Spike Lee’s gentrification rant is a reminder to be a part of your motherfucking community

spike lee
Yelling can be good, but it’s gotta get you somewhere

Yesterday, while some of you were livetweeting The Bachelor (or livetweeting NHL players’ livetweeting it), or live-tweeting white people yell at each other about plastic bags, Spike Lee unloaded an internet-ready rant about gentrification at a speech at the Pratt Institute. Spike Lee has deep roots in Brooklyn, and has used it as a canvas for years, so if he’s got something to say, he’s worth hearing out. Lee was pretty on point with most of the rant, but it left out something important: things don’t have to be this way.

First, the Spike Lee rant, which was helpfully uploaded by New York Magazine. Lee got a question from an audience member who wanted to talk about the positive side of gentrification, which he wasn’t having any of. It’s worth a listen, because hearing a guy drop that many “motherfuckers” is always more fun than reading it:

New York called the rant “amazing” which is kind of ironic given that they just ran a story titled “Is Gentrification All Bad?” but magazines, like people, contain multitudes, so let’s cut them some slack there. Plus, Lee’s rant is fun to listen to. It’s passionate, clearly coming from a place somewhere deep inside of him and we can all get behind the idea that SpaHa is an offensively stupid real estate attempt to class up Spanish Harlem. We’re also on the record taking Bill Lee’s side in his neighbor’s misguided attempt to stop him from playing jazz, “When you move somewhere, you have to be aware of your new surroundings and adapt to them.” I said it then, I still believe it now.

But we can only go over the ills of gentrification so many times without any suggested solutions to it before the complaints become empty. Think of it this way: if you had a friend who was an asshole all the time, would you just tell him that people think he’s an asshole without telling him ways he can stop being an asshole? No, you’d tell him to stop asking other people to pay for his drinks and ruining the end of movies for people.

Similarly, it’s easy to transcend the “transplant” label and become a part of your community, once you actually know how to become part of your community. Do you know who your City Council representative is? When your community board meets? Well then go to some meetings, but listen before you speak. Get to know the people who are trying to make an impact in your neighborhood, and contribute where you think you can, not just because you can. Vote, which will help bring up these abysmal voter turnout numbers.

Who are your neighbors in your building? On your block? Shyness is nice, as the man said, but you can at least say good morning and ask how their day is. You can’t have a community if people don’t know each other’s names. You can’t have block parties either, and what do you, not want to have block parties?

Want to get political? Push for strong tenant’s rights. Even if they don’t have a huge impact on you, recent horror stories about landlords terrorizing tenants in the TimesGothamist and Greenpointers demonstrate tenant’s rights are extremely necessary. Landlords aren’t ever not going to sue to weaken tenant protections, but there are plenty of groups that fight for renters and for tenants, so link up with one and give them your time, or even just cut them a check.

You might be dismissive of what Spike Lee said, you might think he’s right. But sharing viral shit on the internet isn’t going to solve New York’s gentrification problem. Actual, face to face human interaction might. At the very least, you’ll get a block party out of it. Hopefully.


  1. Our community had the chance to stop the biggest gentrification project: Atlantic Yards. Spike fully supported this pinnacle of gentrification that took many rent controlled/stabilized apartments and a homeless shelter via eminent domain abuse to give the land to Bruce Ratner (millionaire from Ohio) and Mikhail Prokhorov (Russian Oligarch). So, if it’s ok by Spike for the rich to take over, or for poor people to stay put, who’s he hating on? The middle class?

    • lol – i should like to see any affordable housing actually built there. There is no binding contract for it to be built. It’s in a non-enforceable Community Benefits Agreement. Also, the the incomes covered by the “proposed” affordable housing are way above what most people here can afford. So, explain why we need to get rid of existing actual affordable housing (rent control/rent stabilization) to – maybe- build some unaffordable housing 40 years from now, if ever?

  2. Boo yah

    I understand the anger many feel when their neighborhood turns, but when it comes to Spike specifically, I have an issue with that hypocrite. Spike is so 1% at this point – and what has he done for his community other than having courtside seats at the basketball games? His ranting about gentrification is silly if he wants the people he is hating on to stop going to his movies. Besides, he fled his ‘hood ages ago and had been living on the Upper East Side and no one claimed he was invading their neighborhood…
    For that price he could have bought up a few buildings in his old neighborhood years ago to prevent gentrification!

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