DMI Blog

Mark Winston Griffith

Death in Atlantic Yards

I thank Nicholas Confessore's November 12 piece in the New York Times - Perspectives on the Atlantic Yards Development Through the Prism of Race - for reminding us that the real wedge dividing up the Atlantic Yards political circus is not black or white, but green.

There are good and compelling reasons for people to support the Atlantic Yards project or to fight against it. But as a resident of Central Brooklyn and a black activist who has fought for neighborhood-driven economic justice for twenty years, I'm even more struck by the cost that those of us who consider ourselves part of the "black community" in Brooklyn have already begun to pay for this debate.

Let's be clear: The most recent conversation about Atlantic Yards did not begin with a sober reflection on how to "improve" downtown Brooklyn or the lives of its residents. It didn't have anything to do with developing a "blighted area" or the need to create jobs and affordable housing. It didn't grow out of competing economic development visions between white and black folks, or between the affluent and the poor.

It began with a developer buying the New Jersey Nets, taking advantage of his considerable political leverage in the City, deciding he wanted to appropriate a huge chunk of land in New York, and then spreading enough money around to protect his investment. And as Charles Barron so poignantly observed, "The devil could bring in a project and say it's jobs and affordable housing, and some of us will go for it, because we're on a survival level."

Along those lines, I consider myself a spiritual man. And so I want to take a moment to consider some parts of our collective soul that we black New Yorkers have lost or buried in Atlantic Yards.

I mourn the death of integrity - or at least the appearance of it - that some who have long enjoyed a reputation for independence and progressiveness, have suffered for mobilizing black support for the project while being on the Ratner payroll. As arrogant and reckless as Daniel Goldstein's "white masters" comment was, can any one deny the racialized demagoguery and black allegiances that Ratner's money has inspired?

I mourn the death of facts. Even the legitimate debate on issues like jobs and affordable housing have been so politically charged that an honest assessment of the project's true public benefits are virtually unattainable.

I mourn the death of self-determination and the value of resistance. For those who wish to write off anyone protesting the rise of the Atlantic Yards project as white, privileged cry babies, wait until the next time someone comes knocking on your door insisting they have a better idea for how to use your home.

I mourn the death of self-definition. Perhaps the most insulting and dangerous notion to come out of the Atlantic Yards debate is that jobs and housing are "black" issues. Meanwhile, quality of life and environmental concerns, the abuse of corporate power and eminent domain, questions of urban aesthetics and overcrowding - not to mention the potential for gentrification that will make every home west of Pennsylvania Avenue even more unaffordable - have been depicted by some as strictly "white" issues.

Certainly black and poor people can defend their self-interests and acknowledge the importance of bread and butter issues without having to deny the full dimensions of their humanity and membership in a broader community.

Mark Winston Griffith: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 2:10 AM, Nov 17, 2006 in
Permalink | Email to Friend