What To Call Gentrification By Non-Whites: Does Race Matter?

Gentrification takes place when middle and upper-income people move into low-income communities, which ushers in economic change, reinvestment and development. Jumping back a few weeks ago, a discussion took place on DCentric when we pondered a more specific kind of gentrification: gentefication, which is when low-income, immigrant Latino neighborhoods are gentrified by second-generation, well-to-do Latinos.

So we wondered: is gentrification much different when gentrifiers aren’t white, so much so that it requires its own term?

Alex Baca tweeted that having a separate word for this kind of gentrification is unnecessary:

It's class-based. Don't need fancy names. RT @ On gentrification & rhetoric when non-whites are gentrifiers http://t.co/IrO6Et65

But others argued that gentrification by non-whites does have different implications for neighborhoods. Commenter Gente Negra, wrote:

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Gentrification? Try Gentefication.

Leo Reynolds / Flickr

Gentrification, the "G" word, can be a very loaded term.

We write plenty about gentrification here on DCentric, which can be a very loaded word. But what about “gentefication?” According to our sister blog Multi-American, gentefication is “the process of upwardly mobile Latinos, typically second-generation and beyond, investing in and returning to the old neighborhood.” The “gente” comes from the Spanish word for “people.”

Gentefication is being used to describe what’s happening in L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood, where Latino investors are developing low-income areas, with businesses attracting second-generation and English-speaking crowds. Some low-income locals of Mexican descent are worried they’ll be displaced by all of this development, even if the business owners are Latino, too.

In D.C., gentrification has taken hold in working class black and Latino neighborhoods, and most of D.C.’s well-to-do newcomers are white; in a city that’s mostly black, 60 percent of households making more than $75,000 are white, according to census data. Therefore the word “gentrification” in D.C. tends to imply neighborhood changes have to do with class and race.

But gentrification, even in the District, isn’t always about race. Take Anacostia, where the gentrification that’s starting to occur is class-based; professional African Americans are settling in the predominately black, low-income area. And just as in L.A.’s Boyle Heights, some of these newcomers have roots in the city and are returning to the places they grew up. So is gentrification the best way to describe what’s happening in Anacostia, or do we need a new word, too?

‘Virtual Lynching’ and Listserv Rhetoric

As D.C.’s racial makeup is changing, racially-charged rhetoric can end up being used in the typical neighborhood squabbles that happen in many communities. The latest example came across the Brookland neighborhood Listserv, in which an ANC commissioner accused a few people of using the forum to “virtually lynch” a family who have taken years to complete a large home renovation. The family is black and started the work in 2007. The complaining neighbors are white and have raised questions over the Listserv about the size of the project and its documentation, among other concerns.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

A woman checking her email.

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs director Nicholas Majett wrote an email on the Listerv in January explaining the property had three years’ worth of allegations of illegal building, but that most of the allegations were unsubstantiated. A few citations had been issued and he added that his office was looking into new complaints brought by neighbors.

ANC Commissioner Vaughn Bennett writes in an email to DCentric that he has no regrets with his characterization of situation as a “lynching:”

In the same vein as claiming that a black man whistled at a white woman, the rallying call is that a black man is building a house in violation of the law (which he is not), resulting in the unwarranted outrage and attacks from those hidden behind computer screens.

Consider, how many other houses are being built, (from the ground up), by black men, (or black women), in our neighborhood? How many other homes and homeowners have come under such a sustained “virtual” attack? None. Not even the house under construction in the 1200 block of Evarts where a worker was recently killed by being buried under a collapse of mud.

The Evarts house also had proper work permits, but nonetheless, Bennett writes, “[I] am fully confident that what I said correctly summarized the circumstance and situation. My use of the term ‘virtually lynch’ was not done without due diligence and forethought.” Additionally, one of the homeowners had previously posted an email on the Listserv, writing they are “very tired of people that are neighbors constantly harassing my family on this [Listserv].”

The term “lynching” conjures up images of a tragic history in which black men were killed by white mobs in acts of vigilante justice. One volunteer moderator took down Bennett’s post, asking whether it was necessary to use the term “‘lynching’ whenever two people of different races have a legitimate disagreement. Surely this use of the language cheapens what happened to the people who were actually lynched.”

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