and The Rest Of NYC
by Gloria Dulan-Wilson
(this is a reprint of a 2004 column. Pay Attention Buffalo!)
On Sunday, January 27 broadcast of LIKE IT IS, Brother Shikulu Shange told a heart breaking story: His shop Record Shack and Bobby’s Happy House have been targeted for extinction, through eminent domain issues.
Gil Noble, in his usual calm, but incisive manner, asked the key questions that made it possible for the horrible story to unfold. Bobby Robinson, who was also to have appeared on the show, could not do so because he was so devastated over the closing of his store. “They came in, pushed some things around, records were all over the floor, and then they padlocked the door,” Shange stated emotionally.
Shange continued, “The youth are not going to be educated to think or act for themselves. There is no school. It’s brainwash. They don’t teach their children to be proud of themselves. They are being taught to work for the corporation. They are not taught to end drugs. They are not being taught to own or run their own businesses.”
When Noble queried about the profitability and prosperity of the music business, Shange quipped, “The music industry is in trouble. The downloading of music is cutting into their profitability. Music intustry has been merging and trying to clean it up. They are re-configuring the industry even now trying to maintain their profits.”
Then he got down to the crux of the matter: “The mayor is destroying the community. New York is marketed out there as the best place in the world; as very clean, yet we have more rats than people.”
Mr. Bobby Robinson — Bobby’s Happy House, 91 had his record store shut down last Monday without so much as a by your leave. Record shack which was saved in the 80’s is about to meet the same fate. “Music is a part of us, and we need it to come out when we need it. Brother Robinson produced records out of his meager earnings. He did the best he could. If our people controlled more businesses we could do better!! If you don’t control and don’t own, you have no say. Upscale businesses come out with over 2 million dollars a day in Harlem.”
Shukulu is fighting in courts as well as in the streets Has a great deal of support. He is set to be shut down in March. Bobby Robinson’s store was shut down on Martin Luther King, Jr’s Birthday. An obvious attempt to further demoralize him. It appears that the current mayor is in cahoots with the developers. Whole blocks of Harlem are being sold right out from under the tenants and business owners. They are packaged and sold in bulk without the participation or involvement of the current tenants — Harlemites!
Per Shange: “There is no consultation of the tenants, and no return plan. The entire corner of Malcolm X Blvd and 125th street has been torn down. There is a plan a program to erect a high rise hotel with $300.00 rates, pretty much precluding the participation of regular Harlem residents.”
The fact that Bobby Robinson, who has owned his shop for over 60 years, was so devastated at the callous and inhumane manner in which his store was shut down that he was not able to appear on Like It Is shows the total lack of regard for his humanity. According to Shange, “There was a “construction” clause included in his newest lease which meant that if there was construction, he didn’t have a leg to stand on, but would be forced to vacate the premises.” It was as though he had made no contribution of significance to the community. It’s as if all he had done or tried to do meant nothing at all in the greater scheme of thing. And indeed it probably didn’t when it came to mainstream society.
The question was raised about whether or not the buying up of Harlem came from outside (read foreign) interest. Shange postulated that it was pretty much the case, not only in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Black areas are being targeted. “Areas where you once had homes you now find people sleeping under plastic with what’s left of their worldly goods; they are being pushed out; the newly constructed apartments are far too expensive for them; and they are being told to go away — where they didn’t care.”
Ethnic cleansing in Harlem, and by extension Brooklyn, the Bronx and parts of Queens, will mean that there will be little to no Black families or culture left. As big glass square boxes are stacked on top of each other, replacing homes and communities, there will be little left on the landscape of what we have contributed.
Columbia University is one of the biggest perpetrators having been handed on a platter some 17 acres of West Harlem to “expand their biochemical research” system. It’s as if we’re supposed to accept the proposition that the school’s well-being is much more important that the lives and well being of some 60,000 Black and Latino people who have resided there for decades. Columbia has been silently acquiring properties in the surrounding areas for quite some time; evicting viable businesses, turning out residents of apartment buildings and replacing them with students who will have no say when the buildings are later bulldozed. It must be noted that the university expansion system is the new sacred cow. It’s the new Trojan Horse that is used to level Black communities wholesale. It says: If you’re against the expansion of our esteemed institutions of higher learning, you must be some sort of barbarian! How could you stand in the way of our university which provides education for millions of pubile upper crusty kids, while yours can’t even afford to walk across the campus?!! Oh sure, they may put out a few scholarships, allow you to run a program or two, employ a few token professors in different departments; put up a few grants to underwrite some of the programs.
In New York’s defense, it’s not just New York that is guilty of this, and Columbia University won’t be the first leviathan college to step on the back of the Black community. No doubt they learned from the likes of Temple University in Philadelphia or Oklahoma University in Oklahoma City, OK, or dozens of other white colleges that have encroached on and displaced millions of Black families and homes homogenizing the neighborhoods with acres of land where homes and grounds once stood and children once played, and people once gathered. Upon close investigation, there are probably countless others who have done the same in other Black communities throughout the US. It’s the new formula for ethnic cleansing.
But it will be far more devastating and far more egregious as Columbia is allowed to bulldoze hundreds of homes under the guise of progress. It’s not as though they couldn’t go vertical like many other companies have downtown. It’s that they serve a dual purpose: eradicating New York City of Black people in a way that they can never come back, under the banal auspices of providing additional educational opportunity for everyone but the Blacks who are being pushed out; with some 6,000 jobs which will probably go to everyone but Black people because there will be none of us left to get them by the time things are completed.
And let’s not just talk about Columbia University or Mayor Bloomberg and his cronies. Take a hard look at your elected officials. Take a hard look on what they did to save the community. Look at how they voted, what they stand for, how they stand up for you. Where do they live? Some of them have already bullet-proofed their living situation, making sure that they would not lose their homes while selling the rest of their constituents down the river. Ethnic cleansing — the entire removal of people of different ethnic and racial groups via death, disease, incarceration, and wholesale removal — is the order of the day. These so-called elected officials know that their days are numbered — that if they don’t grab theirs now, they’ll have nothing, because by the time the dust is cleared and the rubble is removed, it’s doubtful that there will be enough Black people remaining in Harlem to re-elect them anyway. So looking out for number one, while pretending to represent the rest of us, has become the order of the day.
How many of us can afford the affordable housing in Harlem, or in Manhattan? How many of us have been given the true option to be part of the future of the transformed community. And take a hard look at your City Council, who in one fell swoop on December 19, handed Columbia University all of Harlem’s West Side, much as if it was a Christmas gift.
It’s easy to say that Black people must “own something,” now that there is little to no possibility of that ever happening in Harlem. At a time when Brownstones are skyrocketing prices in the millions; at a time when the cheapest studio apartment is over $1000 per month. It’s the proverbial barn door closing after the cart has gone.
It’s easy to say that we must protest these things, knowing that most of those who would stand up to the leviathan have been struggling with these issues for so long, and have grown tired and weary, and the younger ones, who have not been taught the value of Black pride and unity, don’t get it. It appears they think it’s progress. There have actually been some who have naively said, “I don’t get it. There are some Blacks in Harlem with money. There are some who are able to buy these apartments,” and they smile blankly back at you with that “Stepford” look in their eyes, as though they’ve been programmed to respond in that automaton manner.
Ethnic cleansing being the order of the day, take a last look of the neighborhood of your childhood, Harlem. These areas that have spawned greatness for decades are being systematically carved up and sold to the highest bidder. They don‘t look like you, don‘t relate to you; don‘t care about you. They only care about their bottom line, and how they‘re going to make a return on their investment.
And even this of course, is not new news. It’s been going own for quite some time. Witness the fact that inner city schools were raided of their music, art and science classes. That schools suffered deferred maintenance; that rats have suddenly boldly popped up in areas where they’ve never been before out numbering the community.
What happened to the so-called empowerment zone that was to have incubated Black businesses in Harlem? They did everything but empower. Dorothy Pitman Hughes warned Harlem in the 80’s and again in the 90’s about the impending encroachment of the bulldozers. She tried to mobilize and organize community groups to begin purchasing properties, build business guilds, and work together to be a voice and have a say in the progress of Harlem. Hughes was literally driven out of the community — indeed out of the state — in order to quell her message; and the onslaught has continued apace since then.
Now take a look at ourselves and how we figure into our own extermination. What have we been doing over the past 30 to 40 years, since Martin and Malcolm? Where have our minds gone? Where has our power gone? Who did we give it to? How did we use it? Did we abuse it? What happened to the energy and spirit that made Harlem great? It appears that we traded it for the quick and easy and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to what was going on right under our very noses. In the final analysis, it’s really on us. We can point all the fingers to everywhere else, but the real truth is that we’ve given up our own power in hopes that someone else would empower us.
Now it’s back to square one. Not only do we have to stand with brother Shukulu Shange in keeping his business intact; we have to make sure that there are no more incursions into Harlem. And we have to reverse the decision that City Council handed to Columbia a fate that will affect Harlem and Black people for the rest of their lives.
Ethnic cleansing is real and coming to your home or a community near you, unless we do something to stop it now.
Stay Blessed &
bullet Columnist Gloria Dulan-Wilson Is a veteran New York City Journalist. Her experiences, perspective & sense of history are an invaluable combination. “check out my blog:” www.gloria-dulan-wilson.blogspot.com