James Cone, race

What We Ain’t Doing

I’ve chewed on that meeting like I’ve never chewed on a church sermon or anything my entire life, she said. I just want to be in a nice neighborhood, and so do all these other people.

I came across an article in the NY Times today on gentrification and what Portland, Oregon is trying to do about it.

First, a moment of pride. I love Portland. In fact, it may be my favorite city in the United States. With 75,000 people showing up for Obama’s speech and now the talk on gentrification, this makes me proud of the city I went to undergrad in. However, the voices in the article speak to the truth, that so far, it seems like a lot of talk right now. There is a long way to go, which is just indicative of this whole country. I was happy for the initiative by the city (even though this should only be the beginning), but the article seemed rather run of the mill. Until I got to the end, which is where the quote above comes from.

Where is the church in this? We’ve just had Jeremiah Wright assassinated on television and the hope of this country is in the initiative in such things as Portland, Oregon?

I’ve chewed on that meeting like I’ve never chewed on a church sermon or anything my entire life, she said.

Perhaps, we ain’t addressing the real pressing questions — the questions that hit at our very existence in this country. I’m willing to assume that people don’t act like Christians most days of the week has something to do with the lack of questions hitting at our existence from the pulpit.

I do have to say that I am not a pastor in a pulpit. My family and job are not on the line from a congregation that may turn hostile in response to necessary questions. However, at least us lay people can bring up the questions ourselves and take off some of the pressure from the pastor. In the end, “we’ve gotta talk about it,” as James Cone often puts it. I suspect such an impact on this woman has to do with the fact that the American Christians, or at least the white ones, don’t talk about, much less talk to black churches, korean churches, etc.

This statement, “I’ve chewed on that meeting like I’ve never chewed on a church sermon or anything my entire life,” ought to haunt us.


2 thoughts on “What We Ain’t Doing

  1. Laura Gabby says:

    I read this article awhile ago and had to comment when I saw your posting. I was really both heartened and annoyed at the article and what I know of the initiative (which is based solely on this one article).

    I was heartened because there is finally a city that is openly acknowledging that gentrification is a problem. Someone(s) were willing to push for an initiative that addresses it in some way.

    However, I was annoyed because of the structure the article described. It made it sound like the black residents were basically supposed to tell the incoming white residents the negative impact of their moving into gentrifying neighborhoods.

    I’m all for new residents thinking deeply about their impact and figuring out the best actions they can take. However, this seemed to be a one way conversation, with city officials expecting to have blame laid squarely and solely on the shoulders of new residents.

    I don’t agree with this approach for a few reasons:
    1) It completely ignores the historical circumstances that are out of new residents hands and that set neighborhoods up to be gentrified. Gentrification happens most acutely in neighborhoods that have seen city officials and business leaders divest money for years, enforce discriminatory redlining policies, and remove essential services such as fire fighting services (in essence, letting the neighborhood burn down).
    2) New residents are almost always people who, at least initially, just plain can’t afford to live anywhere else in the vicinity. There’s not usually a whole lot of choice in the matter so it’s not very helpful to place all the blame here.
    3) The initiative seems like something that could leave new residents with an unhelpful sense of guilt. Since no concrete suggestions were made and there was no talk of next steps (at least based on the article’s description), it seems like it could make new residents crawl further inside a shell. It’s the kind of thing that I think could make new residents think ‘This isn’t my neighborhood, I don’t want to be out hurting or offending people by being here or out doing things that will change it,’ and subsequently stay inside as much as possible. Essentially avoid any contact with their neighbors, and avoid conversations that could lead to a better understanding all around that there are economic and policy underpinnings to what’s going on (and to possible efforts that could be made to turn the tide).

    Anyways, I’m glad you posted this article, and that quote you pointed out is a really chilling indictment of how little these issues are being brought up.

  2. I’ll have to defer to your expertise on this one, since it is your area after all, but what you do mention makes a lot of sense. You mean we’re not supposed to blame only a few people for gentrification? Then how do we measure progress?

    In the end, what I come away with is a reflection on the utter complexity of the situation and that the church ain’t doing much. How’ll anything happen if the church doesn’t get involved?

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