Dear White Yuppie:
What’re you doing for the summer?
A fair number of my friends at Yale — many of them white — tell me that they plan on working in New York City this summer. Many of them sheepishly grin and say that they’re “selling their souls” to work in management consulting at McKinsey & Company or Goldman Sachs. Others say that they got an illustrious internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Whitney. They describe their plans to move to Queens or the Bronx because Midtown is too expensive.
Whenever they explain their summer plans, I usually smile and nod. I give them pointers on where to move. I tell them where the best Thai restaurant is and what the trendiest thrift stores are. I’d probably give you the same advice, because I’m, after all, a helpful person. However, a part of me cringes whenever I try to help my white friends adjust to city life.
Surely I’m glad my friends are staying in New York City for the summer because I want to hang out with them, right?
Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Young white professionals — like yourself — move into black and Latinx areas, displacing black and brown people in cities across this country. This makes me feel reluctant to help you move to a black neighborhood.
You see, I’m from Harlem, a historically black area in Manhattan. It’s home to the Apollo — an extremely famous black theater —and the site of the Harlem Renaissance. If you don’t know what any of these things are, I’d strongly encourage you to take an African American studies class instead of asking your only black friend to give you a history lesson.
In spite of this, many yuppies — many of them recent college graduates — have moved uptown to predominately black and Latinx neighborhoods in pursuit of “urban” living and cheaper rent. Many locally owned black bookstores and businesses have closed, and Barnes & Noble and American Eagles have cropped up in their place. I have to ask myself how helping you move will impact my community.
The reasons for gentrification are complex, but one reason is that elite universities want to expand their campuses to increase marketability. Many of Yale’s peer institutions, like Columbia University and New York University, have changed the demographics of their surrounding neighborhoods. In a recent article, Columbia student Joanna Xing described a protest last summer where 300 people opposed the construction of a new luxury apartment building in a mostly black and Latinx neighborhood. The expansion of Columbia’s medical school and other graduate programs has increased rents in surrounding areas and displaced native residents. Gentrification can also potentially increase crime and food scarcity, as tensions between the rich and poor worsen.
But gentrification is not limited to New York City. The construction of two new residential colleges highlights these tensions in New Haven. The stark contrast between the poverty of the New Haven community and the wealth of Yale University causes constant tension between Yale students and New Haven residents. From 2000 to 2015, the median household income in New Haven stayed at $31,000, but the median rent has increased by $300. It’s no wonder that crime often increases when demographic shifts have such drastic effects on housing costs. Yale tries to cover up the problem by sending us emails from Chief Ronnell Higgins and telling us to “stay safe” while fighting to avoid paying the taxes that could transform the community.
Can I convince you not to move to a large city or a predominately black area? Probably not. What I can do is ask that you end habits which contribute to the displacement of black and brown people living in urban communities. This includes supporting your local bodega instead of going to a 7-Eleven. Stop crossing the street because a black man is walking beside you. Start going to Black Lives Matter protests when cities increase police presence in your area in order to “protect” you. Still, I’m not going to pretend these are lasting solutions to a deeply rooted problem. Displacement in New York, New Haven, Chicago and other cities across the country is a real phenomenon, and no amount of bodega shopping is going to change that. Your urban studies degree won’t save our communities if you aren’t willing to do things to protect the people in my community. Think twice before you excitedly tell me about your new apartment in Astoria.
Isis Davis-Marks is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at email@example.com .