Never Going Back Home: The Silent Violence of Gentrification


Whenever I hear someone say they’re going back home to be with family, I can’t relate.

I wish I could.

My grandmother’s apartment was where my life happened in those crucial formative years. Before her passing in December of 2014, the landlords (I believe there was one changing of the guards) constantly tried to push her out of the apartment at the start of the migrate to Brooklyn trend.


An immigrant, in her senior years, looked like opportunity to them. They tried to confuse her, and sent several notices to vacate. These intimidation tactics are a very common practice. I guess no one wants people “all in their business”, so we don’t hear about this more. 


Thankfully she kept receipts for years, and could always prove she paid that random month they’d claim she didn’t pay from a year or more prior.


They were tricky, but my grandma knew what time it was and was never caught slippin’.

 

Ultimately (after her passing) they got the apartment, and finally renovated. I’m sure either a young professional couple, a group of artists or a young family are happy there on the corner of Ocean and Lincoln Road, surrounded by organic markets and gluten free options, looking out the window into Prospect Park as I often did.


When I find myself back in my old neighborhood on my way to smorgasburg or some local vinyl shop or a free concert in the park, it’s still strange.

It feels like a bond was broken.


I barely recognize the place. The people look at me like I’m the stranger, which I guess I am now.



Walking the streets I used to stomp with my friends, I feel like a ghost floating through a changed memory.


These feelings surprised me. They brought on this particular brand of sadness that was, up until that point, unknown to me.


I don’t see the Caribbean people I grew up with.

The old haunts are mostly gone.


It can feel like being in some gentrification version of The Truman Show.



Over lunch one day, I expressed my feelings of displacement to my friend Kevin.


As he often does, he said something profound.


I don’t remember the exact words, but it helped me to start practicing a different point of view.


Not being tethered to a certain address is its own brand of freedom, especially considering the impermanence of existence. 

I mean, if you really wanna get all big picture about it, which I often do.

Nothing here ever truly belongs to us anyway. 

Still, there are moments when I feel nostalgic for a place I called home. Despite the pain housed at that address and it being in the neighborhood that taught me the world is not safe, sometimes I wish I had somewhere to go back to.


The silent violence of gentrification for the African diaspora is like an existing trauma housed inside a new, more subtle one.

Many of us feel that displacement anyway, being black in America.

So it feels like a slap in the face when the places we migrate to and create culture, erase us from those spaces.

We’re still developing the language and the tools to cope and evolve as usual.

Thankfully, we always do.


Photo: AANA