Spike Lee’s take on Brooklyn made me think. I used to live in Brooklyn. Raised in Orange County, aka the OC, and moved to Brighton Beach. I thoroughly loved Brooklyn and would have stayed there forever if it weren’t for 9/11. I needed to be with my family and recover from the trauma. Still, for years I vowed to return. Financial setbacks and a bad car accident kept pushing out my return date. But I always made time to visit, flying from southern California to Brooklyn at least once a year for over ten years. Then I saw the Facebook post.
This girl who is the sworn enemy of one of my best friends posted that she now lived in Brooklyn. The girl was a friend of a friend, and I clicked on her profile to test my saccharine tolerance. She is what some readers would call the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl – petite, cute, Natalie Portman-esque. When I saw that she and her hubby had moved to Brooklyn, I went to church. Some readers will know that I don’t mean I entered a house of worship, but that I became emotionally agitated. My last couple of visits to Brooklyn had left me with a strange feeling, a notion that it wasn’t the emotional home base of years ago. When I saw the pixie’s post, it all came together.
This is a girl who had the proverbial Black Friend. She referred to her friend as ‘our angel of Harlem’. Some readers will know exactly what kind of person would do such a thing, and understand my chagrin at the idea of sharing a zip code with her. SHE moved to Brooklyn? To MY Brooklyn? Weren’t there too many black people there? Wasn’t it too dirty? Weren’t New Yorkers a little too honest for her? No, because apparently a large number of these girls and the guys who love them had infiltrated. No wonder certain people I knew had stopped saying ‘Brooklyn’ with the disdain reserved for words like ‘diarrhea’. No wonder the quirky girls on TV now happily lived in Brooklyn. My complacence had cost me – the hipsters were upon us and I hadn’t even noticed. Growing up in Orange County had numbed me to the warning signs. If the sworn enemy of my good friend now found the place habitable, there went the neighborhood.
I get the feeling that the hipster crowd sneaked up on a lot of people. They seem so sincere, so ‘authentic’ (my new a-word). When these guys and gals suddenly found me enchanting, I was flattered. But when I attended their functions, I found myself the only person of color. I found myself being quoted in a certain vernacular that I hadn’t even used. How else would anyone know a black person said ‘teeth’ if you didn’t say ‘teef’? And no matter the topic of conversation, somehow it always returned to me being black. I began to see a pattern in the type of people who inflicted this behavior upon me –the facial hair, the woefully mismatched outfits, the passion for beer. Since I’m a big fan of swing music and the dancing thereof, I constantly ran into this crowd. I got into swing because I had no rhythm. As a kid, my love for New Kids on the Block and Glenn Miller were equal. And when I attained to drinking age, I was more surprised than anyone to discover that I loved beer. So what were all these preppy folk doing in my space?
They made me feel like I lived in an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, and all that that implies. For so long I couldn’t explain the nausea that came over me when I entered Urban Outfitters. I could not and will not go into an Abercrombie & Fitch store. I never knew why, but I had the distinct impression that if I went in, they would ask if I were lost.
And then along came Spike.
The crystallization of my nebulous worries came out in his expression. Some people complain that he no longer lives in Brooklyn, but his heart is clearly there and he can live wherever he wants. In his verbalizing of my frustration, I was able to pinpoint why hipsters infuriate me:
‘You mock my pain’. Buttercup said this to the Dread Pirate Roberts, and it’s the answer to everything. Here’s what I mean:
• It’s so ironic that I’m dressed like an old black man when I’m a young white man. I can ironically sit on the street corner and jam with the old black man because I can move through all strata of society and this guy can’t leave his neighborhood without being stared at and/or harassed by the police. I bet he remembers when he couldn’t leave his neighborhood without getting lynched! Get a picture.
• It’s so ironic that we’re drinking out of mason jars because it’s fun to pretend we’re poor and can’t afford real glasses. (This also goes for shopping at thrift stores)
• And speaking of glasses, it’s so ironic that I’m dressed like a nerd when I could pose for an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. It’s fun to pretend like my looks are sub-par when it’s so obvious they’re not.
Then there’s the Disney of it all:
• Look guys, Black Peopleland! Let’s get on those rides. Wow, Asian Peopleland, let’s get on those rides. And if we buy the 2-for-1, we can go to Tibetland AND Japanland. They’ll make great backdrops for the pictures we’ll hang in our house in that safe white neighborhood we’re going to move to after we’ve had our fun. Imagine the stories our kids will tell their private schoolmates about their adventurous parents!
Thanks to Mr. Lee, I finally get why this slice of society causes me such rancor. I come from people who had to hide from the KuKluxKlan, who were called the n-word before anyone thought to use their name, who had to sit on the street corner because they weren’t allowed inside, and drank out of mason jars because they couldn’t afford glasses. And I’m not talking about great-grandparents. I’m talking about my mom, who is still too young to collect Social Security.
The hipsters mock my pain. They treat my life and interests like a museum exhibit. I am here to entertain them, and my presence is welcome so long as I don’t marry their son. And I better not try to leave my own neighborhood. That is, until they want it. Now I have to work 80 hours a week just to afford rent, because my neighborhood has been ‘gentrified’ and an apple costs $3 at the hoity-toity organic store. So take pride, hipsters. You were de-humanizing me before it was cool.