Been waiting for this for some time. Watch and listen as Cav previews CHIEF. Please know/trust that the album (and its presentation) will impress, inspire, and awaken even the most jaded among us.
by Michael Angelo Tumbarello aka Baje One.
He’s mad. Now some of you are mad. Now I’m mad that you’re mad.
I need to chime in here. As many of you already heard, on Tuesday Spike Lee delivered an eloquent and angry treatise against gentrification in his hometown of Brooklyn (see way down below for the audio interview). Anyway, a friend posted the link on the facebook, and I listened, and I laughed my ass off. I also identified strongly with Mr. Lee – what he’s saying is funny to me because it’s true to me. As someone who grew up in Brooklyn and who saw his own neighborhood change drastically through the process of gentrification, I can relate to the anger and frustration in his message. As a white man my perspective is fundamentally different – my neighborhood flipped over the course of my lifetime and filled up with people who look (more or less) like me, while the opposite is true for Spike Lee and millions of other people of color who were born and raised in NYC, a place where every year more and more non-white, non-rich people are being pushed to the (literal) margins of this town.
So yeah. I’m white and Spike Lee is black. Duh. But when I hear him speak I feel like we are on the same team, and I guess that’s what I really want to say here. Everything he said in that speech, I’ve said myself during conversations with friends and family about the state of our fair city. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife about how many “rants” she’s had to endure. Why? Because “Christopher Columbus syndrome” is a real fucking thing, and many newly arriving white people in Brooklyn seem to be experiencing this disease in its advanced stages.
As many of you may also have read, Spike Lee’s former Fort Greene home and the neighboring building were both vandalized on Thursday, clearly in response to the gentrification comments that Lee made during the “rant.” (I’m putting that word in quotes because it’s a fucked up word that the media likes to use to simplify people and their viewpoints. It’s a word that often takes people’s LEGITIMATE, HONEST, WELL-DESERVED anger and trivializes it. This trivialization is a thing that the American media loves doing to people who are either a) not white b) not rich c) not Christian d) not straight etc. etc. etc and the list goes on.
A quick google search for “Spike Lee rant” yields an untold amount of white backlash, so much so that I’m surprised to see that a broken window and a little graffiti were the only immediate responses to Mr. Lee’s comments. God willing there won’t be any further reprisals. But this heap of backlash raises some serious questions: “Can’t he just be angry? Can’t he just be angry without our (white people’s) permission? And why can’t we just accept his frustration as being legitimate and worthy of our serious consideration?”
I know, I know, people write entire books in trying to answer these questions, and I have plenty of theories of my own. But I guess what I want to say here is – if you’re mad at Spike Lee then you should be mad at me too. Because the way he feels is the way I feel. If you hate him, then you should hate me too. But it won’t be simple for you. You can’t hate me just because I’m black, because I, my friends, am as white as the day is long. You’ll need another reason.
Those of you who live in Brooklyn but are not from here ought to know that those of us who WERE born here often have to go on serious and extensive personal journeys in learning how to not want to constantly punch all of you in the face. In all seriousness, I would like to thank all of you personally for leading me towards the spiritual concepts of radical acceptance and love for all mankind. That said, sometimes I want to put a fucking brick through the window of the newest store in my neighborhood that was opened by a trustfund baby from Oregon that sells artisanal fucking whatever the fuck for prices that I could never possibly afford to people who look like they’ve never ever ever in their frail and privileged lives had to respond to the word “No.”
Forgive me. That was out of line. But the thing is, it be’s like that sometimes. Anger happens. Are you interested in knowing more about why I’m mad? If so, continue on. If not, thanks for making it this far, please don’t tag up my stoop and please leave my neighbors out of this.
I’m mad because I’m tired of white people from out of town who assume that we are on the same team. If you don’t think Spike Lee is on to something, I beg to differ. He complains that white people like to come into neighborhoods, act like they’ve “discovered” the place, and then start working to change the culture immediately with little or no respect for the way things were. I’ll offer a simple example from a party I was at recently that illustrates this point.
I meet this white guy, a friend of a friend, and we start talking. He’s not from Brooklyn. I ask where does he live. Bushwick. “Oh,” I say, “I like it out there. I have some friends out there.” The guy leans in, he’s a little tipsy, and he says “I like it ok. I could deal without all the colorful murals dedicated to dead drug dealers though.”
Damn homie. Did you ever consider that maybe those “drug dealers” weren’t drug dealers? Did you ever consider that painting a colorful mural might be a way to birth something beautiful out of the seemingly senseless tragedy of losing a friend or family member so prematurely? Did you ever consider the contribution that those splashes of color make to the lives and psyches of people who grow up and live in a place as extremely urban as Bushwick? Have you ever considered the basic notion that public space means different things to different people?
I didn’t say any of this, and my silence that night and on other nights is probably why I’m writing this now. What I did: I wrapped that conversation up and walked away. After all, I came out to have a good time, not to civilize this guy. But damn, the thing is – I hear shit like that ALL THE TIME from white people who think that because we both have flannel shirts on that somehow that means we are on the same team. From now on, please don’t whisper your white secrets to me.
Another quick example. My friend Shaka, a former student of Spike Lee’s in fact, recently made a movie called Newlyweeds. If you haven’t seen it, you really should, it’s on Netflix. It’s a dark and funny love story, a meditation on the tragic comedy of chemical dependency, and it all takes place in Brooklyn. It was written and directed and edited and scored etc. by people from Brooklyn. I remember reading reviews when it first premiered, and I remember one review in particular that criticized the film for not engaging with “white Brooklyn”. It seemed that the writer was incensed at the notion that anyone could tell a story about Brooklyn without the story being about “the new (white) Brooklyn.” The implication is that the culture of Brooklyn is something that has to be brought in from the outside, that culture has to be imposed. That said, Spike Lee’s comparison between gentrification and colonization/imperialism makes perfect, logical sense to me.
Listen, don’t get so defensive. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. It’s none of our faults for being ignorant to other people’s perspectives. HOWEVER, it IS very much our fault if we remain ignorant in the face of ideas that allow us the opportunity to escape from the prisons of our own limited perspectives by embracing the ideas of people who come from different walks of life.
Gentrification is nothing if not a highly complex issue. Another friend of mine, Avi, was recently interviewed on NPR as the face of the new “median class”, those people who are living in families making the city’s median income. My friend and his wife (both white) recently moved to Brooklyn from Nashville, and they got a nice floor-through apartment in Bed Stuy. In the interview my friend speaks honestly about his situation. Him and his wife pay $2000 a month in rent. They live a pretty modest lifestyle, they occasionally splurge on a nice meal at a restaurant, and at the rate they are earning/saving and the direction of the housing market, they will never be able to afford to buy a house in Bed Stuy, as much as they would like to.
Here’s one way this could go, based on what I saw happen in Park Slope: My friends will participate in the process of gentrification. Their presence will encourage more white people to move on to their (mostly black) block. Coffee shops, grocery stores, bars, venues, and other businesses will open up that cater to the new white residents. Train service will improve. The police and other government officials will pay more attention to the area. Potholes will disappear sooner. The schools will get better. Blocks will be designated as historic districts. Old buildings will be ripped down. Condos will come up. Tenants paying “old market” rents will be forced out through landlord neglect. And one fine day, my friends will look left and look right and all their neighbors will be white people of the ruling class. Then they’ll move to East New York. And round and round we go, until New York turns into Paris.
One day I’ll be forced to move out of my family-owned house in Park Slope. And when that happens me and my wife will probably move to another neighborhood in Brooklyn, and we will probably try to buy a house of our own. And when that happens, I’m probably going to have the world’s biggest chip on my shoulder, because I don’t want to gentrify. But other than leaving the city where I was born, what choice will I have? This is the system in which we live. We have a runaway housing market with next to no regulation, and we live in an advanced capitalist society based on Social Darwinism where the winners are taught to never apologize.
What can we do? At the very least, at the absolute minimum we can listen to one another. We will never learn if we continue to dismiss people simply because we don’t like what they are saying.
So. Dear white people, please try to hear this: Spike Lee and other American nonwhite, radical artists and intellectuals aren’t anti-white. They’re not out to kill white people. If they were, they would go to Kmart, buy some guns and go out in a blaze like any of the other mass killers in recent memory. It strikes me that Spike Lee, like other humanists in the tradition, is seeking to humanize people who have been made something less than human by our having been force-fed a perspective on the world that always always always places ourselves and our interests directly in the center and relegates the ideas, traditions, and lives of nonwhite people to the margins.
If Spike Lee’s ideas about gentrification are jarring and difficult for you to digest, that’s fantastic news. THAT’S EXACTLY THE FUCKING POINT. Here is a man who’s made a career out of grabbing you by the face with both hands, and not-so-gently turning your gaze towards the things that you don’t want to see but which are nonetheless very real despite the fact that they exist outside of your normal, everyday field of vision. Spike Lee asks us, invites us, challenges us, screams at us to look at what is happening at the margins.
So that uncomfortable feeling that you’re experiencing, that feeling of indigestion that you get when you allow yourself to stop being a self-absorbed asshole for 60 seconds and truly consider the legitimacy of another human being’s anger and frustration, well that right there is your opportunity to grow. You’re welcome. But don’t thank me, thank Spike Lee.
Michael Angelo Tumbarello (aka Baje One) is an armchair cultural critic and a real-life cultural contributor. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.
From Cav: “Just cause I make a lot of songs that no one hears..”
This disappeared from the interweb due to some copyright bullshit. But apparently it’s back now, which is cool, because this lil mashup takes the song to another level. Peace to PURRTYPOMPUSSPURRVERT for the upload. Hopefully it’ll stay on youtube forever and ever this time.
Instrumental vibez from Joey Dove for your new years. ‘Njoy. Dove says: *some of these are old beats of mine slowed down a ton. some are beats from peoples albums. some are just unreleased beats i had on my hard drive*
Produced by Scott Thorough motherfuckers! I like how they put this track out LAST holiday season then put the video out THIS season. Oh, and get the song for free here.
Come see Tone and a whole billfull of his fellow luminaries (Homeboy Sandman, Open Mike Eagle, YC The Cynic, & I Am Many) in NYC at the Gramercy Theatre on Saturday January 18th. Tikkies here.
Probe and Kool Keith made a song together. Fucking crazy. And totally logical. Best Thursday Ever made the beat. Which means that Snafu, Scott Thorough & J. Howells Werthman made the beat.
Off the assembly…built in sweatshops. I remember performing this song with Pete in London in 2006 and that was a very good night. By the way, rumor has it that a deluxe re-iussue of LOST is coming out soon with some never before heard tracks on it. Just saying…
A song for a friend. R.I.P. Lucy.