“The Native Americans Were Here First”: Against the Colonial Logic of Gentrification


Some time in college, or high school (idk what they teach at white middle class HS’s), it seems today’s gentle gentrifier learned that across the United States, Native American people were (mostly) displaced from the land they once inhabited by settler-colonialists. If they had a liberal arts education such as the one offered at places like UC Santa Cruz they may even say things like:

“The Native Americans were here first, then the Spaniards, etc. Many places in Oakland — e..g, Temescal and Mosswood — were predominantly Italian American neighborhoods before they became African American. By your logic, African Americans in Temescal are ‘gentrifiers’.”

They proceed to pat themselves on the back for their application of theories of intersectionality, their ability(ies) to summon critical race and ethnic frameworks of sorts via educations in urban planning and public policy, history, politics, or some discipline with the word “critical” in the name, etc. etc.

I’ve been in some of those very classes at UCSC for a little over a quarter now. The truth is that too much of the time, discussions about theory take place in within a total vacuum of empirical data, of either research or lived experience. That is to say, middle class white kids with 0 experience in a particular field read something that sounds nice to them (see: the logic of the displacement of Native American people as bad) and, feeling validated by their ability to apply it in general as a theory (see: if the logic of displacing Native American people was bad, then all displacement of people by another race of people is bad), they feel empowered by said logic model to basically do some really shitty things that middle class white people do (see: empowerment about displacing POC because they are bad for displacing the previous group that lived there).

This is how the logic model works. To go against it would be illogical, irrational, uneducated, and even backwards.

Nevermind that this logic model is completely decontextualized and ahistorical. Never mind that settler colonialism in the United States never actually ended and that they are actively reproducing colonial logic. Yes in fact the last 500 years of North American history have been characterized by white fkn settlers reigning in the “unruly savages,” bringing them into the light of whatever the dominant white narrative of progress happens to be at the time. God, work, community development or my personal favorite: social justice/change….  Especially disturbing is the fact that the communities being displaced are communities who are descendants from said actual Native Americans, our identities convoluded and/or erased in one fell swoop by this logic model.

In a word, the mechanics behind the application of what I’ll call potentially really rad theories are far more complicated and require actual fucking research into how they have acted and are acting in ways that have material consequences, not just in the mind of the special snowflake.

That is how the mechanics of logic should work, and often don’t because so many special snowflakes have so many #feelings. So it may be like totally not nice to tell someone they are being an total a-hole neo-colonizer. This is true, it’s not a nice thing to hear. It might even hurt your fragile #feelings to be told your logic is bullshit. Also true is that we live in a society where $money$ and discourse are tools of violence that these folks are implicated in wherever they employ them to suit fucked up ends. What I mean is that gentrification is the violent silent process of telling someone that you are have more value and more stakes in the questions about what happens in their neighborhood than they do. No words ever have to be exchanged for this very violent process to occur because money and a college education are the modern-day vehicles for colonialism.

That being said, I don’t want to hear one more middle class college student or college grad EVER manipulate their privileged education about the 500 year long violent displacement of my people and my ancestors from this land to justify more colonial projects. EVER.

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