The Secret Conversations of Black Gentrifiers

This is a new type of entry, which we call Conversations. Each month, we will choose an article from another source, send it out to a group of people, and post the conversation that results. If you are interested in participating in our Conversations, please contact us at This Conversation will discuss Shani O. Hilton’s article Confessions of a Black D.C. Gentrifier from the Washington City Paper.

I recently read Shani Hilton’s piece on Black Gentrification. She frames the article as a confessions piece, implying some hesitation to disclose her viewpoint on the issue. Or, perhaps even declaring an acknowledgement of guilt. In a country where race and class are difficult to disambiguate, the optics of neighborhood change are often judged by the skin color of folk on the street. And, thus, the narrative has been restricted as such. Hilton, however, notes that:

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.

In a city like Washington, D.C., chalk-full of “gub’mint jobs,” young Black gentrifiers often have the same priorities as their white counterparts: affordable rent, accessibility, and nearby amenities. But, Hilton’s guilt is rooted in the fact that while other, largely white gentrifiers tend to feel unsafe when pioneering into new frontiers of gentrification, she can “pass” as a non-gentrifier and is even emboldened by living in a majority-Black space:

…perhaps it’s that feeling of being part of a larger black whole, left over from the 1970s, of being in this—what’s quickly becoming a poorly defined space—together.

Oh, the quiet dance of the Black gentrifier, gliding back and forth between the boundaries of race, class, and culture. I know that many of my own friends can relate to this sense of self-consciousness in gentrifying spaces. I sent this article out to a few friends, and the ensuing conversation exhibited a dynamism that mimics the sort of underground existence of gentrifiers. As such, I asked their permission to publish the conversation, as we at Plurale Tantum want to encourage you to join in the conversation. We intend to continue to publish Conversations on selected articles; contact us at if you are interested in participating.


wow. this has to be one of the best articles I’ve read in quite some time. I can definitely relate to her and how she feels about moving into the “hood” and it not mattering at all. Many of my white friends, most of whom are from New England or other homogeneous neighborhoods still think of Harlem as dangerous. To be fair I grew up in New Orleans and have seen my fair share of crime reports on the nightly news; 7 homicides in one weekend isn’t that shocking. If you haven’t lived it, it’s tough to know, yet it doesn’t give you license to be ignorant. This ignorance often devolves into commentary that can be perceived as prejudiced.  In a way I’m venting because I’m tired of hearing communities described as “ghetto” when they aren’t. I really do struggle to understand the other side of my argument. HALP!


This is my life.  My house my grandpa owned and lived in for 40 years used to be on 4th St NW in LeDroit Park right by Howard before we lost it 3 years ago (black folks really need to work on how to secure 2nd mortgages and rehab properties without losing all their assets and the house in the process).  I wrote my senior essay on the neighborhood in 2003 right before major demographic shifts started happening whole scale.  I lived on Georgia Ave and Sherman Ave, where teengagers were getting shot up and I now live in Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights, all mentioned in the article.  But I grew up in OKC and I have advanced degrees.  I am a black gentrifier.

The truth of the matter is, the rent in my apt. bldg has gone up over $300 in 3 years, and at the end of the day, what Ngongang says in the last paragraph will ring true – DC will be majority rich people, or at least Northwest DC.  And with the connection of race and socieocomic status in the states being what it is, Chocolate City will be over and done with in the next 10 years.  It’s going to be like Paris and other European cities were poor folks are relegated to the outskirts while those who can afford to like in the city do.  As for the rest of the black gentrifiers who are renting and not buying, I doubt they are actually different from other transient folk who live in DC for a few years and move out- the city has always had that major portion population which makes it different from most b/c of the government. My friends and family (who used to live in DC but for the most part are out in PG County Maryland) all think I’m crazy for putting up with rent where it is now, and they’re right.  Good thing I’m headed to New Orleans….


YungEjucatedBlack, we must have been neighbors when you were finishing up your senior essay. NOLABoyNBrklyn’s comments have me thinking a lot about the public safety (perception of) issues.  …since i’ve moved my OG-ass (‘original gentrifier’ in honor of the fact that i’m living in an old urban renewal high rise) back to dc this fall, i’ve been particularly disgusted by the feelings of many white folks (usually gentrifiers) who feel like they’re entitled to never have to see or face violence.  like the outraged email sent by the ledroit residents that the author discussed.  of course ideally we’d live in a world without violence, but why the hell do you think you deserve all of these extra city resources just because a few people have been held up in your neighborhood.  to think that your little block somehow deserves that when thousands of people in the city don’t have jobs, don’t have enough to eat, live on the streets.  i think it’s the tones of people’s voices/emails/letters on this matter, the expression of shock – how dare they have to live for a moment without the certainty of safety – it just makes me crazy.

p.s. there is at least one black woman who is in love with wonderland and lives in bethesda, md – my friend *Sharon.  although she definitely would not take a cab.  she’d drive her big white car, secure it with a club, and not get too loaded to drive home.