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May 20, 2010 / JV

Stuff White People Like: Playing Guitar In Other People’s Neighborhoods

First order of business: rock and roll is black. blues is black. and it doesn’t get any blacker than american folk music. now that we’ve cleared up the simplest of things.

I live in Lefferts Gardens Brooklyn. This is on the east side of Prospect Park and situated kind of in between Crown Heights and Flatbush. I’m relatively new to the neighborhood, having been here for just under a year. When I moved here, it was quite unlike the west side of the park – a neighborhood known as Park Slope – where the demographic is mostly white and affluent. Lefferts was black, predominantly Caribbean, with some Italians and Chinese folks here and there (think Do The Right Thing).

Some very curious things have been happening as of late.

ONE. As I was coming home last week at around 2 in the morning, I exited the train to find a large group of white people gathered up the street. They were being loud, taking up space, and I kept asking myself “what is going on?” and “where did all these white people come from?” I crossed the street and examined closely, looking for some indication of why this was happening–a jam session that drifted outside of the park perhaps? As I looked through the bodies, I managed to make out the words on the building where a fish fry spot used to be


TWO. I was walking home last night, from the same area. Tavern on my left, two white girls discussing curtains on my right. As I came upon one of my favorite pizza places in the neighborhood, I heard the light strumming of strings. I looked up to find two white men, one in his 20s, the other probably in his 50s, playing guitars on the sidewalk. “What has caused these generations to band together?” I asked myself. Then, I looked passed them and realized they were standing in front of a new restaurant with nothing but white people inside of it. “Open sesame?” I wondered to myself.

So with this I ask, is playing guitar a way that white people claim space? When I saw those men, I couldn’t help but think that there was no better marker for whiteness, no bolder or more conscious indicator that white people had arrived. and in numbers large enough to feel comfortable claiming public space – in a manner as american as with the steel string guitar.

NEWSFLASH: You’re in Flatbush, Brooklyn, New York in top hats and vests playing folksy music. Your aesthetic and your sound are asking people like you who share your historical memories to long for the place where what you’re doing actually exists (SEE white rural america). Our nostalgias are not the same. You are trying to conjure a sense of (be)longing in the minds and hearts of the people you want to feel at home here. You are jacking off white people’s imaginations.

It’s one thing to be white and move to a black neighborhood. It’s another to open a business there. But need you really set up shop on the sidewalk and employ selective cultural cues to assert yourself? Come onnnn.

Visit white people, before white people visit you.



Leave a Comment
  1. Anthony / May 21 2010 2:36 am

    you wild for this one, B.

    • the black scientist / May 21 2010 10:11 am

      Hahaha i know fam, I haven’t been good for safe politics lately. It’s crazy though, if you could see the transformation just in the last month.

  2. Ana / May 25 2010 2:45 am

    All it takes is for there to be a first of the month. If we could just manage to skip that day, then maybe we could avoid white people moving in so steadily. Next order of business, top hats and vests.

  3. Fiqah / Jun 5 2010 10:00 pm

    This was hilarious. I think gentrification has different outward markers depending on the burrough. Uptown (Harlem, Washington Heights) it’s sitting on stoops with backpacks and Whole Foods bags. This makes spaces of color instantly reminiscent of Northeastern private college campus quads.

    • the black scientist / Jun 7 2010 6:08 pm

      It would be interesting to do a running list of indicators of gentrification in different hoods. Backpacks are def a big one, dogs too, I think. white people walking dogs.

  4. Chad / Sep 13 2010 6:27 pm

    The first thing white people ask about when they look to gentrify a nabe is,”is it safe to walk my dog there?”and when another white person tells them “no”.The next question is”how much longer till it is?”

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