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Spike Lee vs. A.O. Scott & The New York Times - 'Whose Brooklyn Is It, Anyway?'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
March 31, 2014 5:33 PM
13 Comments
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Just when you thought is was safe to economically and socially marginalize others, as you and your rich friends displace members of working class/poor communities by moving into those neighborhoods... Yesterday, Sunday, a critical piece by A.O. Scott was published in The New York Times titled "Whose Brooklyn Is It, Anyway?," which challenges Spike Lee's now-infamous, expletive-filled gentrification rant, which went viral last month, in which he shared his feelings about newcomers who've taken over once-blighted parts of America's most-populous city (Fort Greene, Brooklyn for example).

You can’t just come in the neighborhood and start Bogarting,” Spike said, “and kill off the Native Americans. Or what they did in Brazil, what they did to the indigenous people... I grew up here in New York. It's changed... And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better? The garbage wasn't picked up every mother******* day when I was living in 165 Washington Park. The police weren't around. When you see white mothers pushing their babies in strollers, three o'clock in the morning on 125th Street, that must tell you something."

In "Whose Brooklyn Is It, Anyway," Scott, in a nutshell, calls Spike Lee a hypocrite, arguing that he was essentially one of the original gentrifiers of the neighborhood he referenced in his rant. Here's a sample:

What’s the saying about people who live in glass brownstones? Nearly everyone who brings up gentrification is implicated in some way, and accusations of hypocrisy on Mr. Lee’s part were not long in coming. In a Daily News op-ed article, Errol Louis noted that Mr. Lee currently lives in the old-money oasis of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and also that when he lived in Brooklyn, he was both an agent and a beneficiary of the gentrification he now decries. Mr. Lee’s presence in Fort Greene in the 1990s — as an artist, an entrepreneur and a celebrity — contributed in no small measure to that area’s cachet. Fort Greene was colonized by successive waves of interlopers: bohemians and creative class types; recent graduates and fledgling families; bankers and lawyers. The cartoon accompanying Mr. Louis’s piece portrayed Mr. Lee as the original hipster, surveying a streetscape overrun with his clones. “There goes the neighborhood,” he says, and the implication is that it’s his own fault.

And maybe not-so surprisingly, today, Spike Lee responded to A.O. Scott's piece as only Spike Lee unmistakably can. Here's a snip of that:

Your criticism of me as a hypocrite is lame, weak and not really thought out. You stated in your Article that because I live in The Upper East Side and I’m talking about Gentrification that makes me Hypocrite. The fact is where I live has nothing to do with it. Your argument is OKEY DOKE. If you did your research you would see I’m a product of The New York Public School System, from Kindergarten to graduating from John Dewey High School in Coney Island. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia and my Family moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn when I was Three. The Lees were the 1st Black Family to move into the predominantly Italian-American Brooklyn Neighborhood of Cobble Hill. My Parents bought their first home in 1968, a Brownstone in Fort Greene, where my Father still lives. Did you know his and a Next door Neighbor’s Brownstone were vandalized by Graffiti after my remarks on Gentrification at Pratt Institute? Curious you left that out of your article.

I must say that, given the seeming new eruption in public enthusiasm over this always-contentious issue, thanks to the publicity Spike's recent rant gave it, there couldn't be a better time for Mat Johnson's dark, satirical novel on gentrification, Hunting In Harlem, to be adapted to film. *Wink* *Wink*

While we wait for that to become a reality, feast on Spike's letter to A.O. Scott in full below:

A Letter To New York Times Film Critic Mr. A.O. Scott responding to his article in the Sunday Arts & Leisure Section “WHOSE BROOKLYN IS IT, ANYWAY?”

Dear Mr. A.O. Scott, I have chosen the platform of my Social Media to respond to you. I do not want the New York Times editing, rearranging my words, thoughts or even ignoring a letter to you. I’m writing what I feel and there is no need for somebody else at The New York Times to interpret it. 

The Truth is The Truth. The Truth is The Light, and as they say in Brasil “One Finger Can’t Block The Sun.” The Truth is Gentrification is Great for the New Arrivals in HarlemSouth Bronx, Bushwick, Red Hook, Bed-Stuy Do or Die and Fort Greene, and in many other cities across the U.S. But not so great for The Brown and Black Residents who have been in these Neighborhoods for decades and are being forced out, to the Suburbs, Down South or back to their Native Islands. 

Your criticism of me as a hypocrite is lame, weak and not really thought out. You stated in your Article that because I live in The Upper East Side and I’m talking about Gentrification that makes me Hypocrite. The fact is where I live has nothing to do with it. Your argument is OKEY DOKE. If you did your research you would see I’m a product of The New York Public School System, from Kindergarten to graduating from John Dewey High School in Coney Island. I was born in AtlantaGeorgia and my Family moved to Crown HeightsBrooklyn when I was Three. The Lees were the 1st Black Family to move into the predominantly Italian-American Brooklyn Neighborhood of Cobble Hill. My Parents bought their first home in 1968, a Brownstone in Fort Greene, where my Father still lives. Did you know his and a Next door Neighbor’s Brownstone were vandalized by Graffiti after my remarks on Gentrification at Pratt Institute? Curious you left that out of your article. 

Mr. Scott, what you fail to understand is that I can live on The Moon and what I said is still TRUE. No matter where I choose to live that has nothing to do with it. I will always carry Brooklyn in my Blood, Heart and Soul. Did anyone call Jay-Z a Hypocrite when he helped with bringing The Nets from New Jersey to The Barclays Center in Brooklyn at the Corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue? Hey Buddy, Jay-Z had been long, long gone from The Marcy Projects and Brooklyn a long, long, long time ago and more Power to my BK ALL DAY Brother. Should Jay-Z no longer mention Brooklyn in his Songs because he no longer resides there? You already know the answer to that one, Sir. 

Let’s just say Mr. Scott, we follow your ill thought out, half developed argument that I’m a Hypocrite. Since you are a New York Times Film Critic this should be very easy for you. According to your logic I should not have Written and Directed JUNGLE FEVER because I have never lived in HARLEM and BENSONHURST. I should not have Directed CLOCKERS because I have never lived in Boerum Hill and the Gowanus Projects. I should have not Written and Directed HE GOT GAME because I have never lived in CONEY ISLAND. I should have never Directed my two Epic Documentaries on Hurricane Katrina – WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE and IF GOD IS WILLING AND DA CREEK DON’T RISE because I have never lived in NEW ORLEANS. Or maybe, perhaps I should have never WRITTEN and DIRECTED DO THE RIGHT THING because I have never, ever, ever lived in BED-STUY (DO OR DIE). Do you see where this is going? 

In closing please understand it’s what you get growing up and learning on the Streets of Brooklyn that empowers you to go anywhere on this God’s Earth to “Do Ya Thang” to be successful in the path you have chosen. It doesn’t matter where you choose to live because Brooklyn goes where you go. It still lives inside Larry King, Sandy Koufax, Big Daddy Kane, Bernard and Albert King, Barry Manilow, Stephon Marbury, Rhea Perlman, Adam Sandler, Neil Sedaka, Jerry Seinfeld, Busta Rhymes, Mike Tyson, Harvey Keitel, Willie Randolph, Carmelo Anthony, Mel Brooks, Marisa Tomei, Marv Alvert, Darren Aronofsky, Pat Benatar, Larry David, Mos Def, Tony Danza, Alan Dershowitz, Neil Diamond, Richard Dreyfuss, Debbie Gibson, Rudy Giuliani, David Geffen, Lou Gossett, Jr., Elliott Gould, Mark Jackson, Jimmy Kimmel, Talib Kweli, Nia Long, Alyssa Milano, Stephanie Mills, Esai Morales, Chris Mullin, Chuck Schumer, Jimmy Smits, Joe Torre, Eli Wallach, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand and may I mention none of the above still reside in B.K., but they will always REPRESENT BROOKLYN. Mr. Scott, please learn “SPREADIN’ LOVE IS THE BROOKLYN WAY.” 

WAKE UP 

WE BEEN HERE 

Spike Lee 

Filmmaker 

Fort Greene 

Da Republic of BrooklynNew York 

YA-DIG? SHO-NUFF 

And Dat’s Da Truth Ruth 

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13 Comments

  • 9jah | April 4, 2014 12:38 PMReply

    I agree that Spike didn't really read that NY times article. I think the idea that the article calls him a "hypocrite" is mis-representative. As much of anything, it pointed out the irony in his position and went ahead to give the nuanced exploration of "gentrification" that I would have preferred from Spike.

    I think we absolutely approach these kinds of discussions in stark, linear terms often in ways that doesn't really help address the issue constructively. I thought of the word "fatuous" when I read Spike's response, and I think its the first time that word has ever come to my mind.

  • lewis payton | April 1, 2014 12:39 AMReply

    This city is ever changing but I must saying, coming from the south I have never witnessed so much racism as I have in this great city. I guess that's why blacks are getting the hell out of here FAST!!!

  • JTC | April 2, 2014 10:38 AM

    Really? I lived in Houston and New Orleans for fiver years and I saw black men who still averted their eyes in the presence of white men up until last year, my friend.

  • lewis payton | April 1, 2014 12:35 AMReply

    You go Spike!!

  • Toussaint | March 31, 2014 11:14 PMReply

    I'm not sure that Ms. Obenson or Spike Lee actually read the Times article. In that article, Scott describes gentrification in general and then goes on to talk about its impact specifically in Brooklyn (mainly through the lens of white TV shows). To that extent, it is consistent with Spike's comments, but doesn't seriously address the racial aspects of his argument.

    It seems that Errol Louis, the NY1 news anchor called Spike a hypocrite. Errol Louis is a black man from (old) Brooklyn. I think Spike's comments were better directed at him.

  • Daryl | March 31, 2014 10:47 PMReply

    Spike Lee makes some good points and is right about gentrification. The things that gets overlooked in this whole conversation is why are we not investing in our own neighborhoods making them better? Why soon as we get some money we are so fast to distance ourselves from black people and feel moving to the suburbs around white folks is a come up? Why are not enough black people in these neighborhoods involved in local politics to put pressure on these politicians to do the right thing? It's more to voting than just voting in national elections. Why do we let these neighborhoods erode to this conditon in the first place and get oki doke by these poverty pimps that just want to sell us a dream and profit off the poor? Why do you always here about white or foreign investments in these neighborhoods that change them, gentrification? How many black owned businesses are in black neighborhoods? This problem is really about the lack of black investment and ownership and voting real representatives for your issues as long as we don't have enough of this, this is going to continue to be a problem. This is just the tip of the iceberg, no matter how much you point this is out or complain you are not going to get nothing done unless you have ownership, investment, and votes. You are nothing but collateral damage to rich investors that are making a boat load of money off of this, they get away with this because as I mention earlier what we need to do and have, they invest, have ownership, and votes. So don't look for people in power to change things we have to look to ourselves to put the pressure on the people in power to change things along with making the change ourselves of making our neighborhoods better.

  • ernchamp | April 1, 2014 12:03 AM

    when whites moved into fort greene it was thriving. that's the reason they moved in . the brownstones were beautiful. there were projects nearby, but the streets weren't run down like many baltimore neighborhoods in the late 90's.

  • ernchamp | March 31, 2014 6:18 PMReply

    i lived in fort greene during it's harlem renaissance period (check out brooklyn boheme nelson george's doc). i saw the way of white people come into the neighborhood and created a cultural change. what spikes critics fail to realize is the people who lived in the neighborhood for decades did not receive the same services the new white residences are getting. for years people screamed about the lack of policing, sanitation services etc. it all fell on dead ears. the lack of affordable housing is the issue that affects people of that neighborhood. the same goes for people who live in harlem and washington, dc. i've personally seen the wave move through dc brooklyn and now it's starting in the leimert park area of los angeles. spike critics aren't talking about what spike was really saying. working class black and latino folks who have lived in these neighborhoods for years are the victims of the lack of affordable housing and disrespect due to gentrification.

  • mavis | March 31, 2014 6:16 PMReply

    Eddie murphy is from roosevelt long island, not brooklyn.

  • Toni | May 17, 2014 11:04 AM

    Eddie Murphy was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bushwick section. His family moved to Long Island later.

  • alp | March 31, 2014 6:14 PMReply

    Spike's not the most eloquent of communicators, is he. I suppose that style of writing would be what the kids call "Keepin' It Real." Hm.

  • ALP | April 1, 2014 9:09 AM

    Hey, Alias-- if you truly believe Spike to be a "great orator", I would suggest you take a basic public speaking course at your local community college.

    And read more.

    And watch less American movies.

  • Alias | March 31, 2014 10:09 PM

    What the hell are you talking about? Spike is incredibly eloquent -- and passionate -- in his communication.

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