Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Who 'owns' Harlem, the capital of black America?

This is the title for a new radio documentary on the BBC World Service available (from tomorrow) here on the gentrification of Harlem by writer Michael Goldfarb.

I'm looking forward to it partly to see if it will enrage me. Here's a quote from the trailer:


As I say, ownership is a complicated concept. It is bound up with subjective things like memory and personal experience.

My late father-in-law emigrated to Canada from London after the war. Shortly after my wife and I moved to London, he came for what he knew would be his last visit.

He was in his mid-80's and went off for a nostalgia trip down the Mile End road, where he was born and spent his childhood. He came back flabbergasted.

"It's not my London," he said shaking his head in disappointment.

The street markets were still there, the area was as run-down as ever, but what he meant was there was no trace of his cockney past. There were very few white faces. It had become a neighbourhood of immigrants from Bangladesh.

In memory, he owned that territory and now it seemed to have been taken over without his permission.

I deeply empathise."

It will be interesting to see whether this piece is more than superficial, engaging in the difficult questions about gentrification including race, culture and spatial authenticity. 

Antonia Layard



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