Spike Lee Rails on Gentrification … For No Apparent Reason

There are apparently not enough bad things in the world to be upset about. Spike Lee, the controversial black director, thinks it’s terrible how white people are moving into black neighborhoods. Just why he thinks it’s a bad thing, no one knows.

Spike Lee recently came under fire for an expletive-riddled tirade against “gentrification”—the process of wealthy people moving into and improving what are now poor and run down urban communities. Listen to some of his comments. They are puzzling, for sure:

I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn’t picked up every mother******* day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. … The police weren’t around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o’clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something.

Yeah. It does tell me something. It tells me that your old neighborhood is a safer, happier place now. It tells me that the facilities and services available to your community are now better and more consistently delivered. It tells me that your once segregated and destitute community is thriving in relative multi-racial harmony. And why is this a bad thing again?

John McWhorter from TIME absolutely nails Spike Lee’s backwards logic:

“Respect the culture” when you move in, Lee growls. But again, he isn’t making sense. We can be quite sure that if whites “respected” the culture by trying to participate in it, Lee would be one of the first in line to call it “appropriation.” So, no whites better open up barbecue joints or spoken word cafes or try to be rappers. Yet if whites walk on by the culture in “respectful” silence, then the word on the street becomes that they want to keep blacks at a distance.

That is so spot on. McWhorter goes on to expose the inherent racism of Lee’s comments:

His comments are instead a tantrum, and an ugly one. What’s really bothering Lee is that he doesn’t like seeing his old neighborhood full of white people.


Or whitey, perhaps. Just as “thug” is a new way of saying the N-word in polite society, Lee’s “m—–f—– hipster” epithet for the new whites of Fort Greene is a sneaky way of saying “honkey.” . . . Surely what bothers Lee is not that Fort Greene is now a cushy neighborhood. He just wishes it had gotten that way with all black faces.

Lee is openly antagonizing his white now-neighbors, but, ironically, his comments are actually far more critical of his own community when interpreted the correct way. The question he is really asking is, “Why did it take white people moving in here to make it safe? Why did it take white people moving in to get the garbage collected on time?” I don’t know, Spike. Maybe it’s because black leaders like you have defined “black culture” so narrowly that black people think they are betraying their proud heritage if they wear a polo or drink a Frappucino.

So do the right thing, Spike Lee. Find something actually bad to criticize.