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On Sunday, Washington Post staff writer DeNeen L. Brown released the results of her immersive study on the H Street NE corridor. It’s gentrifying, she says. There are issues of race and class everywhere, she concludes. Other results include the suggestion that white people are uppity assholes.
Capping on white people, of course, is always a surefire route to a lively reader comments section on washingtonpost.com. Adopting the racially coded language of urban hatred, Brown equates “newcomers” to white people. Then she proceeds to question whether the newcomers are smart enough to appreciate “street wit that doesn’t come with a degree.” She slams the newcomers for wanting to remake the place in their own image and other transgressions, too.
The most damning evidence of uppity, racist newcomers comes courtesy of a bartender at U Street haunt the Argonaut. Twenty-six-year-old Courtney Rae Rawls recalls an incident with some white Argonaut patrons who were writing on their table with Argonaut-provided chalk. Here’s how Brown tells the story:
Rawls says most nights, things are cool. But she hesitates. Then she tells a story. She was serving some white patrons. They began writing on the table and she asked them to stop. They ignored her. She repeated: “Please, guys, quit writing on the table. Nobody wants to rub their elbows in chalk.”
The customers laughed. They picked up the chalk again.
Exasperated, the bartender yelled: “Come on, ya’ll grown people!”
A white woman at the table mocked: ” ‘Ya’ll grown people!’ What kind of language is that?”
The woman: “You ought to be glad I bought a $500,000 house in your black ghetto neighborhood.”
When I first read that anecdote, I said to myself, Hmm, that seems unlikely. Gentrifiers who are racist generally have a more subtle way of making their points these days.
And on today’s chat with Brown on washingtonpost.com, there’s some evidence that the anecdote IS bullshit. Here’s a post from the chat:
The only factual parts of that story were that we were indeed writing with chalk on the tables (what else would a bucket of sidewalk chalk on the table be for) and that a confrontation ensued. Contrary to what appeared in the story, the confrontation did not take on any race/class overtones until Ms. Rawls said “Y’all wouldn’t act like this in your own neighborhood.” We replied, as proud Capitol Hill residents, “this is our neighborhood.” To which Ms. Rawls replied, “You are the kind of people that are ruining this neighborhood.” We were minding our own business and having fun (maybe a little too much fun) until Ms. Rawls launched into a tirade.
And another point: If Brown and the Post Style section really want to get at the bottom of the racial divide on H Street, why don’t they do some reporting? Check out this incident from the story, in which Brown is hanging out with nightlife entrepreneur Joe Englert:
You ask him: What makes white people move into an area they dared not go for many years. What is the tipping point?
“It’s kind of like a field of dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ It’s my yoke,” he says. “People are looking for an excuse to go out.” The city is where life happens, he says.
Why ask Englert? He lives in Glover Park. If Brown really wanted the answer to that question, I’m sure she could have posed it to some of these “newcomers.” But why bother with that when you can tar them all with a dubious barroom incident?