Film director Spike Lee was speaking at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn for Black History Month last night when an audience member asked for his opinion about “the other side” of the gentrification debate.
Lee responded with a 7-minute expletive-filled rant about New York City’s gentrification. He decried what he called the “Christopher Columbus Syndrome” in trendy, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like Harlem and Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn that wealthy white people purportedly believe they “discovered.” From his rant:
Then comes the motherf—ing’ Christopher Columbus Syndrome. You can’t discover this! We been here. You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherf—ing’ African drums in Mount Morris Park [in Harlem] for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud …
Nah. You can’t do that. You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start bogarting and say, like you’re motherf—in’ Columbus and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they do in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people. You have to come with respect. There’s a code. There’s people.
Lee’s speech came a few days after a controversial New York Times article by a woman who wrote about being groped on the street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn but praised the “literary scene” there and a bakery where she can “banter” with the baker in French. Indeed, Lee called out the Times for playing up supposed “good of gentrification.” (It’s unclear what specific article he was referring to, though.)
The filmmaker suggested that places like Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy are just getting better schools and maintenance services now that white people are moving in.
“So, why did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!” said Lee.
Lee was prescient about the changing face of the city back in 1989 with his landmark movie “Do The Right Thing,” which chronicles simmering racial tensions in Bed-Stuy. Check out this clip, which Lee name-checked last night.
The full audio is below, but you can check out the transcript at New York here: