I love Bruno Mars. He is both a wonderful singer and entertainer. In the 2014 Super Bowl, his halftime show was the one thing that held my attention. Bruno Mars has incorporated the best of Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Prince to bring his brand of neo-funk to the party. Today, his hit song, “Uptown Funk” has become an earworm for me. I can’t get it out of my head and find myself constantly humming, “Don’t believe me just watch!” But this blog is not about Bruno Mars. It’s about what happens when the funk leaves uptown.
Because of my work I am constantly traveling and I can see the way developers, investors, and hipsters are taking over the cities, communities, and neighborhoods that were once iconic Black spaces to create upscale, exorbitantly expensive neighborhoods that displace the people whose blood, sweat, and tears created those communities. I predicted and then witnessed what happened in post-Katrina New Orleans. Instead of the funky, very African place we’ve known as the Crescent City, we now have an expensive, lower density city that is clearly “less Black” than its pre-Katrina days. Its schools are run by and filled with White administrators and teachers (since all of the Black pre-Katrina teachers were fired).
But, it’s not just New Orleans that we could argue was changed by special circumstances. The District of Columbia is no longer truly “Chocolate City.” What was once a city with an almost 70% Black population now has a Black population that has slipped below 50%. It is also an extremely expensive city in which to live so fewer Black families will be moving to it.
And, have you seen what has happened to Harlem? Once the mecca of Black life and culture, Harlem, NY is fully 30% White. The rents and property costs are through the roof and the ability to maintain it as a mixed income community is slipping away. Last summer I was there for a meeting, had dinner at the “hot” Red Rooster Restaurant and could not get over how many White people were in the restaurant, strolling along the sidewalk, and lined up outside the Apollo Theater at almost 10 o’clock at night. The Funk was definitely leaving uptown!
The latest casualty of the evacuation of funk is the Motor City. Detroit was a city in crisis. It was one the largest municipalities to ever fall into bankruptcy. Because of all of its problems—crime, failing schools, unemployment, drugs, and corrupt city government—Detroit was losing population faster than any other city. Today, however, groups of White investors are swarming into Detroit and snatching up cheap properties. There is a new vision of Detroit as the Midwest Silicon Valley. There are a number of “art” colonies springing up in the city and those artists are mostly young, White middle class folks. The funk is leaving Motown!
Even in the small, formerly almost all Black East Palo Alto, CA (EPA) we can see the way powerful interests remove those who “stand in their way.” Today EPA is home to an Ikea store, a Best Buy, a Home Depot, and a Four Seasons Hotel. But, many of the Black families that once lived there have migrated across the San Francisco Bay to places like Hayward, San Leandro, and Union City.
This pattern of displacement and gentrification is not a new one. Black people have always been disposable in the plans of the powerful. And, no one seems to care that the character of Black neighborhoods and communities are radically changing to suit the desires of the elite. It seems that no one cares that the funk is leaving uptown!
Stay Black & Smart!