Current home of the Brixton at 9th and U St, NW in 2009
A reader wrote in on Friday wondering why I hadn’t shared the link to Stephen A. Crockett Jr.’s article in the Post: The Brixton: It’s new, happening and another example of African-American historical ‘swagger-jacking’. I was out of town on Thursday and Friday but I’m happy to share it now and am also curious what others think. Crockett wrote:
Look. I get it. The Chocolate City has changed. It isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that D.C. was once so marred by murder that it was nicknamed Dodge City or that there is now a hipster bar on U St. that holds the same name. Point is, there is a certain cultural vulturalism, an African American historical “swagger-jacking,” going on on U Street. It’s an inappropriate tradition of sorts that has rent increasing, black folks moving further out — sometimes by choice, sometimes not — while a faux black ethos remains.
I asked the reader who sent the link what he thought and he replied:
An apocryphal story: When Johnny Rotten heard that his former band mate, Sid Vicious, had met his inevitable fate via heroin overdose, Johnny said, “poor Sid, he believed his own image.”
I can’t comment on the motives of the owners of the establishments named in the article. I don’t know them, and there’s a fine line between respect for history and the individuals whose swagger defined DC for a while, and marketing considerations. At some level, Marvin and Acre 121 are both trying to play the same chord, giving newcomers to the city a sense of history and place through the name of a bar, and the name becomes the brand and we, the patron buy into it, or not. But, to the extent that a group of college-educated affluent white people decide that they are somehow the spiritual heirs of Langston Hughes or Zora Neal Hurston or the Parliament-Funkadelic lineup from an era before the Smithsonian invited them to play on the Mall, it is a sad case people believing their own image. Worse, rather than honoring the memories, it cheapens them, by treating important legacies like something you can wrap around yourself – instantly elevating your cool factor – by simply by humming a few bars of “One Nation Under a Groove” or quoting a few lines of “A Dream Deferred.”
As a white interloper and first-wave gentrifier, I was never an official citizen of Chocolate City. But I’ve been here since 1977, and spent a lot of time in Logan/Shaw/U Street before it cost a million dollars to live there. And there was something – sometimes very good, sometimes terribly bad, always very different – about the city back then. To the extent that these establishments and their customers are out to have a beer and think more about that city and those times than they might otherwise: cheers. To the extent that people are under the illusion that they have become retroactive citizens of Chocolate City, I’m with Crockett Jr. And, for everyone, recalling what once (and still does) make the city unique and – God help me for using this word – soulful, and trying to preserve and be a part of it now, in our own lives, is far more productive simply idolizing the past.