So I went to Brixton the other day with a friend of mine, doing what wannabe hipster folk do – eat spicy caribbean vegan wraps and eat vegan cupcakes after attending a little festival about afro hair. It was cool, it was chill, I felt a little bit cultured.
While on our way to get said vegan cupcakes, we ventured through the farmers market/hipstery restaurant bit. And I like farmers markets and rustic restaurants for all their organic, earthiness and whatnot. However, as I looked around amidst the mexican gourmet, vietnamese street food, and kitsch accessory stalls, I was shocked by the lack of black faces. And the very obvious abundance of white ones. With very obviously middle class accents. Was this Brixton? Had I clicked my size 5 Zara boots and ended up in Kansas aka Hampstead Heath? What was going on?
Real integration isn’t a bad thing. I have no issue with my white next door neighbour being my next door neighbour, even though he told my Dad to his negro face that he votes for UKIP because black folk are lazy and should go back to their country although he lives on one floor of a house the same size of the house that my Dad owns all 4 floors of. Yes, racism is irrational.
What I do have problems with is faux, shady integration. Which is pretty much the dish that black people have been served both here and in the USA for the past 50 years. Faux integration is technical integration with systematic economic segregation that ensures that no real integration actually occurs. I mean, it’s kind of smart really, isn’t it? Give people technical rights, take down the signs that say “no dogs, no Coloureds, no Irish”, but effectively orchestrate systems in terms of education, employment and housing that ensure said dogs/coloureds/Irish/ poor white folk are unable to live, work, dwell, or socialise amongst you.
(ETA: To those of you who read the above paragraph and interpret it as ‘she doesn’t like integration’, I really have nothing I can say apart from to ask you to read the paragraph again. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity but I honestly don’t understand how someone interprets that paragraph as ‘she doesn’t like white people’. Like, really?)
So, in the middle of Brixton, where the population used to be overwhelmingly black and working class, there are whole sections where young white middle class people hang out, but not with any of the people that made the place ‘cool’ and ‘vibrant’ in the first place. Nope, they set up communities of gated flats that locals cannot afford to buy. Local people have been evicted out of flats that they’ve lived in for ages to make room for these people. And social circles aren’t integrated.
I don’t expect rich white people to go out on searches to find working class black people to hang out with in a weird non-organic way, I just think the changes happening in Brixton and Peckham are sadly typical of a society that is very much segregated by class and race across the country and the capital. (As an aside, I think the gentrification of Brixton, Peckham, Harlem, the relentless promotion of Iggy Azalea and Sam Smith, the rock and roll take over of the 50’s, are all symptoms of the cultural vulturism that seems to be endemic to white middle class culture.)
To be honest, I would be lying if I said that gentrification in my hometown of Catford isn’t something that is slightly appealing to me. I’m not averse to my parent’s house price going up a little bit – for a pair of middle aged home owners, that’s probably a good thing. I’m not against the local Costa coffee that’s popped up down the road. Easy access to a soya hot chocolate is great.
But I need to be unselfish. I need to think about those around me who aren’t as privileged. Who won’t be able to afford to live in the places they’ve called home for many years. Who find a Waitrose popping up to replace the local Lidl. What about them?
There are solutions. Some councils such as Hackney, are working on making sure that local residents benefit from changes, and launching schemes that promote integration, but a lot more needs to be done. Maybe there need to be limitations on new developments, or maybe there need to be agreements made about businesses sponsoring community programs as part of contracts etc. I’m not sure. The real problem is deeper than individual councils though, it’s a nation wide, systematic problem with certain groups having access from birth to privileges that others grapple to get.
What do you guys think? Is gentrification positive? What are the negatives? What can be done?