Recent studies and reports show that white people are on edge about the United States as a majority-minority nation.
One study shows just the mention of demographic changes creates anxiety. The white people who read those headlines were less likely to support immigration and other policies.
And then there’s gentrification, that’s the thing that a lot of white people do.
Gentrification is a dirty word that supposedly cleans up neighborhoods. It describes a process to change the character of neighborhoods and displace residents.
It happens in cities across the country and the world. Gentrification happens in white neighborhoods too by newcomers who aren’t white. But, many glaring examples of gentrification are in historically Black communities.
You can take a look at Washington, DC and see how the neighborhoods have changed with property values and taxes in the sky.
And recently, activists in Harlem beat back efforts to rename Harlem.
Now, I’m no fan of gentrification but I must ask some questions.
Are the feelings about the gentrification of Black and brown neighborhoods really that different from how white people feel about the United States?
You’ve heard what they say:
“Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”
“The American way of life needs to be protected from foreign influence.”
Those statements from white people agitate me. I don’t want to hear people with power and privileges talk about inches when they have yards.
But when I think about it, what people say about their neighborhood is a similar sentiment people have about the nation.
“Keep Harlem Harlem” and “Keep Alabama White” have different motives and morals but they share similarities too.
Black residents complain about more affluent people moving in and changing the neighborhood.
White people complain too about affluent people rising in numbers in the nation. To them, we are affluent in melanin and culture.
And to me, nationalism and “neighborhood-ism” make similar statements and sounds. The difference is in who makes them, how we hear them and where our sympathies lie.
But they are both concerns over the same fundamental issues — one’s place, prominence, economics, history, and culture.
It’s all about status change. And, whether the changes are intentional or incidental, the changes amount to the same ends.
But here’s the thing — no one group should own a neighborhood or the country.
The ownership of people, places, and things is imaginary.
White people who fear immigration and changing demographics should understand that’s how people in Harlem feel about their neighborhood being re-branded and gentrified.
And vice versa, the way a longtime Harlem resident feels about neighborhood change is how white people feel about changes in the country.
We could argue that both changes can bring renovations and improvements. I’m not sure we can reach consensus by saying which sentiment is better than the other.
But, two things are true, gentrified neighborhoods and a country of color are both realities. And often, the people who don’t want one of those realities oddly welcome the other.
But, we may need to expect and accept both realities.
A neighborhood that prices out residents is like an industry that prices out workers. Both scenarios create economic anxieties.
The sentiments that outsiders are taking over the neighborhood and the sentiment that outsiders are taking over the country aren’t that different.
Sociologists say this is how dominant groups feel and respond. They call it the group threat theory.
In this theory, the dominant group feels threatened when the numbers of another group increase. The groups then compete and the dominant group seeks to maintain its status and position.
Sometimes dominant groups maintain their position by violence and retaliation.
In the nation, we see an increase in hate groups and anti-immigration laws as violence and retaliation.
Or, in our neighborhoods, we see vandalism of new businesses and property as violence and retaliation.
This group threat theory is a reality on our streets and in our states. But we don’t seem to make the connections between these two phenomena.
So, I’d say we have to accept changes in our neighborhoods and in the nation.
Now, my critics will say I’m conflating two separate issues. And to that I say, let me conflate away because conflation isn’t always a bad thing. Conflation is how ideas have sex. And, the intercourse of ideas can lead to a discourse on the ideas.
If we find the sentiments are similar, then perhaps we have similar solutions.
We can’t look at our neighborhoods or the nation as a zero-sum. Life doesn’t have to be winner take all, or all-or-nothing.
People at all levels must learn to live together. People have to learn to expect and deal with change rather than retaliating, running, or becoming resentful.
Two ways groups can resolve conflict and anxiety is with intergroup contact and working together on a shared goal.
Intergroup contact is a code word for — don’t be an ass and get to know people different from you.
And when we see these feelings as similar, we might get a modicum of empathy.
Then we might see that we’re all humans. Humans do bad things and humans have bad reactions. But once we see each other as human and our reactions as human, then we have a chance to come together.
And, in our coming together we have a chance at change. Change is going to happen anyway. It might be easier if we look for the common good in the common ground.