Op-Ed: The Alliance of Gentrification and White Feminism

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When we think of gentrification, we think of the aftermath.

We look around and we see nicer buildings, new businesses, and new people moving in. Gentrification makes neighborhoods nicer, right? Wrong! Gentrification is not just about the end result, it is an extremely complicated and highly planned out process. It does not happen randomly but is the intentional and violent erasure of a native residents’ culture, businesses, homes, and peace of mind.

Saba Ethiopian Cuisine has stood on the same block in Seattle for more than 18 years. During this time, the owner, Workie Wubushet has put her heart and soul into her business. Saba is known for its Injera bread along with an assortment of beef, lamb, and vegetables. Saba is a Black-owned, immigrant-owned, and women-owned business that has become the ideal place to eat this East African delicacy. 

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Sadly though, as of the summer of 2018, Saba has been shut down due to a group of developers that want the space to build a housing complex in its place. Who would have known the the building where this lil’ ethiopian restaurant stood was worth $5.5 million! Even worse, Workie will not receive any financial reimbursement for being evicted and essentially left with nowhere to go. 

 The management company brought in to help push the tenant out by the property’s owners promised to help Workie find a new place to relocate (which they deny), and instead, she was scolded and taken advantage of. Whether it was due to her age, the fact that English is not her native tongue, because she is a smaller business owner, or simply because of her lack of legal knowledge. Workie never received the help she was promised and nothing was signed. This entire process was executed in quite an unethical and disrespectful manner possible. The company even went as far as to accuse Wubshet of not paying rent, despite the restaurant's payment receipts to prove otherwise.

Nearly two decades of hard work by this woman of color was wiped away, as if it never existed. It reeks of injustice how someone can build their roots only for them to be ripped straight out of the ground. The developers simply cared only about the potential money they could make, not the history or where people now evicted may go. They quite literally couldn’t care less where they end up. Gentrification is violence enacted on these small business owners of a neighborhood - it actively pushes them out and displaces them. Sometimes, this even leads to homelessness. 

Most of the time, after buildings of former businesses are demolished they become retail spaces that remain vacant for years and the worst part is how city governments allows this to continue. They're allowing the very culture and what attracts people to the city in the first place to be completely eradicated. Gentrification actively destroys businesses owned by POC, especially that of immigrants.

I’ve witnessed this myself growing up my whole life in Spanish Harlem also known as “El Barrio.” Gentrifiers have even attempted to rename the area to “SpaHa.”

If you look into the history of New York and of Harlem, you would learn that a lot of people of color were redlined into separate neighborhoods than white people. They were redlined into impoverished neighborhoods and were essentially excluded from white neighborhoods. Instead of letting that hinder them they took the ugliness in which was given to them and created something beautiful. They created the Harlem Renaissance and Spanish Harlem adorned with beautiful murals, which has essentially became a common place where Latinos can live in harmony. 

Gentrifiers have what I like to call Columbus Syndrome. They see our beautiful neighborhood and think they’ve discovered something completely new and as a result want to insert themselves. They return to the motherland and tell everyone of what they’ve found. More affluent people start to move into the neighborhood which causes rent to rise. Many people I know are forced to move out and up to the Bronx, the borough that is known for its high poverty rate (28.4% significantly higher than the other four boroughs). The Bronx has essentially become the word for a undesirable place, where the unwanted new Yorkers are condemned to be.

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 Also, several businesses that have been there for years are being replaced by new businesses or franchises. These businesses clearly don’t belong, attempting to squeeze themselves into our hood like a whale trying to fit into a pond. I can vividly remember walking down block and passing by the local taco spot and being able to smell the fresh tortillas hit the grill. Now, it is replaced with a Seven Eleven amongst businesses that are struggling to stay open as the days go by. Clearly, Gentrification has no respect for cultural norms or customs of the place it is invading. Slowly, but surely Harlem’s cultural and rich historical impact on the city of New York is being wiped away. 

Saba Ethiopian Cuisine, named after her daughter, a young black woman, seeing this restaurant going out of business is probably seeing the erasure of herself. The message is loud and clear “we don't want you here.”