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Monday, September 22nd, 2014

After Spike Lee Rips Into Gentrification, He Refuses to Back Down From Backlash

TCM Road To Hollywood / New YorkAfter Spike Lee ripped into the evils of gentrification with an expletive-filled rant about his native Brooklyn that touched many Black people around the country who have seen the same forces at work in their own communities, Lee has refused to back down following the predictable backlash that has come his way from white commentators.

Lee decried the insensitivities that many whites bring along with them when they gentrify a previously poor and Black neighborhood. He called it the “Christopher Columbus Syndrome,” describing whites who act like they are the first inhabitants of the neighborhood. His comments spread across social media like a forest fire and prompted a national discussions about the effects of gentrification.

“You can’t discover this! We been here,” Lee said on Tuesday at Pratt when he was asked about “the other side” of the gentrification debate, an issue that had been raised in recent articles in the New York Times and New York magazine. “You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherf***** African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in 19 motherf***** 68, and the mother***** people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherf***** house in nineteen-sixty-motherfuckin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get … outta here!”

On Wednesday, Lee told “Anderson Cooper 360″ that he’s not against new people moving into areas that were once predominantly poor and predominantly African-American.

“My problem is that when you move into a neighborhood, have some respect for the history, for the culture,” Lee said.

This is how he said it in his talk at Pratt Institute on Tuesday night.

“You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re Columbus and kill off the Native Americans,” he said. “Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.”

“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?” he continued. “The garbage wasn’t picked up every day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S. 20 was not good. P.S. 11. Rothschild 294. The police weren’t around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, 3 o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.”

But as far as Lee’s diatribe, Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, would have none of it. Moss told CNN that New York has seen an enormous recovery since 2001. He said the greatest change has been in Brooklyn, which has drawn newcomers because of its housing, access to Manhattan and improved safety.

“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. Obviously, he’s someone who knows how to make a movie but doesn’t know anything about cities.”

“Brooklyn has become more attractive to more people,” he added. “Of course, that means some people are going to have to find other places to live, but that’s the magic of New York. We create new places. Today, Bushwick, which was an area that people were afraid to go to, now has some of the best restaurants in the city.”

The New York Times investigated Lee’s claims about his father’s music and found that police have received 17 noise complaints—most of them from a woman who lived next door. This is a prime example of Lee’s point—a woman not even aware that the music was coming from a man who is not only a treasured institution in Brooklyn, but also a national treasure.

In his interview with Anderson Cooper, Lee didn’t dispute that gentrification raises home prices, but he wondered what happened to the people who are priced out of the neighborhood.

“There’s good. But what cost? 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 said.

“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 happen before gentrification? We’re still paying taxes. We’re still New Yorkers.”

About Nick Chiles

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author. He has written or co-written 12 books and won over a dozen major journalism awards during a journalism career that brought him to the Dallas Morning News, the Star-Ledger of New Jersey and New York Newsday, in addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief of Odyssey Couleur travel magazine.


  1. what happens to the ones who are pushed out of their neighbourhood by shiny and nice looking from every angle "stars"? they become palestinians.

  2. Respect to Spike Lee for his Comments on a issue I've seen my whole life.

  3. Fred Cotton says:

    Hope there is no doubt about the points made by Mr. Lee, many will criticize him for his point of view on this subject. What did happen that the sanitation, police, and schools were not given the attention like it is receiving today? The only time police came was to bash in the heads of the African- Americans living there in those turbulent times. Join in with Mr. Lee to show support and to demand investments in these areas while we still maintain occupancy in these communities.

  4. Some of us need to get a clue. Its silly to expect our former slave-master and their children to have any type of compassion, empathy, conscience, consideration, understanding, sympathy, culturally awareness or honorable intentions. Remember Spike They Stole us!!! If black people continue to take weak entertainers, politicians and pseudo activist/spiritual leaders that only speak to things that have little or no effect on the status quo then we'll get this type of stuff. Until we start owning instead of renting we'll always get shifted around like dust. He's not backing down from nothing because he has no financial interest involved.

  5. Neighborhoods are made up of people. If the services are bador the neighborhoods are dirty it is up to the people to clean it up.

  6. Marianne Park says:

    The person who made the nasty comment about Detroit has obviously never been there as gentrification is an issue

  7. Michael Hunter says:

    The People paid taxes in order to receive those services. Why should they then have to clean it up. Would you pay a maid to clean your house, only to come home and have to clean? Why should other neighborhoods get more services when we all pay the same tax?

  8. this is going on in Detroit to the whites are moving back in, thing will change for the better I hope but the Blacks that are here are not going any were that's for sure !

  9. this is going on in Detroit to the whites are moving back in, thing will change for the better I hope but the Blacks that are here are not going any were that's for sure !

  10. People of culture are the creators of the arts. We possess imagination and creativity far beyond the capabilities of the European RACE. Its been a race since their historical emergence. Every time that Europeans/descendants show up on the set, their intent is to conquer, steal, rape, pillage, re-direct and re-write his-story and ours.
    I agree with SPIKE LEE! Europen-Americans, their descendants and their sheep-like followers should learn to respect the inhabitants of the land upon witch they DESCEND! This is so much deeper than the obvious…..

    the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses. AS YOU CAN SEE…(THE BIBLE), (HIS-STORY), (GENESIS)…THEY ARE COMMITTING GENOCIDE REFERRING TO IT AS: DETERIORATING….. THE TRUE ORDER IS TO CONQUER!!!!!!!

  12. Lissette Cheng says:

    What nobody wants to say, is that gentrification can be fueled by racism, anti-semitism and other forms of prejudice. Kind of like a reverse "white flight" kind of phenomenon.

  13. Go, Spike. When your quoted critic can only come up with this–"Brooklyn has become more attractive to more people,” (Moss) added. “Of course, that means some people are going to have to find other places to live, but that’s the magic of New York. We create new places. Today, Bushwick, which was an area that people were afraid to go to, now has some of the best restaurants in the city.”–you're on the right track.

  14. Geleni Fontaine says:

    "People" were afraid to go to Bushwick, really? Let me guess which people are being referred to. Sick and tired of white "experts" unable to grasp beyond a privileged perspective what it means to be pushed out of one's own community because your life and culture are deemed undesirable.

  15. Lissette Cheng says:

    Right on Geleni & Eva!

  16. Lissette Cheng says:

    Right on Geleni & Eva!

  17. Geleni Fontaine says:

    Lissette Cheng – and what about the people who already live, and have long lived in Bushwick? Disregarded and invisible.

  18. Get 'em,Spike!Of course,the truth hurts,and the powers that be, are upset,that,he would dare speak out,and speak up for his Dad.

  19. Compare the affects of the "Sundown Town" with white gentrification of Black Communities!

  20. Lissette Cheng says:

    As a born & bred Brooklynite who's lived through all the changes, preach honey, preach!

  21. Lissette Cheng says:

    Mostly poor and working class Latinos and Blacks are the undesirables or whom the gentrifiers derogatorily call "leftovers". Hate entitled people – of all backgrounds!

  22. Lissette Cheng says:

    You can be financially well off, rich or even a billionaire and I have no issues with rich folks but when you start acting in that entitled, holier-than-thou, "I'm-better-than-you" or "you're-beneath-me" kind of attitude then YOU ARE CLEARLY THE PROBLEM!

  23. Willie Pagan says:

    the reality is to improve a neighborhood and increase investment there has to be a decrease in the black and an increase in the white… really quite simple… its called progress… like the author points out… want to remain a Detroit… stay black.

  24. Idiot

  25. We Love you Spike Lee !!! keep it moving!!

  26. These clowns laugh at you whether you contest their piracy or kiss their behinds. Parasites is what they are. It's taking place nation wide.

  27. As a resident of Fort Greene since Spike was a pup, I can only say Amen.

    Like the media to miss his points. And what about the Black political power lost when, as of the last census, 70,000 African descendant people have left Brooklyn in the previous decade. It's about respect, it's about power.

    When Whites move to other suburban towns, they try to FIT IN, not TAKE OVER! They can't just move in, they have to try to take over. It's called the ideology of White Supremacy!

    Douglass is still right. Agitate, Agitate, Agitate. We gotta start demanding again. It's the only thing that gets heard. And it's not just gentrification. Stand your ground, voter disenfranchisement, the cradle to prison pipeline…

    If we aren't careful, this will be a repeat of the post reconstruction period. Only some 30 years between the end of reconstruction and the Jim Crow, segregation, lynching that gave rise to the NAACP. It's now or after it gets much worse.

  28. Lynn Franklin says:

    The South Bronx was burned then the property warehoused and everybody knew it, many minority owners complained about the way Harlem was being gentrified and Brooklyn property owners were complaining about prospectors trying to harass them out of the areas,(also the eminent domain plan in downtown Bklyn). That was not "Magic" in NY, that was Planning by certain political entities who put profit before real established NY communities!

  29. Rashad Bumpy Good says:

    you know nothing of gentrification and how it works. The clear OUTLINING WHAT MAJORITY OF YOU PEOPLE REFUSE TO UNDERSTAND THAT GENTRIFICATION EXPOSED IS ECONOMIC PROSPERITY! Thats right. No strong tax hold in the black communities due to low wage and no WORK! Detroit prime example. Jobs moved out of the city to the suburbs Whites followed laid claim to locations with red tape and acquired the jobs for themselves and kept the neighborhoods white! No jobs = poverty with poverty = no taxes no taxes = no services which = low education then turns into crime. This is a proven fact! Still going on to this day. Prove it WRONG!

  30. Willie Pagan says:

    Rashad Bumpy Good … cant prove you wrong… you are indeed correct… like I said… its called progress…

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