Dear PoPville – What do You Think of Stephen A. Crockett Jr.’s Article? The Brixton: It’s new, happening and another example of African-American historical ‘swagger-jacking’

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.

105 Comment

  • My $00.02: Huh?

  • to the reader who sent the link in and offered his thoughts: BRAVO.

    • Both the OP and the article’s author make valid points. And I love the term “swagger-jacking.” It gives firm to the feelings of many people I know who are happy that U Street and other neighborhoods are regaining the vitality they once had, but are our off by the Disney-like recreation of the U Street corridor. Many of the new places there pay disingenuous lip service to the proud black heritage of U, but the authenticity is nonexistent. I think that’s where H Street differs greatly. H doesn’t have to pretend to be something it’s not and although I’m no H Street cheerleader, the places over there feel less contrived than in U. Sadly, U Street’s great heritage makes it tough to develop without losing much of what made it special in the first place. That said, change is constant and the dismissive tenor of the comments on this thread is no surprise.

  • jim_ed

    It’s a waste of time to respond to an article like this. People like Stephen Crockett are going to be mad no matter what about DC’s demographics change. Had the owner not done this, and given ignored the area’s history, then the article would have been about how newcomers are ignoring the cultural contributions of black DC and are trying to white-wash the neighborhood without a care for those who came before. It’s a lose-lose no matter how you try to present yourself.

    Just be nice to your neighbors, look after and clean up your little slice of DC, and don’t worry what angry people on the internet write.

  • Reverse racism in this city makes me want to cry. Even the girls in my kid’s class sometimes say “we won’t play with you because you are a white girl.” Seriously humans, get over this skin color issue that brings down our nation.

  • Some individuals need to recognize that life just… goes on. Is it even an issue of images, music, arts, entertainment being cheapened anymore?
    Let’s try and embolden our city neighborhoods without further bitching about them and what they used to be. THINGS CHANGE.

    I love hanging out on U Street (if it hasn’t been apparent, I am a ‘white’ female — I put white in quotes based on my actual skin tone, but whatever) and all that comes with it, minus the shootings as of late. If people don’t like what U Street or the other neighborhoods have become, by all means, follow the old adage: Take it or leave it.

  • People have a right to name their business whatever they want to, provided on not having legal disputes over names used…

    Also, respect should be given to all DC neighborhoods by police, public services, and all local government evenly, and slightly more (if necessary) based on crime occurrences. This frequently doesn’t happen, as once popular foot patrols only happen in areas deemed “safe”.

    Also, if catching a cab on U street becomes more difficult at night for people of a certain skin tone, I expect DCTC to crack down on cabs and make things right. Which doesn’t appear to be happening at all.

    What I really don’t like though is when a cool place to hang out turns into a douchey college party shack like U Street Music Hall did… 🙁 There should be a place for all kinds of cultures along the strip, no group should “move in” nor “take over” The minute that begins to happen, an area that once was cool becomes “not cool”.

    • U Hall has not been taken over by college douchebags every night. You just need to pick the right shows.

      • Screw picking the right shows, this thrill is already gone. The Wednesday night DJs are 10x better than the Saturday DJs, the drinks are overpriced and bland. There is no cultural vybe to the music, the deeper multi-cultural parties that used to happen on a nightly basis are all gone. Too safe for me. Urban parties are supposed to have a bit of mystery. The bathrooms are also horrible. It now reminds me of PollyEsthers. It’s trying hard to be underground, but fails miserably. The thrill is gone!

    • seriously? you think catching a cab if you’re the “wrong” skin color isn’t already a problem?? i’ve known many a people who have had to watch empty cabs drive right by them only to stop a couple blocks up for a white passenger.

      stop the obliviousness.

  • When I lived off U Street in the 80’s, my mom walked in on me “swagger-jacking” once and warned me that I would go blind!

  • A message to Mr. Crockett: You can place the blame on whomever you wish, but when “your people” became complacent in the miserable state that DC was in, that’s when somebody else came in to make it better for everybody. It sounds like you feel that one race alone is entitled to ownership and development of this city. But if you’d bother to open your eyes and actually spend some time on U Street, you’d find that its newer bars and restaurants are incredibly diverse. Heck, they probably even serve racists, like you.

    • Ouch! Nationalism… One of the thing’s your forgetting is that there was a liquor license moratorium on all of DC until the population began to change. There were huge hurdles in getting business loans for “our people” that magically don’t exist for “your people” which magically went away for “your people” but not “our people” once the boom started, and that there was a huge financial burden from years of discrimination placed upon “our people” by “your people”. Be a little bit more sensitive and practical about the past and don’t brag about the historically imbalanced scale. Black people occupied DC not by choice, they were here because after the king riots, it was worn out and desolate, and one for the few low-cost options for a place to live.

      A past like that is not easily overcome.

      • not to mention banks redlinning neighborhoods.

        lots of things went on that a lot of young white people simply don’t know since the practices haven’t been as widespread during their adults lives.

      • So blacks weren’t in DC before the King riots? Correct me if I’m wrong, but there was a thriving black middle class in DC at that time. The neighborhoods that were destroyed during the riots–U st, Logan Circle, H st NE–were all thriving black neighborhoods. Only after the riots did those neighborhoods decline…because of the riots.

  • I understand some points of the article, but a statement as idiotic as this — “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” — kind of undermines the author’s credibility. Yeah, hipsters are annoying, but it’s fair to say that being marred by murder is, undisputably, objectively “worse” than having to put up with hipsters trying to appropriate black culture. And really, is it so horrible if white people appropriate black culture — after all, that is why we have rock and roll, among a host of other good things that are an amalgam of / pay homage to various more “authentic” sources. Isn’t imitation generally considered a form of flattery? It’s certainly better than mockery.

    Also, I think the author ignores the actual demographics of the U Street nightlife scene. Last I checked, it was one of the more racially diverse social scenes I’ve encountered in any city. Marvin, Busboys and Poets, and Eatonville, for example, all attract both white and black patrons in droves.

    To the extent some character and authenticity has been lost in D.C., that is no different from every other downtown, big and small, in this country. We can lament it all we want, but it’s a new reality that local bookshops and record stores are made obsolete by Amazon and Itunes, Times Square is going to stay Disneyfied and is never going back to being filled with XXX theaters, and D.C. is going to favor well-financed, high concept restaurants over greasy-spoons and fried food take-outs. That has nothing to do with racial appropriation and everything to do with the 21st century economy, especially in desirable downtown neighborhoods in major urban areas. It’s hardly unique to D.C., or to any particular demographic group, for that matter.

    • Nah, hipsters are worse.

    • i think you missed the point. ..he’s not saying hipsters are worse than having to dodge bullets, he’s saying the name of the bar is tasteless.

      oh, and hipsters ARE worse.

    • “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”

      I was struck by that too. More to the point, 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 some folks today now glorify that era.

  • This whole “we were here first” thing is getting a bit played out. White people were there before black people, native americans before the white people, and wolves, deer, and bears before that, and even before that: dinosaurs. It doesnt matter who was there first. Change happens. Sometimes it happens for good reasons, sometimes for bad. Sometimes its messy and sometimes its neat.

    Not to get all Heraclitical, but change is part of everyone’s lives and it cant be controlled or stopped. I’m not thrilled about how the neighborhood I grew up in is now, the one my parents still live in. These wholesale cultural and demographic shifts happen for myriad reasons. Most of them are inexplicable until after they happen and have been studied.

    So, yes, DC used to be the “chocolate city”. It also used to be extremely poor, violent, and a pit of hopeless decay that held urban blacks down and sentenced them to a cycle of poverty. Personally, I dont care where I live, but I dont want to see an entire city subject to the kind of poverty and hopelessness that existed here in the 70s and 80s.

    To the people who express this shallow yearning for the glory days of the “chocolate city”, you think things were so good for blacks in the 70s? What about the 30s? That shit sucked.

    You want to know why some of this change, that you find so unpleasant, has happened? Because white people have gotten their heads out of their asses and finally started to conquer their own prejudices and irrational fears and have begun to realize they can actually go into urban areas after dark. I assume that everyone acknowledges that the fewer ignorant white people out there, the better, right?

    • +100 – I didn’t even have to read the entire post, but once someone responds to an article about gentrification by referencing dinosaurs, I’m completely sold on it being awesome.

      “Dude, Rex, bro… this place was totally legit before those humans took over with their skinny animal skin clothing. Racists. Can’t even eat a b**** anymore without the man coming down on you.”

      (I’m aware that dinosaurs couldn’t talk and never coexisted with humans.)

    • And this will probably surprise a lot of people, but considering how history is known to repeat itself, this city will more than likely end up impoverished and dangerous once again someday. So people should be careful what they wish for.

    • I agree with you up until this:

      You want to know why some of this change, that you find so unpleasant, has happened? Because white people have gotten their heads out of their asses and finally started to conquer their own prejudices and irrational fears and have begun to realize they can actually go into urban areas after dark. I assume that everyone acknowledges that the fewer ignorant white people out there, the better, right?

      I think the influx white people into Shaw has little to no bearing on them getting over going into areas where black people live, and everything related to the economics behind that decision. That usually means move into an area before other white people do and wait for the area to gentrify to make that fat ROI. Being able to take public transportation to work is just icing on the cake.

    • Well said – will you please run for mayor?

  • I enjoyed this quote from a WaPo commenter, “I for one much prefer to live in a city with a bar named ‘Dodge City’ rather than a crime rate so high that the entire city is called ‘Dodge City’.”

  • This article is a Crockett of bologna. blah blee dee blah – I’m so cool… I’ve been here forever…you don’t even know what thug life is like… how about we recognize the fact that we share this community and want the best for it? Crazy concept, I know.

  • uhmm….can anyone decipher this for a laymen reader, please? not understanding.

  • i appreciate the author sharing his perspective.

  • “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.”

    Have we yet identified these owners, or is this just a label that we are going to smack on them. I think that the original article is largely ridiculous and this commentary is every bit as much so. In regard to the Hilton brothers, does this commenter even know who they are and who Eric Hilton is ?? Hilton is an accomplished musician who presides over an incredibly successful record label with deep DC roots and an obvious love for the District.

    As far as swagger-jacking goes, the Brixton has a British theme the last time I checked. How is that “swagger-jacking” African-Americans ?!?

    Now let’s look to our own Petworth’s Chez Billy. Chez Billy nods to Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood – but it’s a dang French Bistro for criminey.. But Chez Billy is a French Bistro. Should this be a problem because the investors aren’t French? How is it so inappropriate for the investors to give a nod to the neighborhood’s past. …not to mention that 5 years ago the only restaurant on that block was Wendy’s …and I don’t think that establishment is owned by a little red-haired girl.

    Hilton and Farid Ali opened 18th Street Lounge in 1995. They have had their finger on the pulse of this city since the 90s – and weren’t afraid to invest even back then, when large parts of the city were empty to such investment. Heck – they have been the pulse of this city !!

    Patty Boom Booms… a Jamaican themed establishment with live reggae music. Some of the bands who play there are on ESL Records – such as the Arkives Band, some of the musicians tour with Hilton’s group Thievery Corporation.

    The Gibson.. please explain how this speak-easy is culturally appropriating..

    American Ice Company – ..cultural appropriation of southern bbq I suppose *side-eye*

    Marvin (not “Marvin’s”) – a Belgian beer house/soul food restaurant that attracts one of the most diverse clientel bases of any place in the entire city.

    Now let’s look at another establishment that the author of the Post article might think is a “rightful” U Street business – Oohhs and Aahhs. They serve boxes of mediocre soul food ….for $20. If that isn’t profiteering off of the new U Street Renaissance, I don’t know what is. The author decries no cheap food, but Patty’s sells delicious $4 (?) Jamaican patties.

    In reality, Hilton and his fellow investors have invested in businesses that they put their hearts into. They obviously care about the city and want to preserve the history while adding to that history. They are obviously succeeding, despite their detractors.

    Before labeling “the owners” as nameless/faceless white people, the commenters might care to know who they actually are. Hilton and his fellow investors (who are not all white for the record) have contributed a great deal to the cultural fabric of this city – much, much more than most of those who badmouth their efforts.

    • I was with you until you dissed Oohs and Aahs….ask any of the 100s of people that eat there everyday, ask the host of the Food Network show they were featured on or just ask me – someone from the South, whose parents are from the South, whose parents are from the South. The food is good.

  • Why are we wasting the digital ink on this fool Crockett?

  • i’m white, but i consider black history as part of our collective american history. i feel moved, swayed, inspired by people of the past regardless of their color.

    is that wrong?

  • Would the author prefer that Black culture be completely ignored except by the very few who are the true spiritual heirs (is there a test?)? I like when new business recognize the various DC cultures of the past in a respectful and interesting manner (Boundary Stone) and also take pride in the city. Dodge City doesn’t do that as much as play on a former nickname for Washington, DC that was used at a different time than current day. I would guess that the owners had not intended for the name to have any racial implications.

  • Someone commented on here a few weeks ago that blather like this article and other anti-gentrifier complaining may seem harmless on its face, but it does contribute to an atmosphere that can be taken to extremes. Considering the recent senseless beating of a gay white man near this neighborhood, I think it’s high time to can this kind of talk and focus on fixing what’s wrong with DC for ALL of its residents, of whatever race or length of time they’ve been here

    • Would love to hear Crockett’s opinion of the poor Latinos that have moved in. They have added a rich and vibrant culture to our diverse city. No swagger-jacking there. And what about the Asian community? Where is the celebration of diversity, Stephen?
      Faux-black ethos=You’re not worthy to appreciate another’s culture.

  • +2 for the comments below. But also think of this–if you live in any one of the zillion towns, counties, even cities using or derived from native American names or terms, then everyone has swagger-jacked. This is a stupid topic, useless debate.

    By the way, it still is, in a way, Chocolate City. Black people hold sway here; some good traditions are imutable, some bad ones, along with problems and trifling people, remain. Vince Gray, not Jack Evans or David Catania, is mayor (for now). All Stephen Crockett does is add dry tinder to the smouldering nonsense among some in Chocolate City re: gentrification and identity. That nonsense is akin to white Tea Party people holding similar mythology as fact. Hopefully he’ll publish a more constructive musing next time.

  • I get a kick out of the author’s belief that white people are affluent gentrifiers and black people are down-trodden folk. He’s most likely one of those people who thinks that you have to be poor, pregnant with kids you can’t afford and a gangsta to be black, and you’re an Oreo if you have a good job, pay your bills, throw trash into a garbage can and haven’t been in prison.

  • The sad part is the author unintentionally feeds into the sad belief that gentrifiers=white. Maybe he should look around and open his mind a bit. There are a large contingent of young BLACKS moving into the city who are drawn to the same things as the the whites he has such a problem with. The city’s recent history is being lost to transplants (of all races) not just whites. I understand why that can be upsetting to some but seriously most ppl arent interested in going back to the Rayful Edmonds, Sharon Pratt Kelly/Marion Barry, IBEX eras.

  • claire

    Surprisingly level-headed comments on here… is the Prince is doing a lot of moderating or are people are feeling sluggish because it’s a Monday?

  • So the gist of this article is that successful businesspeople are ruining DC by misappropriating the city’s black history? Since they’re not themselves black and because they dare serve non-black customers? And cultural heritage only belongs to those who lived through the “tough times”? Huh?

    Seems like a bunch of foolishness wrapped in a cloak of racism and topped off with cool-sounding terminology from a freshman sociology class. Oh, and I don’t know anything about Mr. Crockett, but I seriously doubt a WP reporter be “down” enough to watch NWA perform in whatever he considers an authentic venue for their kind of music.

    And just one more aside – since when has the black community been so out and proud about its gay homeboy Langston Hughes (for whom Busboys and Poets is named) or the lesbian rumors about Zora Neale Hurston (Eatonville)? Don’t see a lot of DC old-timers leaping up to celebrate those inconvenient truths.

    Meanwhile, the rest of us who live in DC are enjoying a vibrant urban environment that recognizes the past and looks to the future. But I guess some people are never happy.

    • So, in other words, you don’t know any Black gay residents of DC.

    • Serious minded readers of African-American poetry and literature have always appreciated Hughes and Hurston for their contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. Don’t be confused by the media members, pastors and politicians trying to claim all African-Americans are anti-gay just to promote their own self-serving agendas.

      • +1,000.
        Talk to black people that read. We’re around. We’ve appreciated Hughes and Hurston for ages. (I have a friend named after Hurston!)

  • I read this in the paper last weekend and figured that the author was just trying to be “provocative” in the way that some journalists do in order to get attention. The opinion piece doesn’t make much sense to me, I remember U St prior to the metro opening (and after that for a couple of years before it really took off) and U St was dominated by vacant, boarded-up storefronts. I think he’s really just annoyed by hipsters, and he could save us all some time by just saying so.

    • I agree with this, as it was my first reaction as well. And, of course, it worked.

    • Yep, U Street was remarkably similar to what H Street NE looked like, maybe 8-10 years ago, just before places like The Argonaut opened.

  • Somewhat surprised to see WaPo posting worthless racist garbage like this, but I guess they’ll do anything to pander to “lifetime residents”

    • I’m pretty sure the majority of the Washington Post’s readership lives outside of the Dictrict’s borders. This guy is just trying to be edgy.

  • Swagger Jacking?
    I think we are all enjoying a bit of extra swagger calling DC home in the last decade or so. Our unemployment was lower than the national average and home owners enjoyed rising home prices (conversely new buyers and renters ‘enjoyed’ rising rents). DC was safer and alive again. No one stole that swagger – it was earned through hard work.

    I remember visiting my Grandma in the 80s and 90s – so much of the city wasn’t safe. A trip to the Marine Bararcks for a concert was a much different trip than it is today. My Mom’s stories of living in DC in the 70s makes me very appreciative of the hard work that went into making DC the city it is today.

    I think we are incredibly fortunate to have a more integrated city today than just a generation ago. I’d much rather have the Brixton, Marvin, Ben’s, Nellies, and all the other businesses on U street than a bunch of chains or places that granted admittance based on color.

    I am excited to see what the next decade brings to the District. Perhaps we can show the rest of the country what a sustainable, thriving urban environment looks like.

    Mr. Crockett, let’s be the change we want to see and drop the lables that only serve to divide us.

  • People are free to open the business of their choice. It is not the fault of Caucasian’s or any other minority that there are not more ‘authentic’ African American owned establishment’s in this city.

  • This is the silliest, most unthoughtful piece on gentrification I’ve seen. Crocket seems especially silly for calling out places playing homage to Reggae and London and Marvin Gaye’s days in…Belgium.

  • What a turd! Mr. Crockett is about as black as the hipsters that he complains about. These areas in DC were boarded up since the MLK riots. Also, open your eyes…white people aren’t the only people that moved to DC. People who hated commutes & others that liked to be near the city for a myriad of reasons moved to DC. Also, many smart blacks (like myself) stuck around because the. City was changing, and it was for the better. I’m not sure what chord Mr. Crockett is trying to strike with black folks, but I’m not picking up what he is laying down. Just sad to see someone write this sort of crap.

  • Is any one else completely sick of seeing, hearing, listening to the word hipster. OH MY GOD!!!. I’m totally confused. Is everybody referring to people wearing tight pants, with mohawks and tattoos? The term hipster seems to be the new word for, white people. It is so overplayed. Everybody can’t be hipsters.

  • Would the preference be that the new businesses ignore that they’re standing on the shoulders of a culture that had its day? Cities are dynamic places, the most important thing for DC is vitality which will lead to new art, music, food, and philosophy. Segregation and race riots defined the culture who’s loss is being lamented, I too lament the loss but recognize that a new (and not necessarily lilly white) culture will emerge. I for one would like to be optomistic about what the city will become.

  • Chocolate City. Yet another urban myth falls by the wayside.

  • PoP commenters never let me down. You just got here. And you’ve already got it all figured out. Why won’t these people accept change, accept the loud new bars, accept their new neighbors and simply be quiet?

    Market forces are consistent and they will accept it, eventually. The long-time resident will be gone before you know it (their property taxes are going up too) and you’ll be able to visit your theme bars in peace, worried only about the douche factor and how cool it is or isn’t.

    But sometime this week, when you see a long-time resident walking down the street, stop and thank them. Let them know you appreciate it.

  • I’d just like to point out that while sometimes history is lost through gentrification, sometimes we also reclaim things we’ve lost. A perfect, shining example is the Howard Theatre. If U Street wasn’t going through the changes we see today we would have never gotten this beautiful space back. You have to take the good with the not-really-all-that-bad

  • I think one point Crockett makes in the WaPo piece sums up the feelings of many longtime black residents of DC – something I have heard from my neighbors:
    “I am grateful for the stop signs but sad that it took us leaving to have it happen.”

    There is a perception among many newer DC residents that anyone who complains about gentrification would rather have DC be a hellhole. As if those are the only two options. But most of the complaining is about the timing of changes – like how a stop sign appears once the complexion of the neighborhood changes. My neighbors are happy to see improvements in Park View and Petworth. But they don’t think it’s coincidental that these improvements didn’t happen until the composition of the neighbrohood began to change.
    What came first, the chicken or the egg? And sure, we can talk about capitalism and market forces. That’s all well and good. But what many people see is a new contingent of residents whose needs are prioritized in a way that older residents’ needs never were. Whether that interpretation is correct or not, the feeling is out there.

    I think Crockett’s mistake is conflating marketing with exploitation. Are the owners of these establishments picking names of significance to black culture to pay tribute to these things, or to exploit them? Like the person who sent the piece to PoP said, there is a fine line between the two motives. And as between the two motives he identifies – having a beer in cool spot or becoming a part of “Chocolate City – I’ll wager that the overwhelming number of patrons of these establishments, including the black patrons, are there for the food and entertainment, not for the culture. I love and appreciate Marvin Gay because I own his music and have seen and read his life story. But I’ve never been to Marvin. And if I do go, it will be because I’ve heard it’s a good place for a meal.

  • As a white newcomer (6 years), I just want to point out one thing: I have been singing along and dancing to Parliament/Funkadelic two whole decades before ever setting foot in DC or knowing what the National Mall even is. Music is music.

  • s3

    U St will never return to form….when the Jungle Room (and other clubs) boasted the top names in jazz before it was burnt to the ground and, subsequently, left in ruin, all on the heels on MLKs murder. Hate on the investors all you want, but no one is entitled to calling DC theirs unless the invest in it, or stick around long enough to “keep what’s theirs,” versus selling the family home to a rash of developers moving through DC as we speak. Moved here in 1986 and have had my fill of backtalk and hateful looks and nasty comments made toward the women I was with, including my now wife. We’re being blamed for moving into a neighborhood we can afford, yet the next door neighbor who cashed out is the victim? F that. DC’s as much mine as the people who came before me, and who will come after me, who put their money into the city. You don’t like me because I’m white? Personally, I don’t really care. Grow up. Get over yourself. And become a part of the community trying to make DC livable again. I’ve been here since the mid-80s, and am done with being guilted for not fitting the profile reserved for the residents of Chocolate City. You don’t know me, but that’s most because you’ve made up your mind without ever saying word won. I live in DC, in a traditionally AA neighborhood. So what.

    • S3- I’m black, born and raised in Washington, DC and I own my home on the Hill. Guess what…I don’t hate you! My take on the article is don’t open up a business here in the city slap a name on it that refers to black history in some form or fashion and then appeal to only young white urban professionals. If you say you want to bring the cultures together then do that, because actions speaks louder then words.

      • Then, by your logic, a black businessperson has no business opening a themed club or restaurant that makes mention of, for example, George Washington. By your logic, this goes one way only, which is an every bigger issue. And it’s not just black culture, it’s American culture. You don’t own it, although you most certainly identify with it more closely. And to look at someone and just say “white” is about as ignorant as a person can get. You have no idea where most of us are from, if we’re even American, or if we have a multi-cultural background, like my son. So, to say a “white” person can’t open a bar and name a drink after a “black” fact is the same as saying that a black person can’t do something because of the color of their skin. Takes me back to a less desirable America. Point being, I’m just one of many who are done with apologizing for making you mad when you look at me.

      • + 1 chocolate!

  • The author fails to note that if you walk down U street on a friday or saturday night it is probably one of the most diverse places to be in the city. I hope it stays that way.

  • I love articles like these.

    The insecurity pouring off the page is nearly too much. What is it we’re supposed to be wistful over? Getting robbed? Watching yet another drunk derelict walk down the street harassing pedestrians? Be uncomfortably close to the loud-hootin’ black man drinking a fifth at the metro bus stop?

    As other readers have mentioned, neighborhoods change, cities change.

    The only thing I see here is a massive sense of entitlement wrapped up in an ego so huge, if you even dare contradict it — you’re in for an earful of barely-coherent flimsy rationalizations.

    I’m glad there’s less crime. I’m happy that I can walk down the street without getting mugged. I’m almost delirious when I can sit at a bus stop without being haranged by someone who’s made it their personal bar.

    All these stories and more are why we simply won’t “take it” anymore – and also why any reasons why “the way it is” falls flat on its face.

    I’ll take “District of Civility” any day, brother.

    • People who have concerns about gentrification in DC would not prefer to have a city where crime is rampant and no one feels safe. That’s an easy way to dismiss legitimate concerns. I don’t agree with all of Crockett’s points, but the fact that he has questions about the way things have evolved doesn’t mean that he would rather have everything the way it was.
      For what it is worth, this is what he said in response to some comments in the WaPo feed:
      “The point, for those of you who are furious with me, isn’t just about gentrification or the building of well run businesses, but more a look at how the businesses are using an African American ethos in a city that is now losing a huge part of its uniqueness as being an African American city.”
      There is no question that DC used to be much more dangerous than it is. But there was a lot more going on here than the dangerous things that the outside world paid attention to – the things that are consistently the focus of the “I guess you want to go back to the murder capitol of the country days” posts. I think that’s the “uniqueness” he is referring to.

      • “Chocolate City” is a racist construct anyway. Don’t give me the crap about how it is a ‘proud black notion’. Nobody in their right mind would call a city “White City” or “Latino Central” or “China Capitol”.

        Last I checked, the US was a nation of immigrants, and when we aren’t succumbing to stupid ideas about labeling a city after a given ethnic group, we can achieve some pretty amazing things.

        Let “Chocolate City” die — because the thought behind it is as about antiquated as people sharecropping in some field.

        I prefer “United States” over racial bias, brother.

        • Not everything racial is racist.
          Chocolate city is certainly not racist.
          Nor is Germantown, or little Italy, or Chinatown.

          It’s okay to recognize race. And chocolate city is a term to celebrate the first time a us city became majority black. That may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is a huge deal to many. Especially in a country that treated minorities so poorly.

          • Nice answer, but it fails largely in one aspect – how can you move forward when emphasis on race exists? It is in that context that labeling a city is racist. The majority may enjoy an ego boost from it, but it doesn’t address the fact that a city still has other ethnic groups, regardless of what the percentages are.

            Our whole country needs to move on collectively from these race-based details, it is distracting and helps no one in the long run.

            I’m more of a future-forward guy, not one that ruminates upon past injustices, brother.

  • What I want to know is why won’t anyone speak up about the “sashay-jacking” of Dupont Circle? Man, in my day, it was gayer than the Castro. Now there’s just all these straight people and tourists and baby carriages. They didn’t want the Fruit Loop until the gays came in and tastefully renovated all the dilapidated residences and put up nice wrought iron fences and well-maintained little gardens with water features.

    • So true. And just moved out of there up toward Petworth. It’s a great point. At the same time, people just can’t accept other people moving in or around them for some reason. I just look at all of it as a natural progression based on business activity, housing prices, safety, schools, taxes . . . I never thought twice, in my entire life, about all the various neighbors who have moved in and out around me. If anything, figured, guess they gotta move, or guess they found a good deal. But, I’ve never taken issue with anyone moving in next door other than them playing their music to 3 am. Anyway, great point.

  • Want to read a well-research, total and complete evisceration of this article? I recommend reading this excellent rebuttal of this, and other similar sentiments:

    • If I didn’t get it wrong, the author is saying that population loss happened before middle-class professionals began moving in, that there is no such thing as a homogenous black urban culture that can be defined and owned by one ethnic/racial group, and that the economic rejuvenation ushered by increased property tax collection and the “yuppie” appreciation for the historical, predominantly African-American culture of the neighborhood make gentrification somehow a positive phenomenon.

      But it seems that author omits why there was so much violence and economic despair that people began an exodus from the neighborhood. The author mentions “white flight” but she does not delve into its implications nor its historic roots. White suburbanization and urban isolation of the African Americans are at least partially the product of neo-segregation impulses of the white working/middle classes that was both fueled and supplemented by the federal encouragement for developing suburbs after the war. The heavy concentration of African Americans in urban areas generated by decades of outward migration from the South, the exodus of white equity from suburbanization, the government’s general neglect of urban areas and focus on suburbs, and the shift of centers of manufacturing (which brought the South-to-North migration of AAs in the first place) to other areas and countries, all contributed to the economic decline of inner city neighborhoods.

      Combine this economic/social realities and white America’s long-stadning tradition of “cultural swagger-jacking” as Stephen A. Crockett Jr puts it. Unlike in places like Brazil and Costa Rica and other places, where there have been a large black population but interracial mingling has been extensive due to historical circumstances, it may indeed be hard to claim certain local cultural developments as belonging to one ethnic/racial group (even then, uniquely Afro-Brazilian art forms like samba survives).

      But in North America, the historic trend has been the absolute racial, cultural, and social division of races (forced segregation being perhaps the worst example). The implication of these differing social realities is that there is something that can roughly termed “African-American culture” without being exclusionary and essentialist. It is as much the result of conscious African-American efforts to construct their own cultural realities as the result of deep-rooted historical cultural, social segregation against African Americans. Can one really claim that African-American art forms like jazz, blues, and numerous others are merely “American” and not “African American” because of its geographic origins and the certain influences their originators took on from white American and European art forms? This so-called cultural swagger-jacking is not an homage to some mythic, homogenous black culture but rather a social, cultural reality. Although a single African American person cannot claim the vestiges of African-American cultural traditions, but there is something to the idea that black America–due to the deeply segregationist ideology of America–collectively own the traditions of African-American cultural actors because they weren’t just derived from being a mere citizen of the United States of America but collectively oppressed groups.

      Of course, this does not mean that somehow white Americans or any other ethnic/racial groups, many of them well-meaning people, cannot be incorporated into and appreciate this unique cultural tradition. But much of “African-American” art forms have been about the social realities of the African Americans in this country, and merely claiming to appreciate the aesthetics of those art forms without understanding of the racially-charged origins that spawned them is troubling.

      The hostile reaction that many African-American activists show to gentrification is rooted in the indignity of such dualistic “appreciation” for African-American cultural traditions.

      Also, it’s pertinent to mention that even if mixed neighborhoods bring overall economic equity and have lower income inequalities within them, white-black economic divide does not simply stem from property tax differentials between black and white neighborhoods but also the historical patterns of wealth accumulation between the two groups that includes not only home equity but other statistically less-tangible items like education and etc. It’s not for certain that having mixed neighborhoods will solve such problems, although done right, it may foster understanding and community cohesion to a degree.

      • Anon, I don’t think that is an entirely fair characterization of the article, and I don’t agree 100 percent with what you are saying, but those are some well-taken and thoughtful points. I definitely agree that there are many aspects of culture that can fairly be termed uniquely African-American (and I don’t believe that the author of the article I posted would disagree, but I would have to reread it more carefully to be sure), but I also think that folks wanting to pay homage to / emulate / adopt those positive cultural inventions is a good thing, not something to be mocked and derided, for the most part. And it is as much an oversimplification to say that whites are wholly responsible for creating an urban ghetto as it is to say that blacks are wholly responsible for all the problematic aspects of that urban ghetto. Racism and resource misallocation certaintly played a huge role in creating the conditions that led to the 68 riots, for example, but at the same time, people didn’t have to direct their well-earned anger towards destroying largely black-owned businesses and leaving huge areas of urban rot and decay for decades. All of this stuff is no doubt complicated, but the original article that the Atlantic author responsed to was far more a button-pushing, poorly-conceived oversimplification than the more measured and thoughtful (even if not entirely comprehensive and a bit one-sided) response, in my view.

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