Spike Lee Rant Triggers Debate on Gentrification

He unleashes during Brooklyn event

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 27, 2014 4:24 PM CST

(Newser) – A Spike Lee tirade earlier this week on gentrification in New York City's black neighborhoods continues to resonate, with Lee going on CNN last night to explain his expletive-laden rant. He's fine with new people moving into neighborhoods that were once mostly black and mostly poor, he says. "My problem is that when you move into a neighborhood, have some respect for the history, for the culture." This all started Tuesday night at an African-American History Month event in his native Brooklyn. As New York recounts, Lee vented about the "Christopher Columbus syndrome" of rich white people moving in. "You can't discover this! We been here. You can't just come and bogart."

He also told the story of his jazz-musician dad who bought the family home in 1968, "and the mother******* people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not—he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the mother******* house in nineteen-sixty-mother*******-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get the f--- outta here!" And that's just a small sample. In response, self-described white "gentrifier" Joshua Greenman called Lee's remarks racially offensive in the Daily News. "The phenomenon he decries is mostly innocuous, inevitable and, in a diverse and economically dynamic city, healthy," writes Greenman. At Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams thinks Lee's argument is complicated by his own vast wealth, and she also thinks he's simplifying a complicated issue. But, she adds, he's spot-on "in his assertion that whoever you are, 'You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations, and you come in and now s--- gotta change because you’re here?'" (Click the New York link to hear the full audio of Lee's remarks.)

Spike Lee in 2013.
Spike Lee in 2013.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
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