Film director Spike Lee's once blighted childhood Brooklyn neighborhood is cleaner, whiter, and safer than when he lived there — and he's not happy about it.
In a profanity-laced rant at New York's Pratt Institute in honor of Black History Month, Lee excoriated the gentrification of Fort Greene and other parts of the city that did not see services and schools improve until an influx of white "mother---kin' hipsters."
"You can't just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like, you're mother---kin' Columbus and kill off the Native Americans," he said, according to The New York Post.
Lee's tirade was directed at what he perceives as a loss of character and respect for ethnic neighborhoods. When younger, white people move in, they in turn push out generations of black people who helped shape a community's culture, he told the crowd. And he resents that police and garbage services didn't improve until whites arrived.
CNN reported parts
of Lee's expletive-filled rant.
"And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn't picked up every mother---kin' day when I was living in 165 Washington Park ... The police weren't around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o'clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something."
He went off on how white hipsters are trying to alter the community's landscape by doing things like complaining to police about the noise level from African drums played in Mount Morris Park — a neighborhood tradition for four decades — and objecting to a celebration honoring Michael Jackson because it might bring undesirables who litter.
Many longtime residents don't share Lee's views, according to The New York Times
. Faith Donaldson, 30, is raising her children in the same brownstone her parents' bought for $70,000. Despite weekly offers topping $1 million, Donaldson stays. She lauded the area's improvements, including the influx of white professionals, who she says have added diversity to the neighborhood.
Lee launched into his salty soliloquy after a black Brooklyn resident and business owner wanted to discuss the benefits of gentrification, noting that most of the new residents are "wonderful new neighbors," according to CNN.
Lee didn't allow the man, D.K. Smith, to respond, but Smith later told CNN he was glad his questions sparked a debate about gentrification, an issue affecting communities nationwide. He shared that the four-story brownstone his parents' bought in 1989 has skyrocketed in value, a direct result of gentrification.
"I'm black, and America is America," he said. "I don't need to moan and groan about it all the time. And some things are bigger than Bed-Stuy or Fort Greene or being black in Brooklyn. Gentrification is an issue everywhere. It gets right down to the whole economic scene with the super-rich, the 1 percent and then the other 99 percent of us.
"I'm personally tired of moaning and groaning about being black. Here's a case where it has its advantages — for the first time tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of blacks can participate in American wealth creation. My God, that's what this country is all about."
Lee acknowledged that gentrifying blighted neighborhoods is good for property values, but explained that he worries about what will become of those who are forced out.
"If we lose half of the African-American population, in my neighborhood, Fort Greene, and the schools become better, what happened to half the people that left?"
He also told CNN that he's infuriated that for generations, black residents received substandard services.
"I just find it interesting you have to have an influx of white New Yorkers to move into these neighborhoods for the services to go up, for the schools to be better," he told CNN. "They get better sanitation, get more police protection. Why didn't that happened before gentrification? We're still paying taxes. We're still New Yorkers."
New York University Urban Policy and Planning Professor Mitchell Moss told CNN that Lee may know how to make films but doesn't understand cities. New York City, and specifically Brooklyn, has seen a tremendous recovery since 2001, according to Moss.
"Cities don't stand still, and the cities that stand still are Detroit," Moss said. "So if Spike Lee wants to see a place where there is no gentrification, he'll also find a place where there are no investments."
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