleston, South Carolina
CL: There was that moment after Dylan Storm Roof's massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, when some of the victim's family members forgave him.  This triggered a lot of angry op-eds from people who disagreed with that, but is this what you're referring to?

JC: I think that' exactly what's happening there...What I'm trying to do is point to the questions that are raised by these movements.  I think Black Live Matter has always been about not just calling into questions these foundational gaps between the races and how they've gotten wider over the years...It's been about raising the question of not just how to stop the killings, challenging folks to think about what it means to live together.  Those are super difficult questions.  What I've seen is artists and folks working in the realm of that spirit strongly, to bring these kinds of questions out and forward and to enact them in spaces that are are really fraught...Charleston is a great moment for this.  How is forgiveness even imaginable there?

That's what's important to grapple with: the imagination of what a transformational society looks like...

*Blogger note: Dylann Roof was sentence to death in a federal court in South Carolina.  He still faces state charges that also carry the death penalty.

Funeral for the Charleston church shooting victims
Charleston, South Carolina
CL: How did you personally feel about the expressions of forgiveness?

JC: I was stunned.  It was nearly unfathomable for me.  I can see how it made some folks even angrier, but it's something that I've been continuing to grapple with and I'm still grappling with.  I ended my book with a series of these kinds of questions, and I frame the questions from the position of someone who has been complicit in harming others, and as someone who's been  harmed.  For me trying to understand or imagine what that feels like is part of my job...Some have to come a lot farther than others on this, but we have to get the next phase together.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Chicago, Illinois
CL: So, take Rahm Emanuel, the embattled mayor of Chicago.  So many people want to step down over everything that's happened, from peaking violence to corrupt police, and the legacy of segregation underlying all of that.  How should Emanuel approach his job considering all the harms in his city?

JC: I don't know...It's partly about us trying to figure it out together.  But Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis-these are all places that are calling our attention to all this stuff and I think at the very least...a lot of use have to do a lot of listening to those are there on the front lines, who say they need things like jobs, better schools, or mixed-income housing.

In order for someone to act on that level, there has to be political will.  And there hasn't been political will around this stuff for at least half a century.  There hasn't been  a national consensus for racial justice...resegregation is not just our physical reality-it's also a metaphor for how we've been retreating, or our unwillingness to engage each other in talking abut racism, or thinking that it's OK for us tone racially divided.  But the largest thing is political will.  How do we get to the point where there's enough political will to address this?

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