by Thanu Yakupitiyage
Last week, I was sipping coffee and reading at a relatively new and very trendy joint in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, when in a matter of seconds, two individuals entered the lounge with a gun, and stole a customer’s laptop. The scenario happened so quickly that I didn’t even realize until the culprits were running across the street.
To be honest, I wasn’t too surprised that it had happened. This bohemian themed café sticks out like a sore thumb on this street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Walking by, it is hard not to notice through the big windows the number of young people with laptops. It is very much a display case of affluence and the changing racial composition of the neighborhood. I have seen folks stopping with interest to observe the pretty insides, looking at the menu, probably viewing the prices (not exactly your $2.00 sandwich at the corner store) and walking past. This mainly West Indian neighborhood is dangling on the edge of “hipness.”
The owners of the café are people of color from the neighborhood. When I asked one of the owner’s why they chose to open the café here, he said, that they had anticipated the area changing a lot, but it hadn’t happened as quickly as they had hoped. His remark reminded me of what a supermarket owner had said to me when I first moved to the neighborhood. Buying groceries late one night, the manager said that I would like living around here because it was changing. “There are more yuppies now. It is safer. And it is good for business.” The owners were also people of color, having owned the supermarket for some forty years.
It is extremely symbolic when locals start catering to newcomers, when people of color find that the best way to make profit is to turn towards the largely white gentry. It is like the creation of a tourist economy- with the logic being that if you can’t stop the new investment, join it. In the long run however, this upholds an on-going vicious cycle of alienating people of color, upholding the gentry, and creating yet more class stratification.