Sunday, January 02, 2022

E. Vanessa Assae-Bille (JD, Harvard), on her immigrant American Dream, becoming bourgeois and a (black) gentrifier, published in a magazine whose existence is predicated on gentrification. Four paragraphs: first, from the middle, penultimate and last.
THE FURNITURE CATALOGS and interior design books belonged to my mom’s friend, who collected them in her flawless house in Wembley. I liked to peruse their pages on my overnight visits, after everyone went to sleep. As a 12-year-old kid with a vivid imagination and an aptitude for the visual arts, I’d long paid attention to space and aesthetics, to the way things landed and were laid out. But seeing others’ visions had opened my eyes to a universe of possibilities. Home didn’t have to be a compromise or mere afterthought; it could be intentional, a place built on principles. I daydreamed of someday moving into a home where I could paint the walls, where I could realize just one of those possibilities for myself....

My parents had done everything right. The house was overpriced,  but their loan itself had been within their means. They were proud to be owners and cared for the house with love. The stenciling was scraped off and the carpet torn out. The first floor was child-proofed so my mom could operate a small home daycare. We repainted the walls and planted tiger lilies outside. By the time I left for law school in August 2009, the house was prettier than ever. Nevertheless, outside forces had concluded it was now worth half the purchase price. Like many of their neighbors, my parents were facing a financial cliff. Being underwater meant paying for a house without building equity or security for the future. They might as well have rented and externalized maintenance costs on a landlord. But it wasn’t as simple as leaving the keys in the door—unless they could work out a deal, their lender would count on getting repaid in full, no matter how little money a sale could bring in. My parents’ ideal home had turned into a financial nightmare that would haunt them for years.... 

With the knowledge that some of my building now resented me, I grasped for the first time the strength of my position as an owner with a title equal to my neighbors’. That day, I’d staked a claim on behalf of the West Indian house and other Black Petworthians, myself included. There was nothing my neighbors could do to force me out. There was no manager, no landlord, not even a police officer they could call on to punish my bluntness. I was as free as they were. Unless they wanted to suffer another public shaming, it was on them to accommodate my intolerance for their racist speculations. I expected them to try with the same zeal they showed in demanding our block accommodate their preferences. I didn’t regret my outburst. If living alongside Black people was so antithetical to their vision of the ideal home, they could leave. 

And most of them did, in time. I doubt that it was my doing, as flattering as that would be. This is DC; turnover will always be high. The staffer and his husband bought a house north of our building. One of the two churches on 8th Street relocated to Maryland, where most of its Black congregation had already migrated, and sold to a developer who tore down the church’s dark brick and colorful windows, replacing them with high-end condos. The newlyweds left with a baby. Domku, the popular restaurant, closed after a decade in Petworth—the landlord raised its rent by 66 percent and wouldn’t budge. Sheila moved out of the corner unit, to a Maryland suburb with “good schools” for her infant daughter. My former roommate relocated to New York City and became a prosecutor. As for me, my days in the building were numbered after I met my future partner. Fortunately, the grandmother in the house next-door will outlast us all. Seven years after my arrival, you can still find her sitting on her porch, watching us come and go.

Nathan Robinson, (JD, Yale) her former editor

One problem with film reviews is that they are often so concerned with evaluating the quality of a movie that they don’t get chance to seriously discuss the ideas it raises. Reviewers are preoccupied with questions like: How is the acting? The editing? Is the dialogue sharp? The pacing energetic? Are certain mawkish indulgences by the director partly counteracted by a thoughtful score? In the case of a satire trying to make a point, does it make the point well, or does it do it “ham-fistedly”? Is it subtle and graceful or does it “beat you over the head”? 

Vanessa A. Bee is performing a mixture of arrogance, indignation, self-aggrandizement and regret. These are her "ideas".

Fortunately, the grandmother in the house next-door will outlast us all. Seven years after my arrival, you can still find her sitting on her porch, watching us come and go.

"They endured."

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