Everything Is Not Mine

Everything Is Not Mine

*photo from Naked Apartments

I’m in New York this week. I come every year to see Jenny and to get rejuvenated by the energy. San Diego is to easy as New York is to alive.

But this year is a little different.

I used to be excited about the new developments in Williamsburg – all the industrial spaces being retrofitted as artist lofts. And the Cali-styled taqueria shop that was opening up with fresh avocados. It meant my world and my preference were traveling with me wherever I went. It was incredibly convenient and enjoyable.

This year is different because the climate is different. Not because it’s so humid that my ass looks like a swamp for those fortunate enough to walk behind me, but because the people who used to live in Brooklyn – before people like me started moving in – are finding their voice. Gentrification has been put on blast and it’s no longer possible to participate in the development of a new neighborhood without thinking of all the families that no longer call that place home.

I take pride in loving Brooklyn. It takes a certain type of person to be able to hang in this explosive city. The confidence in the world I get in walking the streets – so much diversity that people aren’t even talking about it (unlike SF where white folks will pat themselves on the back for being in a restaurant with more than 3 black people). It’s a badge of honor to walk around the streets of Brooklyn as a white person because it makes me fundamentally and unquestionably edgy and a part of a diverse landscape that ensures I am not a racist.

But what I consider edgy and self-esteem building is actually the removal of entire populations from neighborhoods to make room for my personal conquest in feeling better about myself. The displacement of people who didn’t go there for the muse of a hangar loft and exposed brick but because that’s where they grew up and where their parents grew up and where their parent’s parents grew up.

With the curiosity of the wealthy (and usually white) comes the high-end retail, increased rents, and – as if we are painting with a brush we remain ignorant to – the whiteness.

lululemon grabs a corner. Whole Foods pops up in Gowanus. And the coffee shops and $55 haircuts aren’t far behind. And I’m walking around in my Birks and $80 t-shirt having the time of my fucking life. Because I love all that shit. Development is good… it exists in all forms of life and who doesn’t want their awnings and storefronts replaced?

But this year is different because my wins are also someone else’s losses and it’s getting harder to ignore the fact that the world is entirely tilted to favor me. And I feel it as I walk from my place in Boerum Hill to Park Slope. There are several blocks where I am the only white person. People are looking at me and wondering if their street is next. If I’m going to park my Away suitcase in front of their steps and walk up to claim an apartment, bringing with me the plague of homogenizing neighborhoods and replacing family owned shops with hipster franchises and texting my friends, did you hear Prospect Heights got a Salt & Straw? 

Andrew Yang is talking about universal income. It’s a radical, socialist idea at this point but by next election cycle it won’t be about whether or not it’s a good idea, it’ll be a discussion as to how much. How much are we to provide for the people who we have taken everything from? The only people who would oppose this are the ones who already have everything. They see it as someone taking from them. Not considering the fact that they built everything they have on privilege and the backs of everyone else.

I was always raised to win. And I did. Fighting for what I want is my love language. And it made self-identity pretty damn easy. I show up. I compete. I win. But now I know the fights I’ve been engaged in haven’t been fair. I have all the resources. All the advantages before I even have to do anything of merit. And someone might say – just because you’re white doesn’t mean you don’t struggle and work hard – and sure, we are all somewhat responsible for our own circumstances. But if we’re comparing starting points then it’s humbling to acknowledge that the second a black or brown person walks into many rooms, they have already lost – no matter how hard they are willing to work.

And now what I want to know is – how can we all win? How can wealthy white people stop thinking they have the rights to everything they see? Where can we direct our attention so it’s more productive without being annoying white saviors who are still making everything about ourselves?

Because while we are claiming all cultures and all neighborhoods as our own, other people are forced to try and live a white life in order to earn positions of leadership so they can go back and save their communities.

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