Invasion of the Caucasian

by

06/04/2006

360 Bridge St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Fort Greene

Sitting in my first floor apartment window, people watching, it hits me (hard) that three out of the last five people who had just passed by were white. “When did this happen?” my daughter who had been out of the country for over a year asked in astonishment. It was her second day back in the states and in Brooklyn.

“It’s the invasion of the Caucasian,” I say to her, half in jest. I had heard the term used recently on a radio talk show during a discussion about the gentrification taking place in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. The changing demographics in Fort Greene first caught my attention while riding the number 54 bus. The 54, or Myrtle Avenue bus as it is called by some, starts out on Jay Street at the Metro Tech Center, loops around Tillary onto Flatbush Avenue and turns onto Myrtle Avenue. It stops at Prince Street, the second stop on its route, in front of a check cashing establishment and across the street from Ingersoll Houses. As the 54 proceeds along Myrtle Avenue, it stops in front of several New York City housing projects—Whitman Houses, Tompkins Houses, and Marcy Houses. So one can understand why, until recently, white people were a rare sight on the 54 bus. As rare as they once were on the A train traveling from Rockaway Queens to Harlem. But Caucasian sightings are being reported in Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem. And the A train gets them there.

I recall my teen years growing up in Sheepshead Bay. I used to take the Flatbush Avenue train. I thought nothing of being among the few black people who stayed on past the Franklin Avenue stop. By the time the train arrived at Flatbush Avenue, the last stop, the passengers would be almost all white. This was an anomaly that was lost on my youthful naivetŽ and would only have meaning years later. Indeed, some years later as white flight transformed Flatbush, Brooklyn into a black neighborhood, I always found it amusing when some unknowing white person stayed on the Flatbush train beyond Atlantic Avenue. I always felt compelled to tell them that they should have gotten off at the stop where all the whites made their exodus, and that they were headed into strictly black territory. I never said anything though, reckoning they would figure it out on their own. And if they did not panic and remained clear thinking, they could get off at the next stop and reverse the course of their personal histories. Watching the whitening of Fort Greene, it is interesting to note that it is not black flight that is at the root of the changing demographics there.

White people are accounting for about a large number of the riding passengers on the 54 bus. I find myself making mental notes of the stops they get off at. In so doing, I am able to pinpoint those enclaves in Fort Greene that the new homesteaders have made their home. Seeing them against the backdrop of graffiti marred walls is arresting. So is standing beside them in the neighborhood bodegas. Trying to figure out who they are and where they hail from is intriguing. They’re in the twenty to thirty something age group. It’s hard to pinpoint their socio-economic status. I think some of them take great pains to dress down. I’ve heard South Africans number largely among them. So now I’m thinking they are newly arrived immigrants. Appearing comfortable in these environs, they don’t seem half as curious about me as I am about them.

“I don’t like it,” my daughter whines. “This is where I grew up, and it doesn’t feel the same.” There is little I can say to soothe her. I have my own concerns. For the past six years I have sub-letted an apartment and was told by the owner that she wants to sell the apartment when my lease is up. Reality set in rather quickly. I know I will not be able to afford another apartment in Fort Greene, the neighborhood that I have grown jealously attached to. The willingness of the new homesteaders to pay exorbitant rents for closet-size apartments had pushed already rising rents in Fort Greene even higher. It’s over and out for me.

My world-travelled daughter had already sworn off Fort Greene and Brooklyn and even New York City. She talked excitedly about moving to New Jersey or Maryland. Quite frankly she informed me she had outgrown life in the hood. In the back of my mind, the thought of relocating to another state is starting to take hold. Too many times I’ve said there is no other neighborhood in New York City I would want to live if I were to move out of Fort Greene. Will I be forced to eat my words?

“Maybe white people are integrating into black neighborhoods because they want to relate to us,” I said to my daughter.

“They’re not trying to relate to me when they’re paying $850 for a studio” she responded. We broke up laughing trying to find the humor in a situation that made us uncomfortable. We allowed that there was very little relating going on. An invisible wall stood between the races. There is no eye contact, no words spoken, just quiet politeness. Beneath the silence, though, grumblings can be heard.

My daughter and I are walking to Sol, a stylish bar-restaurant on Dekalb Avenue. Two years ago, Sol used to be Claremont Lounge, a neighborhood bar. The conversation easily lead back to the changing neighborhood as we past a newly constructed apartment building. A warehouse had been turned into a 40-unit four-story structure. It’s not clear whether these units are rentals or coops. But I don’t even entertain the thought of getting an apartment in there, even though it’s right around the corner from where I now live and pending homelessness looms in my immediate future.

“They act like they were here first and we’re the intruders,” my daughter comments.

“And they don’t have any humility,” I chime in. “Not even when they walk by the projects.”

I’m even humble when I walk by the projects,” my daughter says.

The presence of white people in Fort Greene can only be a good thing I’m beginning to tell myself. Neighborhood businesses are investing in making their property more visually appealing. The New York Times is more readily available. Well-stocked green grocers are replacing broke-down fruit and vegetable stands. But best of all, I don’t have to wait forever for the 54 bus anymore. There appears to be more of them on that line now.

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