Rich Is The New White: Reflections on Capitalist Class Culture and D.C Housing


So, a lot of things have been going on in the past few weeks. I’ve sort of jumped straight into housing advocacy here in D.C.  It all started when my sister introduced me to the Housing For All Campaign here in D.C. I joined a Learning Circle on gentrification that they ran and meet some really amazing community organizers doing work in housing. Around the same time I started going with my sister to Ward 8 Affordable Housing meetings. At these meetings people from all around the DMV [mostly people who have business interests in ward 8 thought there were a few Ward 8 residents] came to discuss  the “housing crisis” in Ward 8. To be completely blunt, these meetings made me want to throw up. Most of the people talking were middle to upper income Black people who complained for over an hour about how lazy and ignorant low income renters in Southeast D.C were. It sounded like a Regan era rant on welfare queens except that it is 2013 and the conservatives were black.

The whole outlook of these bourghie [that’s right I said it] Black people was that “I made it, so why can’t they?” They were so unbelievable bigoted towards low income Black people that I was [almost] speechless. As I made the standard explanation of institutionalized economic oppression, a history of disinvestment in Black communities, failing schools, and the simple fact that displacing people may raise the income of the neighborhood but gentrification doesn’t create nice neighborhoods, it moves people from a “nice” area into a “run down” area. It is simply a matter of moving people around, not lifting them up. The Black people at my table were not having it.

Instinctively I gave every single person at my table me best seriously brah? look and they all gave me that sickeningly condescending look white people in Colorado Springs used to give me when I said I wanted to be a community organizer. The only person who gave me a sympathetic glance was a young white woman. She was much better at staying composed and professional than I was but she was clearly put off. I would later learn two things: 1.) this is pretty common in D.C. 2.) the young woman was an organizer for a low income community organizing non-profit. I’ve gone to four similar meetings in the last few weeks. In each one privileged Black people say some thoroughly bigoted things and the only people who say a word against it are community organizers. It is the most bizarre phenomenon.

I know I said that I was going to write about Capitalism, and I will, but instead of talking about Capitalism as an economic system I think I’m going to talk about capitalism as a culture. It just keeps coming up. This idea that Capitalism and Whiteness has collided to create something new and very scary. It has created this culture of Bourghie Black people who want to gentrify Anacostia in D.C. Now, let me be clear. When I’m talking about Whiteness I do not mean being of European decent.  There was a time when being a member of a fair skinned, christian ethnic group hailing entirely from Europe did not make you white and I think we are going back to a similar situation. Here is a quick read for those of you unfamiliar with this idea,it is a short review of Noel Ignatiev’s “How the Irish Became White.” I should say that I have not read the book, and therefore cannot endorse it or the review but that the review introduces one theory on this idea for the uninitiated. I am talking about the type of Whiteness that gets you access to White Privilege. Simply put, circa 1880’s, a Irish immigrant in Chicago would not have access to all the benefits of a racist society that a native born man of Protestant English decent would have when competing against Blacks for employment. They were systemically discriminated against and it was often a toss up as to whether they were hated more than Blacks by any particular employer. Therefore that Irish immigrant’s ethnic whiteness is not the type of cultural whiteness I am talking about. I am talking about the cultural whiteness that I have access to when I call a bank and ask for loan because I sound like a well-to-do college educated White person but don’t have access to when I go in person because I look like a low to middle income young Black man.

This is a complicated idea that I haven’t really thought through yet. Basically what I want to write about is four parts. How the whiteness that used to basically be W[hite-skinned] A[nglo] S[axon] P[rotestant] culture that made the majority of wealthy Americans of European decents [who were wasps themselves] feel like they could relate to you has been transformed to a whiteness that is more aligned with a specific Capitalist Class Culture [CCC]. It is important to note that this culture is still tied to the old way of thinking about Whiteness because people who look white are often assumed to of the CCC. Yet an increasing minority of racially white people are not members of this new CCC. Poor white people in Appalachia are certainty not given all the economic privileges that uneducated white people from San Diego might take for granted.  I may fare better getting a loan from Citibank if I came in with a suit than Honey Boo Boo mother’s mother might in her finest clothing. I’m not saying that their is not a racial stigma against Black people when it comes to getting loans, merely that it is not the only stigma and prejudiced out there.

There is a way of talking in American that gives makes people take you seriously. Similarly there is a way of dressing, a way of moving, and even series of things you can reference. This way of being taken seriously is usually called being professional. Yet this is a biased cultural standard. Check out this problematic essay of how Black women can overcome being seen as less professional to illustrate this point. Most of the advice could be rewritten as “act more like your white co-workers and stop being so Black.” No were does it talk about why some behaviors are seen as more professional than others. [I found it especially funny that they encouraged Black women to joke about drinking with your co-workers because that is professional.] It is also a cultural standard that needs to be taught and is not intuitive to those who were not raised in CCC. Simple things like how to tie and tie, how to dress for an interview, whether or not to send a thank you note after an interview are all examples of cultural practices that can make huge economic differences in America. There are others, like how to use the internet to find jobs you are qualified for, how to find social services that will help get job training or how to open a bank account that members of the CCC [like myself] often forget we learned from parents or other members of the CCC that we interact with.

I am also not arguing that we are living in a completely post racial society by any means. I am merely arguing that our generation of Americans are seeing a dastardly change in how people get access to capital. It is not that this new cultural is worse than straight up, good old American racism. It is the fact that it operates within that same Racist system, working subtlety to decrease socioeconomic mobility in the Land of the Free. Just like rich white people playing poor white and black against each other for political power in early twentieth century south, Capitalist of all races are using culture to divide, conquer and segregate. I will now try to stop calling my Black neighbors who oppose new social serves in my neighborhood Bourghie Black people. I will call them what they are, Black people like myself who have been raised in or adopted the CCC. They as members of this new culture that stand to benefit from bringing somewhat and extremely exploitative capitalist institutions from West of the River East of the River. These are not deluded Black people arguing against their own self interest, they are merely stark examples of how varied the interests of the Black community have become. Some of them seem to even understand the complexity of the issue somewhat, though many are too blinded by their privilige to see how advanced their own self interest is oppression low income tenants who they sometimes dignify enough to call their neighbors.

So this is what I want to write about. But I need you help. I need your comments, your push backs and your challenges. I need to know if I’m off base or if someone has been writing about this already. Please sends comments, criticisms and links to help further the conversation.

One thought on “Rich Is The New White: Reflections on Capitalist Class Culture and D.C Housing

  1. Pingback: Call For Help With Next Article On D.C. Affordable Housing | The Well Examined Life

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