20 Ways Not to Be a Gentrifier
Well, if you’re asking those questions, chances are low-income people of color in this country are expected to know your world: the world of wealthy, powerful and mostly white people. They’re expected to know everything about that world, lest they come off as uneducated, uncivilized or uncultured. Rarely does it go the other way around. Rarely do people with wealth and power learn about the low-income people of color: their cultures, aspirations and dreams for their own communities.
Moving into a neighborhood that has previously lacked political power and influence, and then using your power and influence to change that neighborhood to favor your tastes,while ignoring the tastes and culture of the people already living there, is categorically unfair. Doing so is what makes a person a gentrifier.
1. Smile and say hi to your neighbors when you see them, even if they seem scary or don’t say hi back. Sometimes it takes time to build a rapport and gain the trust of the community. And it’s important to remember that in many communities, saying hi is seen as a sign of respect, and not saying hi is a sign of disrespect.
2. Recognize all the people outside of your door as your neighbors, even if they look different from you and live under different circumstances. This includes single mothers with three jobs and migrant workers who might not speak any English, as well as the homeless people who sleep in the park, the drug dealers who sell outside the liquor store, and the prostitutes walking nearby streets. Treating all of these folks with respect and dignity from the beginning will give you later leverage to talk to them about changing their behavior and getting out of the life.
3. Change the way you perceive neighbors by changing the language you use to describe them. Think about the motivations for their actions. Instead of “that illegal immigrant standing on the corner all day” think “my neighbor (insert name here), who happens to be undocumented, stood out in the sun all day waiting for the chance to work so that he could send some money back to his family.” See if that doesn’t change your opinion of him.
7. Recognize most of the perpetrators of crime have also been the victims of a system you have most likely benefited from disproportionately.
8. See all of your new communities’ problems as opportunities for growth, creative problem solving and entrepreneurship. Refuse to complain about a problem unless you are willing to play an active, communal part in the solution.
9. Donate and/or volunteer at local organizations that build solidarity and add capacity to low-income communities of color.
10. Shop local and small. Go to the dive bars, hole in the wall restaurants and small mom and pop shops as often as the upscale restaurants, swanky bars, and boutiques.
11. If you are opening up a business, make sure your prices are within reach for the majority of people in the neighborhood you operate.
12. Hire locals, low-income folks, people of color and people from a variety of backgrounds. Take a chance on someone with low experience, but high potential. Hire someone who has been formerly incarcerated. Train some folks. Forgive them for not understanding the ins-and-outs of the workplace as quickly as you would like. If it doesn’t work out, clearly explain to them why and suggest some job training organizations that could help them develop the skills they need for the next job.
14. If you can, give to crowd-funded campaigns that support local projects. Encourage low-income folks to launch their own crowd-funded campaigns to help them go to college, get their car fixed so they can drive to work, buy a suit they can wear to an interview, or get a computer so they can pay attention to all that is going on in the community. Invest in your neighbors’ well being. A neighborhood where everyone’s needs are met is a safe neighborhood.
15. Identify your privileges. We all have them. Having a privilege is not necessarily the problem—it’s what you do with that privilege that counts. As an Afro-Latina woman, I am not who you would traditionally consider “privileged.” However, I do have some privileges in this society over people who have darker skin, less education, a less respected job or less money. When I am in situations when these things act in my favor, I use my privilege to enrich myself and the people around me. I mentor people. I try to find jobs and internships for people of color. I teach people how to navigate city services. I know whatever success I gain, I didn’t gain it on my own. I have a responsibility to the community that has facilitated my success to be a resource and asset to those people still trying to make it.
16. If you create a neighborhood organization, make sure the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the group is reflective of the neighborhood. Actively recruit members who have differing perspectives. Find translators that can help facilitate the recruitment and retention of non-English speakers. If there is another organization working in the neighborhood, ask them what they are doing and how you can help, not the other way around.
17. If you plan any major projects in the neighborhood, make sure you do active outreach, and seek the opinions of all your neighbors. Put in the extra effort to build a consensus and make sure your project is in line with the existing community’s goals.
18. Engage with the government and advocate on behalf of policies that benefit all the residents of your city, both those born and raised there and recent transplants. Support affordable housing, education funding, re-entry services, job training and placement programs.
19. Learn all that you can about the culture and history of your new home. Don’t assume that just because positive changes haven’t come to the community, that the community doesn’t want change. They do. They just lack the financial means, political savvy and/or free time it takes to make it happen. Asking your neighbors what’s been done before and what they want to see now can lead to neighborhood improvements that are inclusive of all perspectives—and your neighbors will be happy to finally get the help they need to make the improvements they’ve likely been dreaming of for years.
20. Fall in love with your new community, both for what it is and what it could be. Give your new neighbors the benefit of the doubt. Ask them how they’d like to be treated. Don’t be afraid. Be nice to each other. Build community and understanding.