Category Archives: D.C.

An Announcement That Calls For Some ‘Patching

First I did a google image search for “cabbage patch.” That turned up a bunch of creepy dolls. So I tried “cabbage patch gif.” Slightly better, but nothing mindblowing.

Then it occurred to me that there must be, somewhere on the internet, a gif of Tyra Banks doing the cabbage patch.

Duh, I was right.

Anyway, that’s how I’m feeling right about now, as I’m pretty frickin’ excited to be starting as a staff writer for Washington City Paper at the end of the month.

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Filed under D.C., Journalism

What a Way To Make A Livin’

Last weekend was pretty great. I got to witness the marriage of two dear, dear friends, and the next day saw Clybourne Park at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. And then the cherry, of course, was seeing Dolly Parton with friends that night.

#winning, right?

I really, really liked the first act of Clybourne Park. It was moving and beautifully acted, funny, and heartbreaking. (There were a few moments where the audience’s laughter struck me as bizarre, though, because I was tearing up. Anyway!) The second act, however, was unpleasantly farcical at times and as one friend put it, “Gentrification 101.” We speculated the reason why we didn’t much care for it was because it didn’t really delve any deeper than black-couple-is-wary/white-couple-is-offended. I don’t know about you — and perhaps it’s because I’m part of the liberal media — but most young white folks I know are far more self-aware than the couple in the play.

Still, I’m glad I went. The acting was pretty brilliant and the post-show discussion was cross-generational and enlightening. Many thanks to Rachel Grossman at Woolly Mammoth for inviting me to participate.

Now… Can we take a moment to talk about Dolly Parton?

She sounds AMAZING for someone who’s been in the business for so long. Amanda and I were trying to figure out why she still sounds so good — compared to, for example, Mariah Carey, whose voice is a wreck (still love her) these days. She must have a strict vocal regimen. And as someone who doesn’t have a particularly deep knowledge of her songbook, I found laying out on a blanket and drinking Andre while Dolly jammed on stage extremely enjoyable.

And speaking of alcohol — I’ll be at Bar 7 tonight talking about gentrification with some awesome folks brought together by the Humanities Council of D.C. I think things get started at 6:30. Swing by if you can.

Update: Abdul Ali has a piece at City Paper that much more eloquently gets at my issues with Clybourne Park.

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Filed under D.C., Music, Race

Clybourne Park

I’m pretty excited to be participating in a talk after a production of the Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park at Woolly Mammoth Theatre this Sunday. The play is a response to Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun and is about the 1950s white neighborhood that freaks out when the black family moves in — and how 50 years later, a white couple moving in sparks a similar freakout.

Post-play, I’ll be talking with Washington City Paper’s Lydia DePillis and DCentric’s Elahe Izadi about the role of the media in telling the story of gentrification.

You can get tickets here (use code 1285 for a 20% discount), or, if for some crazy reason you just want to see us talk, no need to buy tickets. The post-show discussion is open to the community; which is just one more reason to love Woolly.

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Filed under D.C., Race

Hollerin’ Season

Image: Flickr / chriscardinal

Yesterday I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some yogurt to go with dinner. On my way in, a store employee lingering outside smiled at me. I smiled and nodded and walked in. On my way out, I vaguely heard someone else calling to me, “Hey baby! Baby!” Quietly, then louder and more insistent.

I hurried through the parking lot, trying to ignore the person cat-calling me. The store employee who had smiled at me earlier then started calling to me from 30 feet away as I headed to my car. “Hey miss lady! Alright now!” I glanced at him, and it was clear he didn’t want anything but my attention.

Annoyed, I got into my car where my dog was waiting. As I was exited the parking lot, another man flagged me down, pointing to my headlights. Thinking something was wrong, I slowed to a stop. He smiled and said, “I like your dog.”

Me: “Thanks.”
Him: “Are you single?”
Me: “No.”
Him: “Are you really not single?”
Me: “On my way to my man’s house right now.” [True fact: The easiest way to get a strange man to leave you alone is to tell him that you’re someone else’s property. Equally true fact: It doesn’t always work.]
Him: “Do you want to make a friend?”
Me: [Blank stare, preparing to pull off]
Him: “Well, do you need some CDs, DVDs…?”

I drove away.

As harassment goes, it certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve experienced. Neither of these men made remarks about my body or called me a bitch because I wasn’t receptive. Neither of them blocked my path. (All of these things have happened to me. All of these things have probably happened to all of the women you know.) It was just a deluge of unwanted attention. I joked about it — the bootleg DVD offer was funny — to my boyfriend when I got to his house. But I was joking because it was so infuriating. And I knew that if I were at the store with him, it wouldn’t have happened. Being a woman alone in public means I can’t even buy a tub of yogurt without fielding unwanted advances.

I left that grocery store never wanting to go back. I’ll avoid it if I’m by myself. Here’s the thing street harassment apologists don’t seem to understand when they say “don’t get offended just because a man says hello to you.” It’s just plain stressful being approached by multiple male strangers — especially when I don’t know how they’ll react to my disinterest. I’ve been yelled at, I’ve been cursed out, and physically intimidated. I’ve also been wished a blessed day. But the unpredictability is what makes it so upsetting. Even as I make the choice to avoid certain places, I hate it, because it’s just another example of the ways street harassment limits women’s access to public spaces.

Of course, I don’t have a choice much of the time. Standing at the bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue on fine mornings means being called to by all kinds of men who are sitting, bored, in their cars on their way to work. There are different methods of dealing. There’s snapping back, there’s being silent, and there’s being polite and dismissive. Still, the result of each tactic depends solely on the guy and whether he’s willing to leave me alone; it has little do with whether I desire to be left alone.

It seems there’s only one thing to do when warm weather arrives and, as my friend Dayo puts it, “hollerin’ season” has arrived: Put my game face on.

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Filed under D.C., Sexism, Women

Mental Health Break With Superman

In addition to Kingsblood Royal, I just started reading 1996’s Kingdom Come, a 4-issue DC comic by Mark Waid and Alex Ross.

Boy, is it gorgeous.

Wikipedia’s description of the plot:

The story is set roughly a generation after the then-current DC universe. Ten years prior to the start of the story, the Joker massacres the staff of the Daily Planet, killing (among others) Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Lois Lane. As he arrives for his trial, he is killed by a new superhero named Magog. In an instance of jury nullification, Magog is acquitted for his cold-blooded act, and Superman is appalled by the public embracing a killer as a hero. Already disheartened at the death of Lois Lane, Kal-El abandons his life as Superman, retreating to his Fortress of Solitude where he will spend the next decade, failing to realize his importance as a constant inspiration/role model to other heroes. Other heroes, equally disturbed at the public’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to Magog’s actions, withdraw from the world at large.

Without the moral compass provided by Superman and his generation, there is little or no distinction between “heroes” and “villains”. Metahumans battle openly in the streets without true cause and with no concern for collateral damage or innocent passersby.

Of course Superman comes back, and things get hot. In addition to the art, painted in watercolor by Alex Ross, it’s a fun, inspiring read, and a welcome break from policy and government shutdowns.

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Filed under Books, D.C.

You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio

If there’s no good reception for me
Then tune me out, ’cause honey
Who needs the static
It hurts the head

In the above 1972 clip, Joni Mitchell says she wrote “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” because she’d never had a hit (the audience scoffs in laughter, but it’s true, at that point, despite having a loyal following for several years, top-of-the-charts fame had eluded her). She says she was trying to figure out how to appeal to DJs (“I was in a very sensitive place, you must understand, but I decided I’ll channel all this sensitivity into commerciality.”) She figured that radios appealed to DJs, so why not write a song that’s, on its surface, about the radio?

Oh honey you turn me on
I’m a radio
I’m a country station
I’m a little bit corny
I’m a wildwood flower
Waving for you
Broadcasting tower
Waving for you

I’ve sort of skipped over it it all of these years that I’ve had a copy of Joni’s “Hits” (not to be confused with “Misses,” a disc of b-sides and not-hits), but “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” is just what I needed to listen to this week. At one point, the guitar breaks, and she warbles, “honey, who needs the static, it hurts the head.” Good question.

Who needs the static?

I’ve had to fight my desire to tune out the static this last week, which has brought a lot of feedback of my City Paper piece. I’d say most of it is positive, and some of it is critical. That criticism breaks down into two areas: very contructive and straight hating (ha, I know, “hating.” Who am I, Chris Brown?). But Ta-Nehisi wrote a pretty great post yesterday critiquing the story and some of the criticism:

If you don’t reach outside your peer group, expect that your piece is going to be somewhat myopic. But with that said, I think it’s really important to consider “Confessions Of A Black Gentrifier” within the context of journalism about gentrification, and the fate of cities in general.

I cut my chops writing and reporting about D.C. for five years. I’ve written and reported on the problems of cities, and the problems of black people, for fifteen years. In all the journalism I’ve produced and consumed in that time, on the subject of cities, in general, and on gentrification, at large, I’ve never noticed any shortage of quotes from the black poor. Indeed the standard conflict pits poor black vs. yuppie whites. More broadly, there’s a recurring theme of black people being “pushed out” usually because of money.

From my perspective, Shani is introducing a narrative, and an angle, we see too rarely in discussions about the problems of the city. There is no question in my mind, that more reporting–and specifically more reporting beyond her social circle–would have made Shani’s story better. I hope she’ll take up that challenge in the future.

As I commented in the thread, both Ta-Nehisi’s interpretation of what I was trying to do, and his criticism of it were accurate. There is more reporting I could have done and more I would like to do. That’s kind of the beauty of not being dead yet, though, right? I can keep pushing. I will keep pushing.

I know you don’t like weak women
You get bored so quick
And you don’t like strong women
‘Cause they’re hip to your tricks

Oh, and “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” ended up being Mitchell’s first big hit, getting to #25 on the Billboard charts.

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Filed under D.C., Journalism, Race

Confessions of ‘Confessions of a Black Gentrifier’

Illustration for Washington City Paper by Robert Meganck

Where have I been?

Working. Working on stuff like this for Colorlines. Working at my actual fulltime job.

And, also, working on this.

Today, my first-ever cover story, anywhere ran in the Washington City Paper, which is somewhat surreal, because I remember being a young journalism student at Howard who was completely entranced with the awesome longform covers in the magazine. And now I have one. Well, I don’t know if it’s awesome, but I worked really hard on it.

A snippet (it’s long, you should instapaper it, or better yet, pick up a free physical copy in town):

When I moved here last summer, all I could see were the changes in my neighborhood. I’d attended Howard University from 2002 to 2006, and while I knew that the city was where I wanted to stay, I got a job in New Jersey and worked there for a few years.

It was pure luck that when I made it back, I found a house for rent in LeDroit Park, right around the corner from my old dorm. The change that had occurred in four short years was stark.

To put it bluntly: There were white people, everywhere. Now, they trek between Bloomingdale and U Street NW by way of the busy intersection of Georgia and Florida avenues, where just nine years prior, it was a place where black college students butted up against unemployed brothers lingering on corners.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. The shift was happening even when I was in school, and it was quite noticeable then. A college friend noted at some point between freshman and senior year—after 2003, when Magic Johnson opened a Starbucks connected to the Howard University Bookstore on Georgia Avenue as part of a community development program called “Urban Coffee Opportunities”—that there were, as she put it, “just more white people around.”

Johnson sold his shares in the UCO program to Starbucks last year, and company CEO Howard Schultz bragged in a press release: “Together we opened several successful locations, including our Harlem store, which led the redevelopment of that now vibrant neighborhood.” While the Georgia Avenue store may not have helped economic development on that strip—there seem to be as many, if not more, empty storefronts as there were in 2003—it became a pretty reliable place to find white people on an otherwise largely black stretch.

White professionals and hipsters trickled in, slowly, visible even through the bubble of being a black college student, surrounded by 10,000 other black college students, in a largely black neighborhood, in a mostly black city. By 2004, they were regularly spotted making their way to and from the Shaw–Howard University Metrorail station. And by the time I graduated, white people were jogging up 4th Street NW through the campus, and walking their large dogs on the green lawn of Howard’s Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library—something longtime black residents never did.

The change was disconcerting, in a way.

More disconcerting, though, is that five years later, I walk my own large dog on the library’s green lawn.

The story of the black gentrifier, at least from this black gentrifier’s perspective, is often a story about being simultaneously invisible and self-conscious. The conversation about the phenomenon remains a strict narrative of young whites displacing blacks who have lived here for generations. But a young black gentrifier gets lumped in with both groups, often depending on what she’s wearing and where she’s drinking. She is always aware of that fact.

Read the rest at Washington City Paper.

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Filed under D.C., Economy, Journalism, Links, Race