An American Girl in Washington

DC’s latest buzzword

Posted in Politics- as I see it by AGinDC on 20 July 2011

For a while it was “diversity”.  For a sad moment in managerial history it was “synergy”.  For a minute anything with -American at the end was in vogue.  There have always and will always be words that everyone who’s anyone in political correctness says as often as possible.  They write articles, they talk about it in community meetings, and they write poorly thought-out letters to their Congressmen.  Over the last few months, largely, I think, due to coming doom of Wal-Mart, the reports coming out about the census, and the mass of activity on H St, the latest buzzword around DC is GENTRIFICATION.

This blog is by no means the appropriate forum to delve deep into the psychological, political, social and economic conundrum that is gentrification.  But that won’t stop me from adding my two cents.

A few months ago I wrote about an amazing article that very well summed up my feelings on being a young black professional who is also part of the gentrifying class.  And as one of those young people who came to DC because everyone else was coming here, because the city is a hell of a lot safer than it was when I was in high school and college, because it’s one of the few cities in the country teeming with jobs for the newly graduated, and because it’s one of the few cities in the world where almost everyone you meet is doing something that they are passionate about and that actually makes a difference (plus because I’m a giant nerd and I’m slightly in love with FLOTUS), I can definitely understand, appreciate, and benefit daily from the positive change in Washington over the last five or so years.  This city is now a place where I want to raise my children (or my horses, haven’t decided yet, but the horses are definitely winning out), which was not the case when I spent my summers here ten years ago.

On the other hand.  As a young black professional, it is impossible for me not to understand that but for the grace of a remarkable grandmother, I too could have grown up in Ward 8, or any of the many, many equivalents across the country.  It is impossible (unless, apparently, you’re 98% of the Republican party) not to understand the social, political, and economic factors that have kept the original citizens of DC out of the loop for so long that it is now nearly impossible for them to catch up.  From the lack of home rule to the piece of shit local government to the unprecedented complications of merging a national capital with a tiny suburb, the black community is now reaping what decade upon decade of State neglect has sown, and it’s not fair.

On the other hand.  It was terrible the way it was.  The city couldn’t stay that way.  If it wasn’t for the Federal government, we would be Detroit.  Or worse.  We have to allow for progress, we just can’t leave the people who live here behind.  Or kick them out.

And so, here we are.  I find myself in conversations, meetings, committees, and  organizations that are all dealing with this issue.  Some of the people in these groups are young professionals who just really want a Trader Joe’s on their block, some are citizens who have lived in DC for 20, 30, 40+ years and are (justifiably) angry with the way their city is changing without them, and most are people like me: kids who came here to make a life for ourselves, but who don’t want to do it on the backs of anyone else.  But just like we can’t buy an iPad without supporting slave labor in Africa, and just like I felt sick at having $15 cocktails at a rooftop bar in Phnom Penh while homeless Cambodian children starved below us, it seems that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try to just live our lives the best way we can, somebody is going to get hurt.

And that’s not fair to anyone.



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