The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Monday, June 1, 2015

If You're Gonna Start a Movement, You Gotta Have An Enemy

Some more Monday Morning analysis from the Q, that is one Monday later. The much watched and much linked "police action" at a ULURP meeting from a week and a half ago is below. Remember, last week the vote was finally held to begin a study. By an overwhelming margin of (I think) 24 to 6. At THAT meeting, the chant from protesters was "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," a reference to, I must say, a much more serious issue than disrupting community meetings. Some of the Concerned Citizens joined in. The below video is from the week prior's committee meeting. THAT arrest has been characterized by Alicia Boyd as police brutality. The cops weren't happy about that, as they were doing their best to take her out of the meeting without incident. Remember, the 71st was asking after CB9 committee chair Ben Edwards asked them to remove her so the Board could vote, which she was preventing by claiming, ironically, that she and others had not been "heard."All very surreal.

MTOPP clearly found the fuel for its engine. The anger is out there. It's real. But it's misplaced. Targeting the majority black, liberal community board means creating an enemy, but in my view, it's an enemy that doesn't exist. To fight them AND the all-black locally elected leadership (Adams, Hamilton, Richardson, Clarke, Cumbo, Eugene) you have to, apparently, paint them as Uncle Toms. To fight the Jewish Community's leadership (religious Chabad Jews make up a significant minority of CB9) you need to paint them as in-cahoots with the above, or worse, as having created secret deals to protect themselves. I was told by one protester, for instance, that I was "siding" with the Jews. And to fight the most-often white gentrifiers you must paint them as White with a capital "W" so that it includes everyone who has more money than you - even if they don't have more money than you because they're renting while you own a million-dollar home. Ignore the newcomers' politics, their story, the fact that they got priced out somewhere too. Forget that they purchased property legally from its rightful owner, or signed a lease in good faith. Ignore that it's the landlords, laughing their way to the bank while you fight CB9, who are the ones flouting the law. Forget that you personally have banked hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity as you fight those who helped buoy your house price. Forget creating unity or harmony or coalitions. This is about creating a tenor of anger and fear that assures you get whatever you want. Which is, apparently, nothing. Because by shutting down process and making enemies at every turn, it's unlikely you, MTOPP and allies, will get anything more than a pair of handcuffs and a legal nightmare. So much for goals.

There might come a day when these posts by the Q on race and class and wealth will become quaint, remembered as letters in an old drawer. Pull them out and reminisce about simpler, more - ahem - "assertive" days. But one thing will always strike me, remembering this time when the nation convulses with horror-anger-fear over its decades-long treatment of African-Americans post-King. Why in 2015, in this neighborhood, did it seem so vital to some to maintain blackness, a black neighborhood in name and deed, where even two generations ago it wasn't, where two generations from now it may not be? I ask this not to suggest the question is inherently wrong, but to try to answer the NEED for black neighborhoods, as opposed to them coming about by the natural racist order of things. Okay, now I'm being cynical. But seriously what IS a black neighborhood in an ever-changing City? If such neighborhoods were a consequence of people choosing NOT to live around blacks, then why is it wrong to have whites move back in? This question is rhetorical mind you, not intended to be quoted out of context. We all know this about money, and ultimately, money IS imbued with the predominant ideology. Which, as discussed before ad nauseum is...

And when I say Black Neighborhood, I mean Majority black. Significantly so. To some, such a place is space where black can be black, a black neighborhood, a REAL black neighborhood, a deserved or undeserved reputation in a borough of reputations and shifting demarcations, where even blackness comes in shades and attitude. Jazz or funk or rap. Martin or Malcolm or Louis. Baptist or Pentecostal or Christmas-only. Dirt poor or Bourgie or even, dare we say it, black and flat-out wealthy. In other words, even the protagonist is diverse. And if you're going to create a common enemy, you need to paint them sufficiently mean, organized and racist to warrant a coordinated broad-based attack. In other words, you need to L.I.E. (not the expressway - I mean you must concoct a narrative that isn't true). And that narrative goes like this: White People Are Taking Over Our Neighborhood. It's simple, it's clear, and the proof is all around us. The fact is...white people are MOVING to the neighborhood, and they're bringing with them their whiteness, their white money, and they're white ways. It's a fascinating thing to watch, really. All the pet dogs. The shorts and flip-flops on the men. The lines for brunch. The, god forbid, BLOGS!!

In racially de facto segregated America there can be no misinterpreting the color of a neighborhood. It is rare to have a truly diverse mix of races living together in relatively equal numbers - so exceedingly rare in fact that it is frequently remarked upon, right here in the Flat Bush. "I live in the most wonderfully diverse neighborhood" one might say at a social gathering. "What I love about my town is that it is truly diverse," said someone recently about Maplewood, NJ. But truth be told, at 55 % white and 35% black, Maplewood skews white in a big way, and it's getting whiter and richer. The most telling fact is that the median family income in M-wood is over $120,000 a year there. Even the exemplary racially diverse suburban town is not so economically diverse. Meaning, it's a lot less scary to the whites. Meaning, it's not what the Q experiences. Which is a block that spans from homeless to millionaire, Section 8 to Capital Gains.

Because the truly unusual thing about Central Brooklyn is the current 2015 demographics of racial AND economic diversity. We all know it, and can feel the tension and possibility inherent in it. It's not until brazen voices come right out and say it plain as day that it seems truly unsettling, because we live it every day and do our best to live in it gracefully and with dignity. All of us. Let's face it, some things about decrying the evils of the new colonialism don't really stand up to scrutiny. Because when you try to define diversity in terms of race AND wealth AND class at the same time, you run into a seemingly endless number of variables that confound categorization. And add to that a 4th distinction - renter/owner - and now your analysis is down for the count. Wait, how about a 5th? Rent-Stabilized-Renter/Market-Rate-Renter. Or a 6th. Coop-Condo-Owner/House-Owner. Earned money or inherited? Native New Yorker or Transplant? Advanced Education or High School? Professional, artist, entrepreneur, student, craftsperson, seeker, agnostic, devout follower, foreigner, new-gentrifier/old-gentrifier, Carribean, bi-racial, multi-racial, Section 8, househusband, unemployed, immigrant, single-mom, D.I.N.K., yuppy, Asian, undocumented, Latino, mixed-marriage, Jewish-Religious/Jewish-Secular, bald, fat, ugly...and anyway, who wants to know?

Then, as if raised like Golem from light brown clay, along comes a self-described activist ready to pigeonhole us all, neatly, us against them, All-Black vs. All-White, All-Rich vs. All-Poor, All-Jew vs. Not-Jew. Southern-Crown-Heights vs. Lefferts-Gardens vs. The Jewish Quarter. It's all a bit pat, a little unnerving don't you think? God forbid there be any miscegenation, any unassigned friendships, any latte-loving-blacks or Jerk-loving-whites. All of this from the mouth of someone entrenched in the zeitgeist, who contradicting herself wrote lovingly of the new bars and cafes on Airbnb, and who (at least on her internet profile) embraces the diversity as a child does her teddy.

Bullshit. Again I call bullshit.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Laws are being broken. Civil rights are being denied. Albany is laughing at us. People are hurting.

But if we learned anything from this nation's gravest and most tragic mistakes, it's that you don't succumb to bigotry even when it seems only fair, and historically called for. Eye for an eye. But listen up MTOPP. You don't get to take the moral high ground and race-bait. You don't get to save certain streets for certain people with certain characteristics. Just like we don't get to tell people who to sell our houses to, or how to raise their kids, or how to worship, or how to think or with whom to associate. Because when you do, you're as bad as the demons you're fighting, and the truth can't will out, and your message will crumble with each dissembling crusade.

But I digress. Nothing new there! The point here somewhere. Got it. It's a slippery one, definitely full of traps. Gotta be careful lest I articulate it a way that paints me insensitive. Wait, did I think that or write that?

Simply put, Boyd claims to speak for the black neighborhood that she imagines...not the one that exists. Clearly there are tons of black folk who want nothing to do with her, who don't relate to her, or frankly don't even care. Is she speaking for them? Clearly not. One might say that she's speaking now for everyone who WISHES they could speak up louder and angrier about whichever resentment gets them worked up.

And that's why it's dangerous. Standing in the room the other nights (last Tuesday and the one before it) as Boyd worked the room, I couldn't help but notice the sheer BREADTH of what she was trying to tap into. It wasn't just "sky-risers," a term that she seems to have coined for the "switch" of the bait-and-switch of a Planning Study with DCP. It was the anger of those whose apartments feel insecure, whose politics feel marginalized by the progressive City administration, whose Socialism feels energized by the current distress, or whose feminism feels disrespected by the men with the microphone - from Eric Adams and Bill de B to Jake Goldstein and yours truly and more.

Yes the neighborhood is getting whiter. It's also getting wealthier. It's also, and here's the irony, becoming MORE diverse. And while the fear of course is that we're headed towards a white nabe, there's precious little reason to believe it'll all happen tomorrow. It will take time, perhaps not a lot, but the Great City of NY will chip away at the neighborhood's current identity until it looks not only unlike what MTOPP wants, but unlike what LOTS of us want. Want now. Today. With 2015 economy, 2015 desires, 2015 trends. We may not recognize ourselves, but...if we don't take steps to retain our ECONOMIC diversity, we'll miss out on the one option we have to truly retain the livable NYC.

Not everyone subscribes to such black and white thinking. 


Alex said...

Let's also not forget that the issues she's fighting for have very little to do with zoning. Almost nothing, in fact, give our current, excessively permissive zoning. She's just trying to protect her $1M backyard. It's unnerving that she's basically willing to incite racial conflict for the sake of her personal property. I think that might be the definition of an a**hole.

Unknown said...

I had a good stoop talk with my neighbor and a CB9 member (both black men) about the recent vote, the antics of the past year and where things are heading in the future. They both spoke disgustedly and in almost embarrassed tones about how AB has injected race into what should have been a more dispassionate discussion among members of the community. It made me very proud and hopeful about the neighborhood that we were able to have such a frank conversation about race, class, the shittiness of Empire, population density etc. I don't think there are very many places in the world a white gentrifier has that kind of discussion with two black guys who have been residents for decades.

Paul Galloway said...

Angry people are angry: news at 11.

MTOPP's ability to get people to mobilize against their own self interest is impressive. They're taking a page from the highly successful Fox News playbook, i.e. "Keep the guvment outta my medicare!"

People who want to be scared/ angry will always find a target for said anger/ fear.

MikeF said...

When the underlying causes to gentrification cease to exist, gentrification will cease to exist.

News at 11.

Caucasian Please said...

Somewhere....On Kingston Avenue....

AB - "Ebony"
CS - " and Ivory"
AB - "go together in perfect harmony"
CS - "Nu Vas Machsta. My buildings are growing taller. Keep up the farshtunkuna protesting"
AB - "White people! just give me what I came for."
CS - "ok, ok, but mashuguna, lol, this place will be Chinese in 20 years."

Amy said...

I usually don't post, but I wonder if more of our neighborhood needs to step out of the meeting rooms and in to the streets. And then when they are in the streets, they need to look around at the beautiful neighborhood that is being created - not by any one class, ethnicity, age, race, sex, etc. etc. - but by all of us together. If they missed the Parkside Plaza opening earlier in May, the Lincoln Road beautification event a week ago and the Ocean Avenue event this past weekend, they missed out on experiencing the true richness of our diverse neighborhood! This past weekend there were grandmothers gardening next to 20-somethings... renters and home owners digging in the dirt together next to members of the local church... families of every shape, size and parental combination gardening next to young-and-hip singles, then sharing a drink and a snack... all the while neighborhood children ran, laughed, painted and planted together... See for yourself on our blog -

I hope now that some of the dust has settled from the CB9 meetings, we all can strive to find common ground and just speak to each other with an open mind and respect - whether it be about gardens and trees, Empire Blvd or whatever topic is on our minds.

Bob Marvin said...


This neighborhood has been the way you describe since well before I moved here 40 years ago--something I hope we. never loose.

babs said...

Agreed, Bob! I'd say this neighborhood is not being "created" - it already was (and continues to be) wonderful for all. Hopefully the divisiveness and rancor created by a small group of people will dissipate now that the issue is resolved.