Submitted by Gentrification Vet
My wife and I moved to our suburb in 2019 and made friends quickly. Some we knew because they encouraged us to move to that town and others we made once settled in. We were introduced often to new people as the couple who did the gentrification thing and left. One weekend, my wife bought a book and quickly finished it. She handed it to me and said, “you’ll laugh at this one but Jessica thought I’d like it as it’s about gentrification.” I picked it up and within thirty six hours was howling at the book and its finale. As awful as it is as a book, it is a good look at how the other side sees gentrification.
When No One Is Watching is written by a highly praised & rewarded black female. Alyssa Cole is a romance novelist who decided to write a thriller about gentrification. Despite the lavish praise, it is terrible. I checked YouTube reviews after reading it to see if there was any counter to the media reviews. Black women loved it. White women, there are few male YouTube book reviewers, praised it, but some carefully constructed their criticism of the book. It felt like more of a romance novel. It built slowly and then had a rushed, movie feeling ending. Safe criticism. That is because it is a romance novel with the finale of Get Out attached.
Gifford Place in Brooklyn is the setting, and it is a black neighborhood with families and friends and the lowest crime it has seen in ages, seeing the arrival of white gentrifiers. Is the bodega important? The word bodega is used fourteen times in the book and only by black characters. The bodega has a cat, too, and the cat matters later in the novel. There is an unusual device of the narration switching between the attractive but mentally unstable black lead and the troubled but helpful and willing to learn white male heroic partner (and love interest). He and other whites call it the corner store.
Every cliché from the ethnic studies courses is here. On page one you get hit with slavery. Reparations gets thrown around nonchalantly. Redlining is mentioned, restrictive covenants are cited, which keep in mind, both things have long been made illegal. Every dumb anti-white item is mentioned like Beckys, food seasoning, calling authorities, etc. It’s like reading reply threads on viral black tweets. This is in a New York Times Bestseller.
The framing of the demographic change in Brooklyn is weird. It’s presented as if Brooklyn was always black. When whites left in the mid-20th century wave, it is treated with one sentence of well that was white flight. Why did the whites take flight, Alyssa? Reviewing Brooklyn’s demographics is a snap. One can see that in 1930 it was 97% white. By 1990, it was 47% white. What happened? This is never mentioned. The narrator explicitly states feeling uneasy seeing white faces, hating how her neighborhood was changing and bemoaning people having to leave due to rising rents. That 20th century ethnic cleansing of whites from cities gets the one phrase of ‘white flight’. Wonder what went through their minds, Alyssa. I wonder why that is not history she uncovered.
Everything is a conspiracy, but this is fiction and there is a giant conspiracy, which we will get to. All white characters are crude caricatures of well paid, urban whites. Our hero is the only one who is nice, and he is deferential at every turn, has a dark past, never questions anything said by any black character, and has a dark past from the lower income strata of society. There are the throwaway white lesbians who are super nice and friendly. Perfectly coded white male ally and LGBT good guys. Every white has the n word on their lips just waiting to come out, despite the author admitting and joking about whites being reluctant to even notice race and say black or white. The contradictions don’t register. All black characters are good people. There are plenty of men in the neighborhood, including the father of two boys who study hard for test prep, volunteer and take AP classes. They are brainiacs.
I must discuss the white, romantic love interest. The author did not write a male’s thoughts and feelings well, but what is funny is just how amazing he is. He says all the right, white liberal things while citing toxic masculinity, mediocre white man confidence and other self-deprecating race things. She never does this. It’s always a one way putdown and mock street. He also puts up with abhorrent behavior by the female black lead, as well as lust for her, which he denies early, but it comes roaring on later. Yes, young white guys in relationships with hot, rich white girls lust for 33 year old divorced black women. He has a rough background with the trailer parks, a single mom abused by men, and a mob connected dad. He is the perfect white ally though, never questioning anything no matter how irrational. Late in the novel, our white hero admits that the rash of recent break ins and home burglaries were done by him, just to make his portion of the mortgage. It’s the cherry on top for ludicrous character portrayals.
The police, of course, are evil. Current or former cops are awful. There is a line how it is awful that the cops can come in and ruin your life, but it is in response to them making a drug arrest. Now this may be part of the giant conspiracy, but there is still that statement. They could ruin your life as a drug trafficker. The potential for police to arrest or kill blacks is always present despite what we have seen in the iPhone revolution the last several years.
This is par for the course though. The preaching and academic guided anecdotes in the book pour out. Our hero, who turns out to be a habitual liar, got his big banking job in an interview where they just discussed music and sports. The job itself is a grift and graft where no one does work, but gets paid well. It speaks to the mystery that those jobs are for the left’s rabble. Financial firms now all include case studies and little mini-tasks for interviewees to complete. They learned to screen the glib applicants. No one is moving big money without showing basic competencies. References do not matter when you are white in this fictional world. The black characters even express disapproval that a pharma firm wants to treat opioids because no one cared when crack hit the community. Opioids kill 50,000 a year and was a very under the radar issue for years compared to the massive media attention crack received.
The book is a preachy joke. No one should waste time reading this. Black women and white liberals will read this, have all biases confirmed, and all narratives supported and reaffirmed. The ending missed a great opportunity. Throughout the book, the female lead cited her depression and anxiety. She did a stint in a mental facility due to self-harm concerns. There is a big reveal (after a sex scene where the white ally turns into a bedroom colonizer), and I almost thought the reveal would lead to an admission to authorities about the reality of her mom and some resolution with growth and pairing with the white lead. Twas not to be. No, no, we had to read the Get Out style finale. Whites, turncoat black politicians and light skin traitors all get wiped out. Note that the female black lead turns out to be a better shot than the white guy with a family tie to the Russian mob. There is a deus ex machina to save the duo when they are strapped down to gurneys, similar to Get Out. Then another deus ex machina that hushes up the mess the leads leave behind. It’s a black resentment/revenge fantasy same as Hunters on Amazon Prime.
The racial horror is not bodily horror, not quite. The racial horror is that evil, giant forces are deployed by whites and some collaborators to remove peaceful, friendly blacks for gain. This specific conspiracy ties the perpetrators back to an old Dutch company that made money in slavery that turned into a bank, which now supports the company doing the gentrification project via multiple subsidiaries. They are experimenting on old black people with new pharmaceuticals. If you saw the comedy film Black Dynamite, it is reminiscent of the scene where the heroes piece together the convoluted conspiracy, which mocked ‘70s Blaxploitation films for their nonsense. Again, this is in a New York Times Bestseller. Black readers do not understand the big forces at work, so it is an evil, slavery linked web of white people. All of those whites have Dutch or WASP names. Eventually, you find out that this conspiracy is nationwide.
My wife said how if the races were reversed, this book would be shouted down for the caricature of an entire people. I reminded her the media’s rules. It’s the game. As she put it, that isn’t how gentrification goes, even if pieces are true like developers and the changeover in type of businesses. We were veterans of the gentrification process, so let me provide my perspective on what happened or happens.
Our city experienced gentrification in black, white and even mixed neighborhoods. Many were full of abandoned homes. I was a new college grad working in the city and my wife a nurse at a major hospital network. A major event that I did not notice the importance of happened right when I graduated college. A huge conspiracy for murder case wrapped up several gang members, and they sang like canaries to get only life with parole. This took out the major gang that operated across a swath of the city. The city hired more cops and had many cops out in the areas that gang had ruled. No new gang popped into that space.
What did pop up were white collar firms buying old, abandoned brick industrial buildings to turn into office space. Two years later, my wife and I discussed buying a rundown home to rehab and be part of the change in that neighborhood that had one such office conversion. There was no real estate agency. We bought our home via a land bank auction. Land bank auctions auction off property that has not paid their property taxes, and have been abandoned. Those auctions, in that era, were full of white and black men paying low prices in cash for new rentals or investments to rent to higher income clientele. There was also another group of bidders: young whites looking for cheap homes. We went to one auction to see how it worked. You had to pay the full price within 24 hours, but once bought, it was yours, but you had to have rehabbed it or built new within two years. We scouted homes, saw one we liked, looked in its windows to see the garbage left behind and managed to get it at auction.
Our home was in a neighborhood (six blocks for reference) that had been 75% black/25% white. The neighborhood next to us was the rape capital of the ‘80s, which my dad reminded me of nonstop. That demographic split is what the census reported. I did not believe it when we moved in. Most homes were abandoned and being auctioned, there were empty lots that were auctioned off and the neighborhood looked more 60/40. The k-2nd grade school was 90/10 black/non-black. We rented our apartment and spent almost a year fixing up the home. We needed to make some structural fixes. The home cost $8,000, but the fix ups required a lot more (much more than we anticipated). We had 3 small bedrooms, one and a quarter baths, a tiny kitchen and gaps in the hardwood floor that let us see into the basement. We moved in and kept to ourselves, slowly making acquaintances with new pioneers and some legacy neighbors.
That’s where When No One Is Watching is at its most unrealistic. Most people generally kept to themselves. Because some gentrifiers were renters versus owners, there was a cycle in and out of newcomers but a friendly nucleus formed. There were no neighborhood parties or parades. The long time residents kept to themselves, especially blacks. One old white resident was friendly and talked to us and encouraged us to have kids because there were so few kids in the neighborhood compared to when her family was growing. She was 80, bought in ’56 and her kids were out of the house by ’80 and always trying to get her to move. Above all else, there were no men. There were a couple old white couples where the husband puttered around, but the only men age 20-65 were the newcomers.
When No One Is Watching kept referencing friends and families that always were there for each other, but it was never the case in my neighborhood. There were matriarchal networks, but many of those women didn’t like one another. There actually were not many kids either. Collapsing fertility hit them, too. The neighborhood felt empty, and it was not just the lots where homes had been razed or the empty commercial space, but the lack of people. There were twenty or so couples that bought homes at land bank auctions, and we found out who got money pits and who got decent albeit ruined homes. There were a few empty buildings that were bought by developers and resurrected as apartments for college kids and young professionals. The empty storefronts turned into gentrification staples like a small, quirky market and a coffeeshop that stayed open until 2am. We never got a gym or a brew pub when I lived there. The only store in the neighborhood beforehand was not an ethnic fresh food store like in the novel but a gas station with a big mini-mart and plexiglass up to the seven foot level.
The novel describes neighbors always alarmed by events in the night that happen. Always helping each other out. Summer is when festivals and parties happen in the book. The book focuses on a neighborhood garden! I wish all of that had been true in ours. Summer was when crime spiked for us. In the first year, we heard a random guy crying for help at night. After ten minutes, we called the cops. I asked if I could go towards him, but 911 said stay in your home… the cops will handle it. Police stopped by to ask when we first heard the man cry for help. We answered. We asked if he was alright, and he was injured but okay. Attacked? That was an open investigation. I bought a gun just in case. We had moments like that the first three years. I’d ask neighbors, and newcomers would often say they heard something and noted it or called the police. Legacy neighbors would shrug or shake their head. Occasionally, we’d get a “damn” to go along with a head shake. One such incident involved a teen stabbed at 1am. We later learned via his grandmother’s neighbor that he was dealing, and the product suppliers decided to take his cash and not hand over product. He couldn’t tell the cops all of that. She kicked him out of the house about the same time the true story made the rounds.
Over the course of a decade, the empty lots filled, more abandoned homes got fixed up, more people, of all colors but overwhelmingly white, moved in. The cliché about gays and gentrification did not hit our neighborhood, but I know of others around the city that were described as safe for gays. It was a combo of corporate developers building apartments or rehabbing bigger brick buildings, private buyers like us or a public initiative that rewarded working single moms. That initiative rehabbed a deserted home and set up a single working mom with an affordable mortgage one house at a time. The city rehabbed the small parks that dotted the area. No newcomer ever voiced opinions like the evil whites in the book even in one on one privacy. All were grateful for the opportunity. It was years before people talked about financial perks.
I was friendly and always eager to listen like the white lead in When No One Is Watching, but never a naïve, deferential fool like him. Our next door neighbor was an old black matriarch, partly employed but raising two grandkids, who I made an acquaintance with. I could get out of her, slowly through the years, what happened to those six blocks. She knew the gossip and rivalries between those black grannies. They mostly moved in during the ‘70s. That major gang that the police cleared out (which made the area safer) ruled harshly, but before that, the women had virtually eliminated their men. Kids grew up to leave due to dysfunction or in some happy cases, better areas. Their kids did not come back to rebuild the neighborhood. That gang took advantage of the neighborhood and made it a fiefdom. That reign was ended and now gentrification was changing it. She could admit things were nicer, but kept quiet about any frustrations she may have had like the novel’s heroine, as there was little to celebrate before the change. She also got plenty of coffee from the hipster coffeeshop.
The real test came when people started having kids. The novel shames the us versus them mentality, but it is real and natural. In relation to schools, it was a valid concern. One mom said the flood of kids would probably tip the k-2 school 50/50 black/non-black. Maybe move it even more. After that, well, there were catholic schools to look at. Did not happen despite the numbers she ran. This is where the machine worked against any chance to keep living costs down or set up roots. Principals have power. What happened at our little school was that the school did improve. No new curriculum. No structural changes. The kids walking through the doors changed. That mom did not work and she’d go in for lunches as allowed. She could keep headcount, and she noted the demographics looked 50/50, slightly better in the kindergarten. Then one year things changed. The principal, and this was all within her power, allowed for students from outside the school’s regulated zone to come to the school. No proof of residency was required. In one move, the school snapped back to 80/20. Two seven year old kids were expelled in the first month that fall due to the zero tolerance violence rule. No one knows why that residency procedural change happened, but people had theories.
We had been there over ten years, had two kids and were thinking about a third. Our oldest was in kindergarten, and it was okay. My wife no longer had to work full time, and I did not need to be in the city. I did not want to pay for private school due to a spiteful principal. We took a look at comparable listings and realized we could move quickly. It took longer to find a home we liked in the suburbs than to find a buyer for our home. We enjoyed the sweat equity and the rise in home prices in the entire neighborhood because of the massive changes. That slight tension that pervaded the summer evenings was a low-level stress I did not realize until we left. Life is quiet. Some of the college kids ask me about living in the city right after school. I’m honest. A countdown clock is always running.
When No One Is Watching is a fantasy novel, not a thriller. So was the gentrification project. It was going to be an ephemeral thing because the system that wants that space reclaimed, wants it reclaimed for its ends. It wants more tax dollars. It wants rising real estate values. It does not want you having kids go through those school systems. They don’t want you laying down long term roots. You can have your temporary playground for couples.
I’ve gone back when in the city for business just to see old friends, and some stayed. One couple had only one kid so they could pay the Catholic school fees easy; another mom homeschooled her kids, but the eye was on what to do about high school. One couple started renting their home to college students and moved to a suburb, which I had missed on Facebook posts. The coffeeshop stands, but the quirky market was replaced with a nice restaurant. A pop up 24/7 gym opened on what had been an empty lot, looking like a prefab building and containing all new equipment. The neighborhood has completely turned over with the only noticeable demographic change being more professional Asians. The only black females I saw were an old matriarch on one front porch and a petite youngster with her white boyfriend at the coffeeshop. She would be the type to read When No One Is Watching. I laughed at the novel and rolled my eyes constantly at each terrible trope. She wouldn’t. She’d nod along to all of the preachy social and political commentary. She’d never understand that while sitting a few blocks from the rape capital of the 1980s she could walk safely anytime down to the coffeeshop alone thanks to the process of gentrification.
5 Comments Add yours
Why do you write on such topics implying as though there’s still a future for this husk of a nation?
The U.S. is finished. The American Indian is going to repossess the land.
Do you think they can put down the bottle of Scope long enough to do that?
This is interesting, albeit too long and with an unnecessary book review attached. The intentional design of child free zones using the establishment’s favorite bioweapon (subsaharans) is something I had never thought about, but it makes perfect sense. Shitlibs will say all the right things but do everything in their power to not live next to or send their children to school with any blaqs outside the talented tenth. The moment you need your community to provide something beyond nice brunch spots is the moment it’s time to leave and another kid to move in. It’s a brilliant strategy and a wonderful illustration of the high/low vs the middle concept.
As far as I am concerned the middle has it coming and Suburban Nationalism is DOA.
Force the Shitlibs to live with the consequences therefore. They cannot be allowed to escape.