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December 4, 2008 / JV

Stuff White People Like: The A Train?

a_train

For all of my Brooklyn heads, or anyone who rides the A or the C train regularly —

Is Jay St Brooklyn’s version of the 59th St conundrum? I remember once upon a time I was watching something akin to Def Poetry Jam and this white dude was talking about what he called “the 59th street conundrum” — his observation that on the uptown A train, all the white people get off at 59th street. (next stop 125th). I rarely venture that far uptown so I’m not sure.

However, I’m willing to bet that at least 70% of the white people on any given car on the downtown A/C train will indeed get off the train when it reaches Jay St./Borough Hall. (Of course to then get on the F train, which is a disturbingly white train by the way, once it gets into Brooklyn.) When you ride the A or the C, play close attention. I have a game that I like to play where I guess when people will get off the train — so far, so good.

But I do admit I’m having to adjust lately. It seems like white people have this new contest that they’re participating in. They’re all competing to see who can stay on the A train the longest. Most of them are gone by Clinton-Washington (or Nostrand on express), but even at Utica there tend to be 1 or 2 stragglers. I guess they win.

I attribute this white people contest to the nouveau hipster.

Now I understand that not all white people are hipsters (or do I mean trendsters?), and probably not all white people are participating in this new game, but I’m talking about white people at large here. To echo Bernie Mac, I’m talkin’ about universal white people.
I kid.

hipster

I think hipsters have this need to prove that they are cultured and cosmopolitan, that they can traverse the metropolis without problems. They are post-everything, which is why they like to move to what might’ve been the hood (before they spread the word to their bros who pedaled over with kegs on their backs). They are post-white, post-class, even post-violence because they transcend all these things, they understand them, so they aren’t phased. Moving into the hood is also part of appropriating a working class aesthetic, which is a key hipster characteristic that Douglas Haddow mentions in his hilarious article Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization.

He writes:

The American Apparel V-neck shirt, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Parliament cigarettes are symbols and icons of working or revolutionary classes that have been appropriated by hipsterdom and drained of meaning. Ten years ago, a man wearing a plain V-neck tee and drinking a Pabst would never be accused of being a trend-follower. But in 2008, such things have become shameless clichés of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class.

Word.

So uh… what about the A train?

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22 Comments

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  1. G.D. / Dec 4 2008 10:38 pm

    Most of the whitefolks who are still on the A train after Jay get off at Hoyt. My old theory was that there was some invisible membrane around Franklin Avenue that would cause them to spontaneously combust if they passed through it. Maybe the membrane is on, like, Utica or something now.

    I moved from Bed-Stuy to Park Slope two months ago. It’s a complete culture shock. Fat free milk in bodegas (which are open all night). A surfeit of good restaurants (that actually deliver). But i’m always the only Negro on the train when I get off at Union. I still haven’t adjusted.

  2. the black scientist / Dec 5 2008 12:23 am

    i love how whitefolks is one word.
    the membrane theory may be true. it worries me though that soon it’ll be pushed back to howard beach or something.
    park slope does have some good eats. its crazy how much brooklyn changes in a matter of like.. 5 blocks.. i still make the mistake of believing the 24-hour awnings at various corner spots in my neighborhood. cookies at 2am just ain’t happenin’ in these parts.

  3. arabella / Jan 4 2009 12:02 am

    I’ve been watching this phenomenon too. I was born and raised in park slope, moved away for a bit and moved back only to find a very different neighborhood. Getting off my old F train at 7 ave and seeing a tanning salon was like whoa. I ended up leaving PS for stuy heights (so I’m off the A Utica stop) and YES, the white ppl are staying on and lots get off with me. I recently had a white friend get interested in bk for an apt (the recession hurts white ppl too I guess). He’s been to bk maybe once, and asked me which neighborhoods he should look into… I tried not to offend him but I didn’t want to send him anywhere he’d be a target so I told him to stay west of the Park, minus sunset park… I’ll be amazed if he actually ventures out here. I love love love BK and after living in the BX (no hate), I would not live anywhere else but MAN is it changing!!!!!!!

  4. Molly / Jan 7 2009 3:35 pm

    They may be “shameless clichés of a class of individuals that seek to escape their own wealth and privilege by immersing themselves in the aesthetic of the working class” or artists who need visual props in order to seem credible for other people in their industry. I am a designer and *not* coming off as a trendster often hurts my credibility in the eyes of other design professionals. I am just as uncomfortable with trendster culture, but don’t discount the fact that many of these whitefolks are creatives who need a “look” for professional reasons.

  5. the black scientist / Jan 8 2009 6:51 pm

    arabella – it’s funny when white friends move to brooklyn. it’s like ‘oh you know i love you but don’t move to my block’ lol. ‘stuy heights’ gets my motor running, because renaming neighborhoods in ny goes hand in hand with gentrification. ‘south’ harlem is ‘soha’ and you have stuy heights and whatever else, i try not to keep up.

    molly – this is actually really interesting, and i’m learning about it living in new york. looks have a lot to do with the way you’re received. i think this is true anywhere, but more so in new york, where everyone is trying to be something. i’m a dj but i also write and work at a desk and am a student so i stick to simple get ups, but i notice that certain ‘looks’ in certain situations make ppl seem more credible, or believable.

  6. Naima / Jan 28 2009 11:44 am

    Oh god, I’ve really been trying to wrap my head around gentrificiation lately. especially being apart of the “new wave” of black gentrifiers in bk. Where although I’m working class, I still benefit from certain privileges and am definitely aware of being so west coast in bedstuy. Anyway, it seems the way gentrification works – any black/brown neighborhood that isn’t completely affluent, I’d be apart of changing the face/nature/culture of the neighborhood, despite my supposed consciousness, despite being working class, despite being black, despite my own hometown (sf) being completely gentrified, etc..

    Yet i do get a bitter taste when the whitefolks get off the a and walk up to their brownstones, I like to think my own form of gentrification is different than theirs.

    oh and fyi – i’ve been seeing condos being built all throughout bedstuy, we better watch out!

  7. the black scientist / Jan 28 2009 6:34 pm

    naima – don’t quote me on this by any means, but from what i understand ‘your’ gentrification is different. i’ve been talking to some heads about ‘redlining’ and the creation of this phenomena where white bodies increase property value. while you moving to bedstuy may change the face/nature/culture of the neighborhood, businesses won’t follow you there (regardless of whether you’re working poor black or upper middle class) . i haven’t read up much on this, but with white people comes more expensive commodities, more businesses, and so on, because when *enough* of them move to a neighborhood, a whole lot of investment is to follow. and this, apparently, is what triggers what we’ve come to know as gentrification.

  8. C to the A / Mar 29 2009 9:53 pm

    You make a very good point. While I am from Texas, Austin to be exact. I see similar things with even greater “shameless” fronting. All this “post” talk about white people being beyond “this and that” wanting to embrace the “city” and Kerouac-like fraternizing with the “lower folk”, is a self-aggrandizement of the worst sorts. It is toying with disadvantage, what used to be called “slumming”, is now called “being hip”. What is so worse, that even though the Beat writers did not come up in poor and broken areas, they were at least authentic with their identify, even though one may question their fraternity with blacks. Anyway, this is nothing new, from the minstrel shows to the wigger movement in the suburbs, what 2pac said in his song White Man’s world is almost true. Yes, “they all wanna be us”. However, just for a moment and then they quickly step back into their trust fund secured lives.

  9. jos / Jul 12 2009 5:01 pm

    this is stupid

    • the black scientist / Jul 12 2009 10:24 pm

      i figured i’d approve your comment because i guess you should have the right to make a pointless statement if you feel like it (given that it’s not completely obnoxious). however, i strongly encourage you to actually say something worthwhile next time. at least give us the opportunity to discuss why ‘this is stupid’.

  10. chad nardine / Nov 14 2009 2:35 am

    Hello.My name is Chad.I really enjoy this post!Thought Id chime in to say That Im white and I have taken interest in Bed Stuy.I currently live in sunset park but will be trying to find my own place soon(to rent).Why Bed Stuy and why Sunset for that matter???I really am glad you asked.I moved from CA and went directly to Bay Ridge,I worked there.Living in bay ridge was uninspiring for me personly.People reaguarly yelled faggot out the car window at me(im straight and often was holding my girlfriends hand while this happened).They cat called my girlfriend while I was holding her hand.They yelled the “N word”at my black friends.They looked at me funny if I walked hand in hand with a girl much darker than me.And on and on and on…….so to my point.If I cant afford to live in fort greene or Clinton Hill and find many areas of bed stuy breath taking and am not looking at a move as an eventual pay off but rather what I will enjoy now,then why not?Whats the alternative?Move to Bensonhurst or back to bay ridge???Hell no!And come on…what would you say if I did choose bensonhurst over Bed Stuy?Look at the end of the day Im trying to make it in ny.I dont think ive progressed beyond class systems or race but being a musician whose played with people from all over ,black white latin gay straight man woman etc,I guess I feel my dream world would be one where we could all live amongst each other as well.I really have nothing to prove to anyone.I dont have a trust fund I dont make alot of money and the money I get goes towards my vinyl collection.So knowing all this what train station do you think I should get off at?

    • the black scientist / Nov 17 2009 6:00 pm

      hello chad. first i want to thank you for checking out the blog and sharing your thoughts. i really appreciate it and i hope you stick around. i don’t know if i can tell you what train station to get off at but we can talk about some other things going on in your post…

      – reading what you wrote, I find that for some reason you don’t acknowledge your privilege at all which i think is the first step in even beginning to approach life and all the situations it holds. i mean – first you moved from CA to NY which is no small move. Then from Bay Ridge to Sunset Park (and perhaps someplace in between). And now from Sunset Park to Bed Stuy because you like the way it looks. Moving is not only time consuming and expensive but mobility has been a privilege that certain groups have been historically excluded from having. A lot of people can’t leave their neighborhood, be it due to not having money, being a certain color, not speaking a particular language, or whatever. So the fact that you can move across the country (to try your hand at being a musician nonetheless – a risk only afforded to people with enough cushion to fail at it), and thousands of people died in New Orleans because they literally could not leave the city says a lot about color, mobility, class, and privilege.

      – i read you being uncomfortable with hate directed at your friends of color as a kind of ‘woe is me’ complaint. if we could all move whenever confronted with ignorance and violence, people would be relocating left and right i’m sure of it. to act entitled to NOT living in a neighborhood where you or your friends are sometimes harrassed (like many, many, many people do) is not an attitude worth empathizing with to me.

      – that moving to bensonhurst is kind of a joke to you is interesting. let’s talk about actually having options, acknowleding them, and being grateful for them.

      – spending $ on vinyl indicates expendable income. so let’s not paint that picture as though it’s dire.

      correct me if i’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem to me that you are really trying to look critically at gentrification, or at your position in the world and in this country as a straight white clearly-not-poor male. your ‘dream world’ is only possible with a LOT of work, but somehow i get the feeling that you want a great lot of different people to live on the same block without the work required to make that an equally harmonious situation for everyone.

      instead of asking me what stop you should get off at, you should ask yourself how you’re going to impact people, systems, cultures, and neighborhoods by getting off at each stop. who will have to move because their rent goes up by 30% next year? so far, i’m getting a very self-centered narrative from you and that is essentially the narrative that drives gentrification.

      and if you do decide to move to bed stuy, which it sounds like you kind of have already, ask yourself what you can do to contribute as little as possible to completely refashioning the face of the neighborhood. will you work in or near the neighborhood? will you buy your grocieries and goods there? which businesses are locally owned and which ones moved there right after you did? are you planning to participate in what’s around you or invite more of your friends to move by you so you have an accessible social circle that you’re comfortable with?

      the conversation of white people moving to black neighborhoods (which is basically what we’re talking about right now) is not simply about where people can and cannot afford to live. it’s about really thinking about the ways in which you — as an individual and as a part of a bigger trend — can deeply affect a place. Sure, you’re only thinking about what you will enjoy now but what about 5 years from now? and really.. what about other people?

  11. Chad / Nov 20 2009 10:32 am

    Great point and I agree totally with everything your saying.I mentioned considering Bed Stuy amongst other nabes but have not actually moved yet.I started actually asking questions about a year ago about what someone like myself could actually bring to a cummunity like Bed Stuy.I got alot of nice responces.Yes I could play a bigger role in the community than someone who simply just passes through from my home to park slope and back.But I guess the real problem is this.Lack of funds is a relative term.I certainly am not crying or looking for sympathy so please dont think that is what I was doing.Second,my message was quite self centered.I feel it had to be for you to get to know me.
    I have looked deeply at gentrification and I do see the pain it can cause.That is why Im considering this so deeply.So I have another question.Park slope and Fort Greene have been gentrified.Should someone moving there feel as gulty about gentrification as someone moving into a less gentrified area?

    • the black scientist / Nov 23 2009 5:14 pm

      guilt is not really a worthwhile emotion to me and certainly not what i’m trying to encourage. moving to neighborhoods that have already been gentrified is a little different because many of the people there (while maybe still black like fort greene, or latino in other neighborhoods, russian, and so on) are there because they are paying the hiked rents. so the probability of pushing people out is not as high as it would be if you were to move to a neighborhood where people could not afford to pay what you are willing to pay. you basically have to consider how big of a negative impact you will have on a place…

      • Chad / Dec 19 2009 12:35 am

        ……….big of a negative impact?Based on this discussion and discussions with people ive met and friends who live in bed stuy,clinton hill,crown heights etc,and the way i live in my own neighborhood I would say that the impact would overall be a positive one.What neighborhood do you live in?What kind of impact do you have on your nabe?I read up a little on your bio.Sounds interesting and whilst not totally appropriate for this blog……Id like to tell you that Id love to hear a dj mix of yours!

        • the black scientist / Dec 19 2009 9:23 pm

          i live in lefferts gardens bklyn. i change the look of the neighborhood, i’m sure. im living in a family-owned 2 unit building so im not sure how much of an impact my rent has on surrounding properties, although i would think it quite low. other than that, i shop at the grocery store across the street and take my occasional shirt to the ‘french cleaners’ across the street owned by a jamaican fellow who asks me what i study and tells me he usually doesn’t take one item at a time.

          i like my neighborhood.. i try to keep my ‘gentrification’ footprint small..

          in other news, i think i’ll link to my dj stuff on this blog soon.. so stick around :D

          • Chad / Dec 26 2009 11:06 pm

            Ahhhh…Ive actually never been to Lefferts Gardens.Thats south east of the Park?Interesting the point you made about living in a familily owned building.I see your point.I had a opportunity a while back to rent out a room in a privately owned 3 floor brownstone in Crown heights.I thought that would be a great way to move to the nabe as it would be a more communial situation and Id be supporting the owner who I know and like.Living here in sunset park I really like the grocery stores as they are much more affordable and the owners seem to actually live in the neighbourhood.Well Ill certainly be sticking around….looking foward to that link!

  12. Chad / Nov 20 2009 12:18 pm

    Also Id like to add that I dont think Im the only peron in this word to be made fun of or discriminated against.I also dont think Bay Ridge Bensonhurst or Dyker Heights are horrible places.I dont want to judge them on a whole.I just use them as examples of where id rather not live based on my experience.I do not have money to move right now so Im just visiting different places and talking to people.Ive met a lot of great people this way.I do look at gentrafication as more than just a more privllaged person moving int a less privallaged neighborhood.Look at some of the areas as they were before Robert Moses got a hold of them.Comunities begining to thrive and pull together just before being uprooted and sent elsewhere only to have to start all over again.I will never know what its like to be on the other end of this situation.That is why I try to ask these questions.Id at least like to try to become a little more concious.Yes my intentions begin as self serving ones(I would like to move based on my own needs )but that doesnt mean it has to end there.Your thoughts and blogs do help to enlighten me and give me alot more to consider.I appreciate that.

  13. RicanK / Apr 27 2010 1:42 am

    Don’t you white people feel like a target when you move to neighborhoods like Sunset Park? I mean they throw up colors and gang signs all over the place in areas like that. Why would you think its safe? You have got to know you are the first choice when that dope fiend gets desperate.

    • the black scientist / May 20 2010 2:48 pm

      you can’t be serious.

  14. normal white kid / May 18 2010 7:19 pm

    hipster is stupid.
    quit trying to be like every other “independent” and “non-conformer” to society because by being both of those things make you just like every other stupid white kid out there trying to be cool and have thier own style which doesnt exist.

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