Spike Lee Rants Against Gentrification: Ghetto Mentality is ‘Culture’

Written by Marilyn Assenheim on March 1, 2014

Spike Lee, perpetually indignant, diminutive Black filmmaker, has put his hypocritical foot in his mouth again. Unfortunately, never satisfied with stomping his own tongue, his vulgarity-ridden diatribes usually foul the eyes and ears of innocent bystanders as well. His appearance at Pratt Institute on Tuesday was no exception.

Lee, in the waning days of Black History month, attacked the gentrification of New York City in general and of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, specifically. According to CBS Lee’s fuse ignited after a simple question: “He was asked by an audience member about the benefits of gentrification. Lee responded with a seven minute rant against gentrification in places like Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where he grew up.”

Lee’s invective included a new epithet for “honkies” (“mother******* hipsters”) and was crammed with the self-righteous sophistry that makes rational people, of any race, despair of ever unearthing a shred of logic again: “‘Here’s the thing: I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed…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?’”

An influx of white people? Lee’s history only hearkens back to where it is convenient. Each neighborhood mentioned was a white, immigrant neighborhood prior to Black ascendancy. Why did things decline then stay depressed once those neighborhoods became predominantly Black? Because successful Blacks, like any upwardly mobile people, aspire to better and move. Just like Lee did. He hasn’t lived in Fort Greene for many years. CBS News explains: “…(Lee) has been living on the Upper East Side for years in a 9,000 square foot home. It was recently listed for $32 million.” Lee, like most doctrinaire and eternally aggrieved victim-rousers, is emphatically against practicing what he spews. What he is, is a monumental Pharisee.

Although Lee’s position is defended by the intellectually profound, like actress Rosie Perez and the usual suspects in the MSM, Friday’s edition of Time.com (http://ideas.time.com/2014/02/28/spike-lees-racism-isnt-cute-m-f-hipster-is-the-new-honkey/) featured a surprisingly candid dissection of Lee’s duplicitous racism. The article was written by John McWhorter, A PhD and associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University. His CV boasts many other credits, including regularly contributing to liberal outlets such as The New Republic, TheRoot.com and City Journal. Based on his subject matter it becomes a painful necessity to point out that Dr. McWhorter is, also, a Black man. His viewpoint, otherwise, might lack standing. Some of his comments:
— “What’s really bothering Lee is that he doesn’t like seeing his old neighborhood full of white people, which makes him historical detritus.”
— “Lee seemed to think that what we Overcame for was to be grouchy bigots.”
— “Maybe he thinks blacks are supposed to be accommodated as payback for the past. But for how long? Pity is not respect. W.E.B. DuBois once said that ‘Black America needs justice and is given charity.’”
— “…history records no human group whose core essence was eternal indignation. Lee’s films, ironically, teach much about what black is and what it will be. Odd that in real life he thinks hearkening back to the social politics of Fred Sanford is moving on up.”

The entire article is a valuable read.

Lee claims “I don’t hate anybody…My problem is that when you move into a neighborhood, have some respect for the history, for the culture.” What is left unsaid is “…only when that culture is Black culture.”

Lee retreats to hypocritical righteousness, conflating that with the moral high ground. Being poor and ignorant is not “cultural.” Those conditions are, on the one hand, economic and, on the other, deliberate choices. Every racial and ethnic group, trapped in ghettos, has struggled to escape both. Blacks demanded integration; now successful blacks with a soapbox, such as Lee, can bludgeon society into never-ending divisiveness to their own gain. Whites move in, they are accused of taking over. Whites stay away, they are keeping Blacks depressed. Lee and his ilk insist that a ghetto mentality is “cultural” and needs to be “respected and preserved.” His point of view, sanctifying Blacks above anyone else, is nothing but racially-motivated hypocrisy. Where would America have been if previous comers had acted in similar fashion?

Lee and other race pimps have done quite well for themselves by cannibalizing the past and ginning up injustices. Being a minority does not confer specialized status. Cleaving to past injustice doesn’t transmogrify misery into “culture.” Discarding cant and choosing to encourage reaching for the future might. But that would assume that Lee really cares about doing “the right thing.”

McWhorter said it best: “Enough, Mr. Lee. Enough.”

*UPDATE: Days after Lee’s racist rant, “Do the right thing”, the title of a 1989 Spike Lee “joint,” was spray painted on a home adjacent to the property where Lee’s father still resides in Brooklyn. Lee had shouted the address of the Lee home during his diatribe. Lee’s half-brother, Arnold, spoke to CBS 2: “Spike Lee’s family apologized to their neighbors. ‘And I think Spike needs to stop with whatever situation he was talking about over here ’cause he doesn’t live here and he’s not involved in it, you know’”

Image: Courtesy of: http://correionago.com.br/portal/a-bahia-nao-elege-um-candidato-negro-pergunta-spike-lee/

Marilyn Assenheim
Marilyn Assenheim was born and raised in New York City. She spent a career in healthcare management although she probably should have been a casting director. Or a cowboy. A serious devotee of history and politics, Marilyn currently lives in the NYC metropolitan area.