By Lynda Lopez
You may have seen a recent article about millennials buying homes in Englewood. It featured the story of the Blackwells, a young couple. Though race isn’t brought up explicitly, the accompanying video shows the wife to be a white woman, which is important to note considering the demographics of Englewood.
The article describes how the “Blackwells are changing their block” and giving Englewood “kids a sense of what’s possible outside of street life” through their garden and other activities.
Throughout the article, newcomers are implied to be the salvation of Englewood. What stands out to me the most is the fact that that the lead of a local organization purports the idea of an influx of millennials (implicitly white millenials) being the way you “you change a community.”
This is not an uncommon belief.
Residents of neighborhoods often perpetuate this idea that “bettering” neighborhoods is just a matter of getting “better” people. Communities of color that have faced systematic disinvestment and violence can be particularly vulnerable to internalizing these ideas.
The unemployed man sitting on the street corner or the single mother on SNAP can become a liability. When our neighborhoods aren’t thriving, it is only too easy to start viewing our own people as the detriments, rather than the systems that have deprived us of the resources needed for us to flourish.
We most often see this insidious rhetoric employed when crimes occur. The denigration of neighbors creep in and certain people start being seen as those “keeping the neighborhood down.” The immediate reactions to crime can blind people and facilitate the public scapegoating of community members; this plays an integral role in gentrification as it creates a hierarchy denoting worthy and unworthy people in our communities.
We need to push back against ideas that intend to demonize community members that may not fit standards of respectability, while upholding white, wealthier newcomers as representing a positive shift. Viewing newcomers as the salvation for our communities merely reinforces the colonialist mindset that redlined and exploited them in the first place. The revitalization of our communities does not hinge on the number of white faces walking around our streets.
When improving our communities become reduced to the simplistic idea of moving out the old and moving in the new, we have become complicit in the process of gentrification that ultimately does not value us. When we don’t value our own people, we don’t have community; and we unduly relinquish our stakes in its shaping.