The Welcoming Committee[1]

I lived in four different houses as a kid: city, suburbs, city and city again. I categorize my childhood based on the roof over my head: Sergeant Road ages 0-4, Walsh Lane ages 4-10, Crocus Place ages 10-14 and Osceola Ave ages 14-18. I associate each space with different physical memories. I think back to buckets of Barbies splayed across the basement floor on Walsh lane or the time my mom covered our lawn with fake pink flamingos for my 16th birthday on Osceola Ave. But, the truth is that those spaces were so much more than simply memories. The ownership of those spaces (or, rather my parents’ ownership) bestowed me with certain privileges—privileges of house.

News networks talk about gentrification in simple terms. They talk about the new Target going up in Eden Prairie or the Trader Joes groundbreaking on the corner of Lexington and Randolph. They speak of gentrification in terms of fact—what is happening. But, their acknowledgement of what is happening—what is changing and why—leaves out a broader picture. Certainly, this conversation disregards who is displaced when a new Starbucks comes to town. But, another part of the conversation they ignore is what systems are in place to allow for gentrification—displacement in the name of capitalism—to happen. Those systems are important. They determine who has agency in any given situation. Ignoring them makes it seem as though this is just how the world is. It ignores that there are active societal structures in the country that bar certain individuals from the privilege of homeownership.

We need to change the conversation. We need to name injustice. But, we also need to name privilege. For me to talk about gentrification and homeownership, I need to acknowledge the ways I have personally benefitted from it. And, that means far more than recalling the memories from my childhood. It means critically looking at my life as it is and asking: what about my house has affected my agency in this world? This means naming privilege—privilege of house.

Ways I have benefited from a roof and walls that is

recognized by the government:

  1. When my parents signed me up for kindergarten they could list a permanent address associated with a school district.
  2. The electoral process. I can request and absentee ballot to vote in the midterm elections because I am a legal resident of Ramsey County.
  3. Health and sanitation. I have access to a shower with running water and a toilet that flushes.
  4. When I want to be alone, I can be in my own personal space.
  5. My house is in proximity to public transportation easily allowing me to get to the grocery store.
  6. I can apply for student loans.
  7. When I go to sleep at night I am not afraid that someone will be forced to leave.
  8. I can invite someone a friend over and give them the address of my home.
  9. I can fill out the form with my address when applying for a government issued ID.
  10. As a child I could play capture the flag with my neighbors without local authorities or neighbors becoming concerned that I was up to no good.

We are America—America where Jurgis worked harder. America where Zora Neal Hurston moved North. America where Alice Paul owned a home.

But, we are also another America—America where Ossian Sweet was tried for murder for protecting his home from a white mob in Michigan. America where Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. America where every Indian nation has been stripped of their home and quarantined into meaningless pieces of land.

AMERICA, WHERE OWNING A HOME MEANS WINNING A GENETIC LOTTERY THAT BESTOWED YOU WITH RACE AND CLASS PRIVILEGE.

So, why doesn’t anybody talk about this? Why does media fail to acknowledge the systems at place that allow for gentrification to happen?

My family owns a home. We own that home because of a legacy that has privileged white, upper class people. A legacy that means that because of my race, the bank won’t sell us faulty loans. A legacy that means that because of my class, my family can pay off their mortgage. A legacy of America that mean says that if you work hard enough, you an own a home and be financial secure—if you are a certain kind of person.

Homeownership is written into American history. It is part of the American historical memory. Get a job. Work hard. Get married. Buy a home. Little Boxes.

The narrative of American history leaves out so much. It tells stories of triumph while leaving out stories of struggle. It is incomplete and crafted and artificial. BUT—media can change that. With media we have the ability to talk to real people who own homes and who don’t own homes, who are displacing and who are being displaced. We can ask people about their real, true experience living in this country at this point in time. Just as the history of America only tells one aspect of the real American story, only talking to people who have been displaced would ignore the larger systems at play. Creating a social movement requires acknowledging the problem, but also recognizing the systems at play creating the problem.[2]

I demand a campaign that tells an entire story—one that looks at the issue of gentrification from all angles. One that uses the power of media as a tool of communication to acknowledge both what is happening and why it’s happening. One that allows people to tell their stories—like mine of privilege and like others of marginalization.

This means talking. This means creating a brave space where people claim their privilege in addition to naming marginalization. This means actively engaging everyone. This means providing a forum where people can tell their stories and feel comfortable sharing them. Media can do that. With media we have the ability to record, preserve and share people’s stories. As content creators, we have the ability to curate who’s story we tell and why. As active participants in shaping the historical memory of America, we can choose to tell and share the stories that present an accurate, full representation of the issue at hand.

The image of America only tells a part of the story. With media, we can fill in the rest.

[1] I chose “The Welcoming Committee” as a reference to the character of Karl Linder in Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin In The Sun. It is meant to be a reference to my own historical privilege in the history of gentrification.

[2] Greg Bordowitz proved this effective in his use of silence in the ACT UP! campaign aimed at attacking the Reagan administration’s silence.

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One response »

  1. haircomestrouble says:

    Laurel, great comment! I like the way your manifesto is shaping up!

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