February 27, 2018KR BlogBlogCurrent EventsEthics

Gentrified Hegemony

We rarely talk about how cultural hegemony works within the process of gentrification, although the process itself is inherently one of cultural and social environment change. We talk about the local businesses that are affected when a large corporate store moves into an area, but we do not talk about the cultural hegemony that large corporate store supports with its existence. Yes, you may be able to find piloncillo at the corporate store in the “ethnic foods” section. What about a good pan dulce in the bakery? Not likely–unless they have hired a local person that has lived in the area for years in the bakery and given the baker the freedom to create the items they wish. We talk about the demolishing or renovations of older houses that is always a part of gentrification. We do not talk about the diaspora a 60-year-old couple experience when they are forced to leave their home because they can no longer afford the property taxes in their area. Or the indignation an Indigenous person may feel when told by the homeowner association they were forced to join (or their new neighbors along the block) that they cannot paint their home in tribal colors because it will decrease property values. Or why a black teen who’s lived in the same neighborhood his entire life is suddenly a “threatening figure” each time he walks down a familiar sidewalk to school.

A couple of years ago, I went to a conference where I asked one of the panelists how gentrification had changed their arts programming (geared toward secondary school aged students) in a large metropolitan area (in a neighborhood known as an International district and one I knew to be battling gentrification). The panelist didn’t understand what I meant—or how it could impact their program (that had been running at that point for five years). I tried to explain concisely. I asked if they lived in the neighborhood—they said they moved there right before starting the program. I asked if they had kept track of the make up of the students utilizing the program events, if the parents and students had any voice in programming decisions. They said no and no, but that the group of students had been predominantly white since its beginning. This did not strike them as odd until that moment—an entirely free arts program paid for by grant money from state arts organizations housed in a predominantly multi-ethnic area but utilized almost entirely by white students. “I suppose we should revise our current promotional strategy and do more outreach in the future,” were the final words before the panel pursued a different question. My question had made the room noticeably uncomfortable. Yes, questioning someone’s social awareness can make an entire room of people uncomfortable fast.

The process of gentrification affects educational institutions thoroughly. The community that specific educational institutions serve changes due to gentrification. It may even displace the existing educational institutions for that area. The needs of community members, which should be forefront in any conversation about education, change with the community at large. This process often leaves many individuals and their needs lost in that traffic, especially if they do not have loud advocates working within the institutions at all levels. Going beyond the individual, many educational institutions are lost in the process of educational policies and legislation written by individuals and governing bodies which have little knowledge about the communities those particular institutions serve. The problem of explaining the reasons behind high dropout rates in poor local communities and poor states to federal education policy enforcers is the same problem of explaining the difficulties brought to local neighborhoods by developers bringing higher cost housing into the area to city and state representatives. They both boil down to resources and who will gain control of them. Depending on the authority and power you hold when speaking, the gender you embody during the conversation, the level of investment you have placed in the elements of the conversation, the ethnic and racial background you embody, your addition or lack of visible disabilities, and the role you are allowed to play in the overall space of the conversation, the conclusion of that conversation will change.