Since my essay about U Street “swagger-jacking” Friday seemed to upset so many of you, let me clarify something that might make my opinion an easier pill to swallow: The story was not about gentrification, or black and white.
It was about businesses using an African American ethos for profit, and missing a home that once was, while being torn over what it is
And the conversation online made me wonder: If I waxed nostalgic over a mom-and-pop hardware store being moved out by Wal-Mart, I am willing to bet that would have been completely above board with readers.
What if I learned that in the process of running those independent businesses out, Wal-Mart was building smaller outposts and passing them off as family-run businesses, and using common American last names to camouflage their corporate roots? Would readers have said that the hardware store owner needed to “get over it,” and “stop being jealous”? Would you have argued that the owners just needed to “stop whining” and “accept change”?
What if said I really missed the good ol’ days when America made all of the products that Americans buy — would I have been such an “idiot” then? If Nissan was selling cars to Americans under the Dodge brand, would they not be leeching off of the American ethos that Dodge is known for? If I got upset, would that have sparked such hostility?
The point is this: As Americans, we are always expressing our opinions about what we are losing as things transition, from sports players switching teams, to presidential policies to changes in the neighborhoods, cities and the country we live in. And we always should.
D.C. has traditionally been unique in its big-city charm but small-town feel. It was a place where the people who stayed — after so many thousands left — felt pride when a high school basketball star named Lawrence Moten rocked his high socks at Syracuse, because it meant something bigger than just fashion. It was a nod to where he was from and how we did it. It made us little people here proud. And I can’t just relocate my connection to this city — yes, the way it was — anymore that I can unattach my skin.
Many of you got it, and expressed the same sentiment, but literally hundreds of commentators struck back, calling the piece racist and ignorant. Some argued that these places are preserving African American culture, but I wonder: How is that happening? By naming places after D.C. legends to leech off their cool?
As a few readers asked, how is naming the overpriced rentals of Langston Lofts or the Ellington on U Street preserving anything about the two artists they are named after?
A black Brixton employee took to Facebook to make it clear that Brixton doesn’t “cater to blacks who want happy hour drink specials and peach Ciroc.” What they want are “cool kids” that appreciate bone marrow and fancy beer. Brixton, he went on to add, is trying to bring back some of the cool that Monday’s at Marvin had until “swagger blacks” came there.
Most of the more than 600 comments seemed to fall in five camps:
1) Mr. Crockett is an idiot (and other names in the idiot family). This makes up about 50 percent of the comments.
2) Please explain what is acceptable when building a business in a city with such a rich history. This is arguably the best sentiment expressed in the comments as it furthers thoughtful dialogue between the writer and the reader. My truthful answer is: I don’t know, but let’s keep talking about it. Let’s keep exploring this idea together.
3) Build your own bar. I don’t really get this sentiment as this was never about the building of a bar, but rather the naming of said bar.
4) The supporters of Mr. Crockett and the quasi supporters.
5) If you are so upset about it, move to Anacostia This was a comment that several readers expressed, and it is easily the most disturbing comment of all. Wow! Really? Anacostia has become the new Africa in a District debate on racial appropriation of culture? That feels low, even for cyber-bullies.
Still, all of the comments got me thinking more about the fact that the essay clearly struck a cord with District residents, old and new. The story that I wrote isn’t the only piece of the puzzle that got people upset. There’s another story, a bigger story that speaks to why these issues and ones like it need to be discussed.
Every essay isn’t created to solve the questions it presents, and in this case, it brought up lots of new questions for us to ask, discuss and debate. And for a day, more than 600 people took to social media and The Washington Post’s The RootDC site to engage in something they felt as passionate about as I did.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a regular contributor to The RootDC.
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