Posted on: October 29, 2014
I’m way too early, waiting for a group of hipsters I met at church to meet for brunch. And I’m feeling sick to my stomach, like I shouldn’t be here. This restaurant used to be an auto shop. You should have seen the beauties that would be parked out front, the size and shine of the rims, the incredible paint jobs. But then the owner couldn’t afford to stay in the area. He had to close up shop because someone made an offer on the building, someone who wanted to sell expensive tacos. Here I am, about to drink the koolaid and sit with a bunch of assholes who are gonna just take Instagrams of their food after they’ve staged the plate, mimosa, and their vegan clutch just right.
It’s called gentrification. Makes the whole damn thing sound sophisticated. Just a handful of years ago, this part of town was “the hood.” People - white people - didn’t live up here because it was too dangerous, too dark. But then white people started running out of places to live. They had to start moving into the run down houses on the east side. They had to start shopping at the ghetto grocery stores and stopping in the corner stores run by immigrants. It went from dangerous to cool real quick, from dark to light - dark to white.
What happens is the kinda-broke white kids start moving in and they get to know the neighbors. They start to realize that there’s a code, like don’t park in front of someone else’s house even if it’s a public street. Say hello when folks are sitting on their porches lest you be shunned. Don’t pay the transgender prostitutes any mind. They’ve got work to do and you hanging around with your jaw dropped is costing them money. Eventually, the kinda-broke white kids make friends with their black neighbors. And despite themselves, the black neighbors drop their guard and invite them to the block parties.
But eventually, the rich white kids catch on.
They move their tech start-ups to cheaper commercial spaces in what was once the dangerous part of town. They open up their bougie coffee shops and gourmet sandwich dives, and finally the kinda-broke white kids can get a job closer to where they live. But the rent’s going up every year. Organic is showing up at the grocery store, and stay-at-home moms are requesting the baby food they usually buy from Whole Foods. The micro-brewed IPAs are taking up the shelf space once reserved for Icehouse. The six pack of ramen noodles for a dollar are sitting next to some cinnamon-sprinkled pita chips that cost more than a pound of ground beef.
Those kinda-broke white kids start to resent the crokie-wearing, Sperry-footed, Land Rover-driving entrepreneurs, just like the black neighbors used to resent them. And all of a sudden, city government gives a damn about the playground getting a facelift. There’s festivals at the park, and more cops are patrolling the blocks. It’s finally starting to look good around here, but only because white people with more money are showing up. When it was people with less money - and before that, black people with less money - nothing got done. Cops turned a blind eye, unless a kid was busting a sag too low and hustling across the street. Then they had something to keep them entertained.
I’m feeling sick because gentrification isn’t just affecting the neighborhood where I live. It’s infiltrating my faith. There are apps for Jesus, guys. I’ve heard the preachers say that we have to make Christ relevant to the times. We have to use today’s technology to reach the lost. And when I put that check in the offering plate - or rather, make my tithe via PayPal - I can’t help but cringe when I realize it’s going toward a new sound system. I can’t help but imagine my Lord and Savior face-palming himself because he didn’t have a place to lay his head. He didn’t have a place to call home.
But as soon as the crew walks in, I’m all smiles and easing into conversation. I’m recommending the kimchi beef taco and fawning over the trailer a girl shows me of a Christian women’s conference she’s attending. She tells me I should come and shoots me the link via iMessage. The sweat erupts in my armpits when I read the pricetag and realize the cost is over half my rent. I’m trying my hardest to blend in, but I can’t afford their manicures or their perpetual Stitch Fixes. I don’t say enough can’t even’s to keep up. I don’t have an Etsy shop and I’m not internet famous. And I don’t think they care, but just being around them makes me care.
Because I’m the kinda-broke white kid.
The bill almost breaks my bank because someone decided we’ll just all split the bill equally, and three girls felt like each of their mimosas should also come with a bloody mary and some more tapas to share. After brunch, everybody wants to keep hanging out, keep drinking and talking about life and bringing Jesus glory, keep spending money I don’t have. And I have to politely decline for the hundredth time. And they’re starting to catch on. They’ll probably stop asking to hang. And I’ll probably stop asking them to come over.
When I get home, I plop down at my desk and look down at my open Bible. I’ve highlighted so many verses, written so many notes in the margins. I’ve copied so many of the words that Jesus is supposed to have spoken, the words in red, the words that bring life. But I can’t stand to look at it. I can’t stand that I’m being pushed out of my faith’s territory, and that my poor, brown, homeless savior is being replaced by someone whiter, someone richer, someone cooler than a man who died for a kingdom that didn’t come.
Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal
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