Spike Lee’s Epic Rant about Gentrification and “Motherf*cking Hipsters”

spike lee
Spike Lee

What is gentrification and why is spike lee so pissed about it? Gentrification is a shift in an Black community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values, sometimes to the detriment of the poorer residents of the community.

Now that we got that out of the way, gentrification is quite apparent in several Black communities across the United States. Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington D.C, and of course New York are currently experiencing this phenomena in rapidly growing numbers.

Four cities in particular saw significant growth in the gentrification of neighborhoods. According to Business Insider, Boston saw 61 percent of it’s neighborhoods gentrify, Seattle (55 percent), New York (46 percent), and San Francisco (42 percent).

Just a few weeks ago Trader Joe’s grocery-store chain dropped a plan to open a new store in the heart of one of Portland’s historically African-American neighborhoods after activists said the development would price black residents out of the area and perpetuate income inequality in one of the most rapidly gentrifying ZIP codes in the nation.

The Portland African American Leadership Forum said the development commission had in the past made promises about preventing projects from displacing community members but hadn’t fulfilled them. This is basically the same thing spike lee was speaking to in his rant. When an audience member at a Pratt Institute event where Lee was speaking asked him about the benefits of gentrification, Lee joked, “Let me just kill you right now.”

This is where the drama ensued. NY Mag captured the live audio of the 7 minute tirade.

Audience member: You mentioned gentrification with some slightly negative connotations and I wondered if you’d ever looked at it from the other side? Which is that, if your family was still in that $40,000 home that’s now worth $3.5m to $4m…]Lee: Let me, let me, let me, let me just kill you right now.[OK, go for it.]There was a bullshit article in the New York Times saying the good of gentrification. I don’t believe that. Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. 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 motherfugin’ day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. P.S 20 was not good. P.S 11. Rothschild 294. 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.[And I don’t dispute that … ]Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And even more.

Let me kill you some more.[Can I talk about something?]Not yet.Then comes the motherfugin’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherfugin’ African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in nineteen-motherfugin’-sixty-eight, and the motherfugin’ people moved in last year and called the cops on my father.

He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherfugin’ house in nineteen-sixty-motherfugin’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the fug outta here!Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherfugin’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people.

You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.You can’t just – here’s another thing: When Michael Jackson died they wanted to have a party for him in motherfugin’ Fort Greene Park and all of a sudden the white people in Fort Greene said, “Wait a minute! We can’t have black people having a party for Michael Jackson to celebrate his life. Who’s coming to the neighborhood? They’re gonna leave lots of garbage.” Garbage? Have you seen Fort Greene Park in the morning? It’s like the motherfugin’ Westminster Dog Show.

There’s 20,000 dogs running around. Whoa. So we had to move it to Prospect Park!I mean, they just move in the neighborhood. You just can’t come in the neighborhood. I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now shit gotta change because you’re here? Get the fug outta here. Can’t do that!And then! [to audience member] Whoa whoa whoa. And then! So you’re talking about the people’s property change?

But what about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore! You can’t afford it. People want live in Fort Greene. People wanna live in Clinton Hill. The Lower East Side, they move to Williamsburg, they can’t even afford fugin’, motherfugin’ Williamsburg now because of motherfugin’ hipsters. What do they call Bushwick now? What’s the word? [Audience: East Williamsburg]That’s another thing: Motherfugin’…

These real estate motherfugers are changing names! Stuyvestant Heights? 110th to 125th, there’s another name for Harlem. What is it? What? What is it? No, no, not Morningside Heights. There’s a new one. [Audience: SpaHa] What the fug is that? How you changin’ names? And we had the crystal ball, motherfugin’ Do the Right Thing with John Savage’s character, when he rolled his bike over Buggin’ Out’s sneaker. I wrote that script in 1988. He was the first one. How you walking around Brooklyn with a Larry Bird jersey on? You can’t do that. Not in Bed Stuy.

So, look, you might say, “Well, there’s more police protection. The public schools are better.” Why are the public schools better? First of all, everybody can’t afford — even if you have money it’s still hard to get your kids into private school. Everybody wants to go to Saint Ann’s — you can’t get into Saint Ann’s. You can’t get into Friends. What’s the other one? In Brooklyn Heights. Packer. If you can’t get your child into there … It’s crazy.

There’s a business now where people — you pay — people don’t even have kids yet and they’re taking this course about how to get your kid into private school. I’m not lying! So if you can’t get your kid into private school and you’re white here, and you can’t afford it, what’s the next best thing? All right, now we’re gonna go to public schools.So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!All right, go ahead.

Let’s see you come back to that.[I agree with every single thing you said.]Nah, nah, nah, nah.[I let you talk, now let me talk. My one sole point though is wealth creation in the African-American community, something that we’ve traditionally been locked out – you bought a house in the ghetto and in three generations the house was worth nothing in the ghetto.

So, for those homeowners that did stick in in Bed Stuy – my parents moved in it was an all Jewish neighbourhood there, so I’ve seen it through everything – so for those people that did stick in, now we have an opportunity for wealth creation that we’ve been locked out of. So now while it may not help the renters, and everything you said was absolutely true, what about that one aspect of wealth creation for people that have paid those taxes, that have fought to keep the crime down on their blocks, and all the other things they did to maintain… because the white folks are not moving back because it’s the ghetto, they’re moving back because they are beautiful blocks full of beautiful brownstones that have been well maintained by people of colour.]

Yes, but here’s a thing to deflate your answer. The people you talked about are not a great number. Number one, a lot of these people have not kept their taxes so they can’t afford to keep the house. Number two, when these real estate guys come around and open a suitcase with a bunch of money they’re gonna sell it. I mean these people you’re talking about are elderly.

And they get the money, their money goes a lot further down south. Black people by droves in New York City, it’s called reverse migration. They’re moving to Atlanta, they’re moving to North Carolina. They got a house, they got a lawn, they got a backyard, they have less taxes… New York City’s a hard place and so if you’ve worked all your life and you’re retired, they’re selling their houses and I don’t blame them. I can’t say to them, ‘you can’t sell your house’. They’re like, ‘F$#k you, Spike’.You have to do some research, and look at the numbers. The black American population of New York City is going down.

There’s reverse migration. What we have is that… and it’s something that De Blasio’s gonna… I mean he can’t get the snow off the streets, but still… what we need, we need affordable housing for everybody. People can’t afford, I mean, here’s the thing… the further away from Manhattan. Brooklyn Heights is the most expensive neighbourhood. Then you got Park Slopes, Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, Clinton Hill and then, you know, it works like this… the rents get cheaper the further away you go from Brooklyn. And the reality is, after the sand on Coney Island, it’s the motherfucking Atlantic ocean.

So, where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Puerto Ricans say the same thing. A lot of people said ‘well, we’re gonna move to Bucks County. Or move back to Puerto Rico’. People can’t afford to live here anymore. And if people can’t afford to live then it’s going to be the [words unclear] like you. There used to be a time you could… when $2 and $1, you could get by. You can’t do it anymore.

So, if New York City is not affordable then the great art that we have is not going to be here, because people can’t afford it. So, I know what you’re saying, but I don’t see a lot of good coming from gentrification for the people living in those neighbourhoods. We got a new neighbourhood in the South Bronx now, what do we call it? What? So Bro. It’s a scam! It’s shenanigans, trickery, people being bamboozled, leather string, run a-muck. What they call Bushwick now?[East Williamsburg. And it starts around Rochester now, it’s crossed Brooklyn.]End of transcript.


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