Monday, September 30, 2019

White Gentrifier Guilt

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been tooling around Teh Intarwebs and the real world, getting a feel for real estate. Watching my mom, aged 80, continuing to grapple with the question of whether to leave the home she shared with my stepfather (answer: almost certainly not) has me thinking about what I'd like my own old age to look like, and it's possible it might not look best in the house I've got.

When I purchased my home in July, 2001, I never imagined being in it 18 years. It was meant to be starter equity, to be traded in when I found some hapless victim man - really very nice, but nothing I meant to become permanently attached to.

Well, my equity is now old enough to vote, or to die in a foreign war (but not drink!), and I find myself wondering whether it might be best traded on at some point. The house is two steep storeys, AND has a full basement: and the laundry is located all the way down there. Being of a moronic and stubborn nature, this means I regularly huck hundred-pound loads of clothes up and down stairs in varying states of safe clearance. Oh, in my fantasies, some engineer appears magically and offers to build a motorized dumbwaiter in a convenient spot. But then, in my fantasies I also have a slate-floor screened porch, a brick car port with electricity, and the house is suddenly not located in a super-white neighborhood either.

Yeah, I am 51 years old, and have realized that MOST of my life has been lived in a White Flight bubble. The schools I went to were named for old white politicians, proponents of Massive Resistance (we could have been Edgar Allen Poe high, but ohhh no - must be a politician!). The suburbs I spent most of my time in were without diversity.

So I don't really want to live my entire life in the economic, cultural, and personal bubble that is White Fragility Comfort. If I do sell, I'd love to see my place go to people who don't look exactly like me. When I bought, I was still a little afraid to buy in neighborhoods with bars on the windows.

Now, I'm more afraid to buy in those neighborhoods because, inevitably, those of us who grew up like I did are seeing how nice the houses were, that our parents or grandparents left behind in heading for the suburbs ... and they're coming back, displacing historically Black neighborhoods, denuding beautiful homes of vintage architectural details (white shaker cabinets that do not reach the ceiling and theoretically high end finishes that clash with and poorly cover older homes' interiors - what I call "stick on" kitchens), falling for ugly and disrespectful flips. Gentrification is killing family businesses and families, pricing people out of places they have lived maybe for generations.

I don't want to be that person. The notation "yoga studios and coffee shops are popping up everywhere!" in a listing, translated, means "don't be scared, lil' white folks, you can come back to the city because we're papering over what it used to be as fast as we can destroy lives!" It also means ramping up economic inequality - and, cringe-ironically, sending those who'll no longer be able to stay to cheap apartments ... or maybe the midcentury ramp crappy flips we're leaving behind now that they're no longer fashionable.

In just a few weeks' looking at my own future and driving around trying to suss out the worst of the gentification, I haven't figured out how to puncture the white economic bubble I've spent an awful lot of my life in, versus avoiding landing like a lummox on an even more delicate neighborhood ecosystem without damage.

One thing I know: whatever comes, I'll have zero use for boo-teeks, coffee shops, or yoga studios, so at least I don't have to feed THAT aspect of economic flux.

But I don't really know if there is an answer. It's entirely possible the answer is, "Sit down and shut up" - and, the fact is, I'm entirely willing to take that answer. Eighteen years in, I let my eye rove, and what I find when I come literally home is, home is a really nice place. Maybe I ought to hope my own environs might diversify with time, and save money for that dumbwaiter, that porch, that car port. A person could do far worse.

For now, I'm educating myself, and it's already working. I'm getting a feel for what the real priorities would be, what it would take to take me away from the house where I have loved my Sweet Siddy La and Pen and Goss, where I endured my father's and my stepfather's and my best friend/sister's deaths. Where I felt Mr. X's hands across my back as he held me, the day dad died, the first time he ever visited here. It wouldn't be easy to strip my home and leave these walls, these bricks, these good bones.

Maybe at some point I'll figure out the balance. Maybe (it's remotely possible) Mr. X and I might even find a home together someday.

Eh, maybe I'll be hit by a bus tomorrow. It's unlikely. But in the meantime, I gotta live.

And my place isn't a bad one for doing that...