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Opinion | Is My Little Library Contributing to the Gentrification of My Black Neighborhood?

One of the most famous examples of that displacement happened several miles south of Inglewood. Bruce’s Beach, a Black-owned resort, once thrived along the coast of tony Manhattan Beach, until it was seized by eminent domain in 1924 by white city officials. They claimed they needed the land for a public park, but they didn’t build one for more than three decades. It’s clear they simply wanted the bustling holiday and leisure spot and the Black people it attracted gone. That parcel was recently returned to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce, who owned it — an extraordinary example of reparation, but an isolated one that still leaves the problem of Black unsettledness intact.

When my uncle, Paul Aubry, bought a house in Los Angeles in the predominantly white, working-class South Central neighborhood of the late 1940s, he wasn’t just buying a house; he was putting his stake in the ground, making his claim to the American ideal of belonging.

My uncle’s claim was rejected. A cross was burned on his lawn. As more Black families moved to the neighborhood, white people moved out in droves. The ground shifted under Uncle Paul’s feet. That white flight forged the chiefly Black and brown South Central of popular imagination and created similar demographics in other city neighborhoods across the country, including Inglewood.

It has to be said that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the Black-, Latino- and immigrant-rich neighborhoods that resulted from those flights. Community has always been our greatest asset, and its greatest source of capital. But now, as younger generations of white people move back to the neighborhoods their parents shunned, in the phenomenon I call “white return,” it all suddenly feels up for grabs — again.

Instead of the blatant racism of what happened at Bruce’s Beach, we now have gentrification. It’s perfectly legal, but ultimately it causes the same racial displacement, on a much larger scale. The stratospheric rise in home prices alone has meant that the Black population of Los Angeles has been declining for decades, and has dropped to around 9 percent.

The anti-gentrification strategy articulated by many of my longtime Black neighbors is this: Stay put. Don’t sell. Stand your ground. While that is possible for some of us (I won’t be selling because, really, where would I go?), it’s not for everyone, and it’s not a permanent solution. It also doesn’t solve the bigger crisis of belonging.

Ultimately, the moment with the couple I saw through my window raised for me a serious moral question about how I should act. Screaming at them to get off my lawn would be adopting the values of the oppressor, as my racial-justice activist father used to say. Yet my resentment was not analogous to the white resentment of generations past (and of now, I’d argue). White resentment has always been legitimized, and reinforced, by legal and cultural dominance, a dynamic evident in everything from the rise of Trumpism to the current battle against the political boogeyman of critical race theory.

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