I am not friendly, and I seldom smile when among gentrifiers in a diluted black space. I have high expectations for those given the gift of melanin, yet I am frequently disappointed by those who consent to the various manifestations of our collective disenfranchisement. The portrait of being eaten alive, drawn by the white bodies welcomed with effortless comfort and inclusivity, does not amuse me nor prompt my involvement. Sears of rage shoot through my body as I watch a white person, appointed by a melanated person, handle the money belonging to a black organization at a historically black institution.
I cannot and will not eat, drink, or trade stories with those who study my delivery and my thoughts to one day appropriate as “esteemed intellects” with an “incredible ability to relate.” My detachment and critical space complicate their inevitable imitation, exposing the devilish ways antithetical to the white saviour space they have already resumed. Their interpretations and “analysis” are inevitably flawed because to theorize about what you will never encompass incites an irreversible emptiness. The efforts of the African adjacent to interpret the black experience and black artistic expression do not sound better because it can not be better. The same feeling overcomes me as I listen to my favorite artists who are increasingly paired with the African adjacent. To the onlooker, this non-black is merely a feature, but to the critical gaze, this musical presence foreshadows the same fate as a Starbucks in a predominately black area. Their presence features doom, not diversity—their performance occupies the mimetic space theorist Homi Bahba marks between mimicry and mockery.
It is between mimicry and mockery that you will find those who praise the African adjacent for merely being non-black. Some skinfolk, bound to mental bondage, believe the African Adjacent access the African better than the African. I wish I could turn a blind eye to the violent invitation my elder extended when he told me to speak and think more like my white male peer, but all I see is how this white world continues to place blacks with no self or esteem in high places. This comparison functions to convince the oppressed they are to be compared, deterring from the truth that to be black is to be beyond comparison. I wish the words “he does not know what he’s doing” would appease the disappointment that follows his violent invitation. I wish that knowing these actions reflect the subconscious did not make things worse.
Efforts to dialogue with who color designates as my kinfolk expose them as a skinfolk. To articulate preserving black space as integral is to encompass an anti-whiteness that, to the hegemonically influenced mind, must be refuted by claims of the “nice” and deserving whites who inhabit our black spaces. These attributes as aligned with those who invade black spaces insult the reality that their presence symbolizes an absent black body; their presence symbolizes black opportunity seized by a faction in close proximity to every global luxury. The gentrification of black space is a mentally violent praxis that, though newly acknowledged for its physicality, is seldom engaged for its psychological effects. Conversations surrounding black spatial invasion is perhaps most significant in the contemporary context as both black neighborhoods, and black colleges find themselves inundated with a growing African-adjacent presence. Some interpret this invasion as diversity; however, the African adjacent come to conquer not to congregate, yet fear too often precludes any discussion that connects the dots between the two.
The linearity between black erasure and contemporary integration presented itself in smaller but equally violent displays in my undergraduate career. I recall from my undergraduate days at an HBCU, an interracial couple. She aesthetically channelled Mary J. Blige, and he resembled the lead from Save by the Bell mixed with a Ken doll. They paraded around campus together in an ostentatious display of their relationship that always seemed to garner hyper-visibility along the trajectory of the hill. This sparked animus reactions from onlookers, to which my younger self found herself on the wrong side. I see now that what I initially saw as hecklers were those reacting to the stealth agenda of a white man. His presence as a white man on a historically black college campus, via full scholarship, embodied a systemic violence that assaulted the black collective in image and act. This individual threw salt in a collective wound by parading around the campus with a black woman as his trophy—as a violent mark of his penetration of black space, as a flag to mark his colonial conquest of the black female body. His presence on the campus was not enough. No. He had to recruit the black female body as an accolade of his seized acceptance and authority in a predominately black space.
A growing fraction of the students at historically black institutions are whites, whites who are being trained to teach primary pages of the black narrative to black students. It is a mode of violence for any member of the black collective to occupy the same air as those who systemically disenfranchise the black community behind a fake smile and performative empathy. To the gentrifiers, the black university, the black community, and the black sound are just another means to symbolize their fictive power. Their acquisition holds no regard to our story, our legacies, our resilience encompassed in our spaces. For them, it is just another school, lover, neighborhood, or song cleaned up by their presence; whereas to the black collective, gentrification festers an unhealed wound of displacement.
Thus, to welcome gentrifiers is to welcome the flames in this burning house that is the “black” institution. Some fight these flames with a normalized inferiority manifested in phrases like “Well, what are we going to do?” and “nothing will ever change.” Things, however, will change. In ignoring the attack on black space, the historically black college will become like Harlem, Brooklyn, Oakland, Washington DC, Atlanta and many other cities in the United States—markers of a black past. Gentrification is unfortunate and unfair, but it is not a force beyond our means to fight as black people.
Others buy into a different systemic spell, and use discussions of the gentrified college to pacify their regret in being unable to experience the HBCU, or any college, first hand. Thus, hearing of the HBCU’s “imperfections” proves the perfect opportunity to isolate a common problem. Just as white presence in black space, be it a community or school, possesses a positive in revealing the seemingly black person as melanated; similarly, these adversial comments by skinfolk illustrate those lured into a systemically endured inferiority as allies to the African adjacent.
Others whom I encounter, regard the truth of gentrification as an inconvenience they must shun with silence or bluntly state that they fail to understand the problem. The often unasked question is: why is she so angry? My question remains: Why aren’t you?
The African adjacent, be it white people, or non-black people of color, observe an advantage the black collective does not. These groups understand and implement the value of nation. Despite this truth, the African adjacent purposely integrates and work to dismantle the black ability to create or maintain what Frantz Fanon called a national consciousness while diversifying how the black diaspora must apologize for any attempt to reassemble our collective consciousness. We are to invite the colonialism socially reproduced by our oppressors. We are to remain bound to past the white world continues to demand that we forget.
Gentrification exposes that black space was at worst not black at all, and at best not black enough. The melanated or those with black skin, who, sick with white hegemony welcome the African adjacent, mistake the flames of genocide for friendship or franchisement. The need for black spaces vested in a black ideology remains central in attaining both value and victory for the black collective.
Whether the black college, the black neighborhood, or the black family, the black community remains under attack. This attack promises to obliterate our existence—an assassination through gentrification veiled as integration. An integrated or gentrified space follows a gentrified or integrated mind, poisoned by the illusion of progress. Separatist, though connotated as unfavorable, bears the remedy to our conflict, or the key to our cage. Separatism, though a physical state, must follow a mental psyche separated from systemized infiltration. Blacks must separate from white values, standards, and modes of identification. We are not Americans; we are Africans displaced in America. Our last names are not surnames; they are dots that connect to a colonialism that still systemically suffocates us. We are not free via the Emancipation Proclamation, because many of our ancestors were not slaves despite being enslaved. Many of our ancestors separated from those who thought they had power over them. History won’t tell us about the freedom we took; instead, in adopting a gentrified ideology, one becomes satiated with the “giving” white world who only gives life to themselves via a serial mental murder called his-story. The gentrified space promises a different form of blackness embodied by the charred remains that mark what was once a black body. Therefore, we must separate, not for equality but survival.