A black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon rejected plans to build a Trader Joe's, fearing that the store would result in further gentrification and residents being priced out. Or, as several conservative blogs argue, black activists wanted to keep out whites, and if the races were reversed the mainstream liberal media would be shouting "racists" from the hilltops. As Top Conservative News argued last week:
Why is it considered perfectly normal for residents of a black neighborhood to want to keep their neighborhood black? If the races had been reversed, the media would be denouncing the Portland African American Leadership Forum as the Ku Klux Klan.
According to the Associated Press, the Portland African American Leadership Forum said they would continue to be opposed to development that didn't benefit the black community. It accused the Portland Development Commission, which green lighted the Trader Joe's, of contributing to "to the destructive impact of gentrification and displacement on the African American community." Mayor Charlie Hales and the urban renewal agency's executive director, Patrick Quinton, signed on to a letter supporting that claim. Last week, Trader Joe's backed down, and said the following in a statement: "We run neighborhood stores, and our approach is simple: If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe's, we understand, and we won't open the store in question."
There are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, gentrification is a widespread problem. As large chains and desirable stores move into low-income neighborhoods, young professionals are drawn in by low rents. Landlords raise the rents because people can pay more, and the original tenants have to move. So when the PAALF says they worry a Trader Joe's will attract "non-oppressed populations," they mean people who can afford to pay landlords more. Including some white people. The neighborhood would rather have affordable housing built in the lot, which has been empty for years.
On the other hand, you can just focus on how the neighborhood wants to keep whites out, because gentrification apparently isn't common knowledge. In a post titled "Black Activists Squash Plans For New Trader Joes, Claim It Would Attract Too Many Whites," MrConservative.com wrote last week:
However black political leaders went after the chain and said that their business being located there would 'perpetuate income inequality' and 'displace residents' who lived in the area, although they didn’t exactly say why.
Liberty News called this blatant racism and discrimination, adding that "there is something terribly wrong in a nation where one race can openly reject a company because, in their minds, it might attract members of another race." The Black Sphere, a site with Tea Party leanings, said on Sunday that this was probably for the best, since "imagine how many white folks’ lives they saved!" Again, the gentrification argument is ignored, and this is reverse racism enacted for some unimaginable reason:
I’m not saying whites are better than blacks. But what I am saying is given the choice of having my home in a black neighborhood vs a white neighborhood, I choose the white neighborhood. At least if I want to sell my house for a profit.
While most communities welcome opportunities that will drive up home prices, black Liberals in Portland (and everywhere else) seem to love the PayDay loans stores, bail bondsmen, liquor stores, and run-down bodegas.
The problem with that argument is that gentrification often affects areas where most people rent their homes. If the value of your home goes up, you get charged more and don't benefit from it, unless you're a landlord. And if the roles were reversed, and a wealthy neighborhood wanted to prevent the building of a chain store, it wouldn't necessarily hinge on race. In 2012, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a commercial zoning plan that would prevent chain stores from pricing out mom-and-pop shops in the Upper West Side. Cape Cod has also moved to keep out chain stores, as has San Francisco. Those moves were probably not as controversial.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.