Spike Lee Speaks His Mind…Again. This time it’s on Gentrification.

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Filmmaker Spike Lee was giving a talk in Brooklyn and took serious issue with gentrification and white people moving in without showing respect.  This led to a rant that recieved quite a bit of national media attention, with Lee going onto television to explain himself.  NYMag.com published his rant, and we wanted to see what you think about it.

(The views expressed here by Spike Lee do not represent WHUR-FM or Howard University. They are reprinted here in this public forum for discussion and debate)

Here is what Lee had to say:

Whites, because they have more wealth than African Americans, have long been able to move into struggling black neighborhoods to buy the real estate, often pushing the prices of housing so high that they are no longer affordable.  Since African Americans don’t have as much wealth as whites, due to slavery and oppression, blacks are often defenseless against this form of economic imperialism.

Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. 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? 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, three o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.

[Audience member: And I don’t dispute that … ]

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And even more. Let me kill you some more.

[Audience member: Can I talk about something?]

Not yet.

Then comes the Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing 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 nineteen-sixty-eight, and the 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 house in nineteen-sixty-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get outta here!

Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. 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.

You can’t just — here’s another thing: When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!

I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now things gotta change because you’re here? Get outta here. Can’t do that!

And then! [to audience member] Whoa whoa whoa. And then! So you’re talking about the people’s property change? But what about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore! You can’t afford it. People want to live in Fort Greene. People wanna live in Clinton Hill. The Lower East Side, they move to Williamsburg, they can’t even afford Williamsburg now because of hipsters. What do they call Bushwick now? What’s the word? [Audience: East Williamsburg]

That’s another thing: These real estate are changing names! Stuyvestant Heights? 110th to 125th, there’s another name for Harlem. What is it? What? What is it? No, no, not Morningside Heights. There’s a new one. [Audience: SpaHa] What is that? How you changin’ names?

And we had the crystal ball, Do the Right Thing with John Savage’s character, when he rolled his bike over Buggin’ Out’s sneaker. I wrote that script in 1988. He was the first one. How you walking around Brooklyn with a Larry Bird jersey on? You can’t do that. Not in Bed Stuy.

So, look, you might say, “Well, there’s more police protection. The public schools are better.” Why are the public schools better? First of all, everybody can’t afford — even if you have money it’s still hard to get your kids into private school. Everybody wants to go to Saint Ann’s — you can’t get into Saint Ann’s. You can’t get into Friends. What’s the other one? In Brooklyn Heights. Packer. If you can’t get your child into there … It’s crazy. There’s a business now where people — you pay — people don’t even have kids yet and they’re taking this course about how to get your kid into private school. I’m not lying! If you can’t get your kid into private school and you’re white here, what’s the next best thing? All right, now we’re gonna go to public schools.

So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!


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