Rules for Living (To Avoid Being a Gentrifier)

The brilliant Richard Hernandez has an article that must be read in full. It’s on trendy socialism, and how it redoubles the marginalization of the poor. It’s a great read.

But I was drawn up short by this part:
“….Alternet in an article that reads like parody but is written in dead earnest, offers 20 tips on how not to be a gentrifier. “Gentrification is the word of the day. As the wealthiest in this country flock to major metropolitan centers like San Francisco and New York, and the rest get pushed out into the margins, many people are asking, ‘Am I a gentrifier? Is it bad? Should I care?'” Having answered in the affirmative the article proceeds to dispense advice. The first four give a flavor of the rest:

1.Smile and say hi to your neighbors when you see them, even if they seem scary or don’t say hi back;

2. Recognize all the people outside of your door as your neighbors, even if they look different from you and live under different circumstances.

3. Change the way you perceive neighbors by changing the language you use to describe them.

4. Really think before you call the police.


I had to stop and re-read this because it makes no sense to me. Or rather, it makes so much sense it’s obvious, so obvious, why would anybody need this to be codified into rules for presumably well educated Americans to read in English so they can employ these tips? What kind of people have to be *told* to smile and say hi to the neighbors, to recognize the people in your neighborhood as your neighbors regardless of how they look? It seriously does not compute.

I went and looked at the original. In a couple of cases there’s a bit more context which kind of explains things- if the audience is 14 years old. In others, I am even more gobsmacked and baffled.

Number 4 goes on to explain more about calling the cops on your neighbours. For example, really, people need to be told loud music is not a great reason to call the police on your neighbours, especially if you haven’t talked to them first.

There are a couple valid points in the whole list. The good stuff could be summed up as ‘dont’ be a jerk.’ The bad stuff could be summed up as “Erase yourself and live as a mindless cog and source of money in a Marxist collective, and occasionally be willing to risk your safety.’

But apparently, adults in this strange culture need more specific information on how not to be jerks. Take the second item. In full, it says:

“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.”

I see no reason to accept the author’s implication that there’s something snooty about avoiding drug-dealers and corners drug dealers are known to frequent- after all, violence is also known to frequent drug deals. You know the black mothers who grew up in that neighborhood are not telling their black children to make sure they hang out at the drug deal spot and make friends, so why should anybody else?

I am not an amazing, remarkable person filled with the milk of human kindness beyond the lot of most humans. I’m an introverted cynic who has a distressing preference for snark over sweetness and who revels in having days with no human contact at all. Frankly, I’m a thoughtless jerk a lot more of the time than I wish.
When I know a single mom working three jobs, or only 1, or even, gasp, none, I am likely to invite her over for dinner and send her home with leftovers and maybe send over a home-made loaf of bread once in a while. If she lives in my neighbourhood, she is my neighbor like the sky is blue and God made little green apples and nobody has ever had to tell me that, and it’s not because I’ve got pretensions for being a St. Francis or Little Sisters of the Poor. Why does somebody need to point this out to the political left?

Migrant workers who might not speak any English? Been there- our first apartment was immediately next door to an apartment full of about a dozen migrant workers who didn’t speak English. Their snoring sometimes kept me up at night because the walls were thin. I am not a fan of illegal immigration. I smiled and said hi, or greeted them in Spanish when I saw them because I am a human rights activist and cultural warrior so pure and holy my feet don’t actually touch the earth okay, no, that’s not it at all, I smiled and greeted them as we passed because that’s simply what you do with your neighbors! It’s basic, or it’s supposed to be, common decency. Common decency, like common sense, seems to have gone the way of the dodo. Smiling, nodding, saying hi – it’s nothing! It’s not hard. It isn’t amazing, admirable, impressive or saintly. It definitely isn’t something a human adult should have to be told to do.

I haven’t lived in the same neighborhood as drug-dealers since I was in high school, at least not to my knowledge, and the same with prostitutes. When we lived in Japan, I did, however, once discover that if I lingered in my favourite shopping district after dark, it turned out that what I had naively thought were restaurants only open for dinner were bars with call-girls and they opened for business at night. I had shopped later than usual one day and was walking past one of them with my kids shortly after the club had opened for business and the working girls in the doorway dashed over to coo and gush over the kids (they were awfully cute kids, and one was a baby). I suddenly realized these young women were not ‘waitresses’ and I admit I had a moment of passing shock where I considered grabbing my kids and running followed immediately by a longer moment of sanity where I realized I didn’t run very fast anyway, and nobody was going to be harmed because a prostitute spent a few minutes gushing over my babies. I smiled and talked about the kids and their ages for a few moments and went on my way. I didn’t intentionally hang out after dark in the area after that because it’s not kindness but stupidity that ignores the potential of danger in a field not known for respect for women or the rule of law, but I didn’t freak out if I couldn’t avoid it, either, and I had a few more encounters along the same lines. It wasn’t the prostitutes that made me nervous, it was the possibility of being around during any potential altercations between crime bosses, pimps, johns, or other criminal elements. I put down my shock largely to the fact that I was just 24 and had not to my knowledge ever seen a call-girl before.

If this sounds like bragging or boasting, I’m failing to communicate here, but I think most of my readers will understand what I’m saying because most of you are like me- flawed humans who are more conscious of your own weaknesses and ugly spots than anybody else, but who simply do not have to be told, cannot even imagine an adult needing to be told, to say hi to your neighbours even if they are single parents, or have brown skin, or might not speak English. And I know what a jerk I am, so I really have very dark suspicions of the kind of person you are if you need to hear this when you are already a grown up.

Also, this: ‘…will give you later leverage to talk to them about changing their behavior and getting out of the life.’ Ew. You don’t say hey to your neighbours for leverage. Jerk.

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One Comment

  1. Elena
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Great commentary on that awful social trend of paternalistic idiocy mixed with the worst interpretation of socialism. I will never get why it’s trendy to live in dangerous areas nor the need to act like the world needs saving by us.

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