W.E.B. Du Bois talked about how the “Negroes” of that time needed to take stock of where they were and where they were going with respect to how the group would maintain its ethnicity and culture and still participate in white America’s processes from a place of equality. Fifty-one years later, it can be argued that Black “folks” are in a very similar, if not identical, situation. This is particularly so in DC’s Ward 8. This tract of land with its panoramic views and available properties is the last frontier; the only remnant left of the world’s “Chocolate City.”
So the questions become what will happen to the “brothas” roaming their neighborhoods, often carrying the restless demons of poverty in their jean pockets that hang way too low? What will happen to little girls who’ve grown up far to soon and still managed to strike their cool pose, having buried their innocence in hair weaves, fake nails and eyelashes? Where will families who have lived three and four generations in a neighborhood go? Some will suggest that whatever happens to poorer people of Ward 8 will be an improvement—taking the Barbara Bush approach in the wake of hurricane Katrina. Others will proffer the idea that they had their chance and didn’t do anything, so it’s time to tear down their low rent ghettoes and build high dollar condos and coffee shops. Still others will extend sympathy, noting that as ugly and dirty as many of the trash strewn neighborhoods of Ward 8 might be, they’re home to thousands of people.
Just across the bridges that lead into Ward 8 there are entire communities that have been “developed;” and much like in the development that came after Katrina, African Americans somehow did not get the memo saying, “it’s time to come back home.” By all accounts this is bad gentrification and any efforts to prevent the trail of tears that naturally flow from such inconsiderate displacement must be heightened. This is not to suggest that things should be left as they are. That would go against the most fundamental laws of nature as it relates to “change.” But change can and should take place in ways that benefit all involved.
There does appear to be a quiet resistance to the way the city’s “rehab” is taking place that sort of bubbles up from the most visceral places of the souls of well-heeled and poorer Black folks alike. But these rumblings seem to take place in the intimate settings of homes and at private gatherings. Where is the Du Bois of our time? Where is the man or woman who is not afraid to state publically, as Du Bois did, that “We must lay down a line of thought and action which will accomplish two things: The utter disappearance of color discrimination in American life and the preservation African history and culture as a valuable contribution to modern civilization…”
Upon even the slightest glance it is apparent that these two things have not yet occurred and that the absence of this work plays a major role in the way African Americans exist in this country, in the District of Columbia, in Ward 8. During this massive makeover of the city African Americans who are either experiencing the impending doom of the loss that will likely be attached to the change development might bring; and those who have managed to escape the socio-emotional and economic diseases that are often the by-products of being poor will need to find ways to work together, first with one another and then with other groups in order to preserve some piece of DC or else another significant part of Black history will be lost.
We can co-exist with change. In fact, we can thrive because of it. But only if we look honestly at where we are and deal aggressively and lovingly with how we came to this place. Some suggest that we turn our attention to Ward 8 and communities like it across this country and work to heal those who have been so severely demoralized and broken that their personal existence is nearly all they can bear—never mind the trash on the streets. Others will withhold any form of help, then highlight the people’s and the community’s short comings—creating a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And thereby, avoiding wholly addressing the plight of the working class and poor people in communities like Ward 8 so that it becomes easy to strip them of their homes and then erase any evidence of them ever having been there.
Again, this is bad gentrification and no one should tolerate this kind of change. We know this, yet we persist. There are indeed those among us who rape rob and pillage in neighborhoods throughout Ward 8, taking whatever resources are available. Perpetrators and victims alike, then lend themselves to what could be the next great removal of Black folks from their homes. Given what we know if we are to preserve even the slightest piece of Ward 8 so that there is some semblance of the African American existence there, the question becomes, “What now?”