It didn’t take long, just three days, after the often controversial African-American film director Spike Lee spoke out against the “gentrification” of Brooklyn, New York, that his boyhood house there was vandalised. Spike Lee has directed more than 30 films, including She’s Gotta Have it, Summer of Sam, He Got Game, and Do the Right Thing.
Vandals, who must have mistakenly thought that they were at Spike Lee’s boyhood house, broke a window of the front door of the house next door to the one at 165 Washington Park where Spike Lee grew up, and they spraypainted the words “Do the Right Thing’ on an inside wall.
Then, the vandals spraypainted the same words onto the side of the stoop of the house where Spike Lee had lived when he was younger. His father had purchased the brownstone house back in 1968, and he still resides there.
Spike Lee complained about the gentrification of black neighborhoods like Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the one he’d grown up in at Fort Greene during a lecture he gave at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute to mark African-American History Month.
He spoke of the rich people and yuppies who had been taking over these neighborhoods, strolling about with their pedigreed pooches, and disregarding the traditions and customs of the people who lived there for their entire lives.
One of the things that the yuppies complained about, according to Spike Lee, 56, was the noise made by drummers at the park who had been doing the same thing there for four decades without anyone complaining before.
Spike Lee also gave the example of neighbors who had moved next door to his father’s brownstone and had voiced complaints and even had called the police because they thought his dad had been playing his guitar too loudly.
According to Lee, his father, a jazz musician, wasn’t even playing an “electric bass. It’s acoustic.” Nobody previously had complained about the loudness of his father’s guitar playing.
In the speech Spike Lee gave, he also spoke about how the schools were improving, and the garbage being picked up more regularly, and there now being more police protection in Brooklyn. He questioned why it had seemingly taken an influx of white people into the neighborhood to get these needed changes made.
While Spike Lee definitely expressed valid points during his lecture, one person who was less than thrilled by his remarks was his half-brother, Arnold, who didn’t like Lee mentioning the house’s address.
Also, neighbour Dianne Mackenzie didn’t care for Spike Lee’s remarks, as the vandals had accidentally targeted her house, as well as Lee’s boyhood home. She stated that Lee’s rant “was really impacting on me.”
Other people have criticized the speech Spike Lee gave by saying comments like that the director doesn’t even live there anymore, and also that he’s rich, himself, owns lots of property, and has been guilty of bringing gentrification to the areas where he has sold property he owned.
However, as others have pointed out, like Dr. Boyce Watkins who writes for ThyBlackMan.com, these criticisms don’t negate the valid points that Spike Lee made during his lecture.
Spike Lee never mentioned that white people shouldn’t live anywhere that they wanted to, including Brooklyn. Like anyone, they have have the right, as Dr. Watkins wrote, “to live where they want.”
But the people who move into an “gentrify” neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Spike Lee was trying to point out, should show respect to the people who have lived there their entire lives. Also, it shouldn’t have taken rich white people moving into neighborhoods like those in Brooklyn to suddenly make the city decide to start providing better services to them.
As Dr. Watkins said, it doesn’t matter who is making those two points, they are both “legitimate, no matter who is making them.”
Spike Lee has made several controversial remarks before, but he is a person who has consistently stood up for his beliefs and for the African-American community. Though he has moved away from Brooklyn, he still cares about the neighborhood, and what is happening to the community and the people who live there.
Written by: Douglas Cobb