Spike Lee and His Gentrification Rant

Spike Lee sure knows how to catch headlines. This time, it has to do with something besides Kickstarter campaigns and making strange movies: gentrification.

Spike Lee was at Pratt Institute for a lecture in honor of African American History Month. Being encircled by people that call Brooklyn “their home” (whether old or new), he was nearly asked a question about “the other side” that inhabit the area. With much interruption, Lee took over the conversation to go on a rant that would lead to epic proportions (at least for a couple of days or so):

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


Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfuckin’ 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 motherfuckin’ 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 motherfuckin’ Westminster Dog Show. There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!

(note: this is an excerpt from that said rant. To see what he was referring to, go read “Argument Over a Brownstone Neighborhood” and New York’s “Is Gentrification All Bad?”)

To be honest, he has a point.

spike-lee-gentrification-rant (1)Yet, there are some things that we need to consider before we totally commit to Spike Lee’s side of the coin flipping.

What Spike Lee is correct about

There are some downsides to gentrification. For one, gentrification causes problems for those that have established a community just to see it torn apart as they are displaced – either by choice or compulsion – to move to other housing that is less desirable [1]. Think about it: would you want to move to a new neighborhood that isn’t as good as the previous? Another issue is the situation of remaining behind to pay higher rents in a neighborhood they no longer feel is their own [2]. So, there are some issues to consider.

What Spike Lee needs to consider

As all of his gripes and complaints are on point, Spike Lee also needs to consider the residents lack of desire to improve their situation. I just want to point out gentrification does improve some neighborhoods. People can complain all they want, but what does it matter if they were not doing what they should for their community? Why complain about the loss of culture and whatnot if, culturally, you didn’t cultivate anything in the neighborhood that sustained livable conditions? If you are not doing something worthwhile with what you have, then maybe the next person should have it.

Thus, we need to do our own research and see where the situation really is. Spike Lee has valid points. However, we also need to consider the counterpoints. Gentrification is a difficult issue to tackle. Hell, I didn’t bring up both TOTAL sides of the argument myself (on purpose). As a reader and person of interest in issues, let us find answers and true understanding before we take any side.