Michael Rapaport vs. Spike Lee: Boy drama about Brooklyn gentrification


Earlier this year, Spike Lee was basically going on tour talking about the gentrification of Brooklyn (where he grew up) and how it’s bad that all of these wealthy and upper-middle-class people are moving into areas that were traditionally more working-class and racially diverse. Spike ranted in his very Spike-specific way, which is to say that he alienated a lot of people who probably would have agreed with him on the crux of his argument. One of those people he alienated was Michael Rapaport, who also grew up in a working class neighborhood of Brooklyn. Michael was being interviewed on HuffPo Live and he went OFF on Spike Lee, the positives of gentrification and how Spike shouldn’t use such racially-charged language – go here to see the video (there’s some NSFW language). I’m not going to go in-depth on the back-and-forth, but these are the basics:

A feud grows in Brooklyn! Michael Rapaport continued his ongoing gentrification battle with Spike Lee, calling the famous director a “s— stain” on HuffPost Live Tuesday, July 22. The stars’ public debate over the topic of Brooklyn’s shifting population began in the spring when Rapaport slammed an epic rant delivered by Lee back in February.

“Spike lives on the Upper East Side [in Manhattan],” Rapaport, who appeared in Lee’s 2000 movie Bamboozled, sniffed of the director while appearing on HuffPost Live in April. “The majority of those neighborhoods that have been gentrified have been abandoned… It’s good that it gets better.”

Lee, one of Brooklyn’s most famous natives, refused to back down when he caught wind of Rapaport’s comments.

“Rapaport doesn’t know what the f— he’s talking about,” he told HuffPost Live in May. “What Michael Rappaport left out… because he’s stupid… [are] the people who could no longer afford to live in Williamsburg. Who could no longer afford to live in Fort Greene. Who could no longer afford to live in Clinton Hill.” The Do the Right Thing director, 57, added: “People are being displaced, and they never talk about the people who are forced to live outside of their neighborhoods because of gentrification!”

(In his famous rant from February, Lee said newcomers in the Brooklyn borough should be more respectful towards longtime residents. “I’m for democracy and letting everybody live but you gotta have some respect. You can’t just come in when people have a culture that’s been laid down for generations and you come in and now s— gotta change because you’re here? Get the f— outta here!”)

While Rapaport, 44, had every intention of promoting his new film, My Man Is a Loser, on Tuesday, instead, he spent the vast majority of the segment slamming Lee. “When’s the last Spike Lee film you saw?” Rapaport remarked. “Nobody goes to see them s—s.”

He hypothetically imagined what he would say to the legendary director if they were to ever run into each other face to face.

“I’m going to see him sooner or later,” Rapaport said, directly challenging Lee: “I wanna see you say ‘You’re stupid and your movie sucks’ right to my face.”

[From Us Weekly]

If you go and watch the HuffPo video, Michael talked a lot more about gentrification and he made some good points about the improvements in the public school system and how a lot of the “gentrification” happened to industrial neighborhoods and neighborhoods that were genuinely struggling. Michael even agreed with the main part of Spike’s argument, which is that working class communities were being pushed out by gentrification, but Michael says it’s wrong to make it about race, because it’s more about socio-economic classes not racial categories. Anyway, boy drama. Boy drama about gentrification!


Photos courtesy of WENN.

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122 Responses to “Michael Rapaport vs. Spike Lee: Boy drama about Brooklyn gentrification”

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  1. T.Fanty says:

    Rapaport is obfuscating the truth. Yes, it may be about socio-economics, but that goes hand in had with racial difference, and he’s a fool if he argues otherwise. You can see Lee’s point as you walk down the street in some of these neighborhoods.

    • Sixer says:

      I was going to say something similar. It’s not really chicken and egg, as Rapaport would have it. Black/brown/minority (delete as appropriate to your own society) people are poor *because* of racism.

      • Sozual says:

        Racism and people are lazy too. I lived in NYC for three years and met people trying to get something done and I met the complete opposite too. Over there the complete opposite means the person probably has a criminal record.

    • BangersandMash says:


      I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and another friend of mine lives in Greenpoint, and we both can’t afford to keep our homes any longer because it’s so expensive. It’s crazy in Williamsburg right now. Local owned shops are closing down, left, right and centre because ‘American Aparel’ and CVS pharmacy and all those big corporations have come inside and infiltrated them and forced so many people out. Celebrities are coming in and making the place an ‘art haven’ and in the process, forcing the artists out.
      It’s crazy in Williamsburg, trust me.

      • T.Fanty says:

        But I think that’s part of Lee’s point (and I don’t mean this in an accusatory manner0: by the time the artists have arrived, the process has already begun. People who can afford to devote their lives to art are NOT working class people of color, and once the artists move in, there is no benefit to the people who live there and work as cleaners, subway conductors, McDonalds employees, etc. The artists moving in aren’t poor in the same way that people who lived there when it was a broken down neighborhood are. This kind of discussion on gentrification obliterates real poverty, and the discussion around it. Even being a working class white kid, Rapaport didn’t understand what it means to be poor and black in an urban environment. Those kids don’t stand a chance, and gentrification just kind of amplifies that.

      • Alma says:

        And you know what happens when American hipsters are finished with gentrifying Brooklyn? They move on to Europe and turn it into Williamsburg. It is happening to my Berlin neighbourhood right now, with people opening artisanal Bagelshops in the poorest borough of the city. And when the American hipsters have found you (and to be honest French and Spanish as well), you just might as well give up. Because once they have made a neighbourhood “safe” the luxury developments are starting up. I can see it happening in front of my nose and it makes sick, but also xenophobic which is a tendency I should quench in myself.

        And actually I respect Spike Lee for moving to the Upper East Side. Once you have money you move to a wealthy neighbourhood, that is how it works. Not building a luxury apartment in a poor area.

      • littlemissnaughty says:

        @ Alma: I agree in principle but your last point is a bit wonky. Most neighborhoods in most cities around the world don’t start out as versions of the Upper East Side. The existing wealthy neighborhoods often used to be working class as well. It’s not realistic to expect no more luxury apartment buildings to appear in old neighborhoods but I do think city planning needs to … well it needs to make a comeback. Right now it’s like everything simply goes to the highest bidder. In virtually every large city.

        We really don’t even need “foreign” hipsters here in Germany, we got some seriously hipster-y idiots ourselves. And in the end, they’re always the ones with a Starbucks cup in hand. Fools.

      • minime says:

        @ Alma

        Berlin is full of its own German hipsters. I wonder where did you get that idea about Americans (or other foreigners) being responsible for Berlin’s gentrification. It’s because a foreigner opens a bagel shop, where you will buy a bagel for 2€ (Berlin is the cheapest place ever, and they know that they need to keep their prices low to succeed)? It’s funny that in one hand these so called “hipsters” are the ones complaining about gentrification (specifically in Berlin), but on the other hand are the ones also contributing to it. There is an all generation of people in their 30s making good money but wanting to keep their old habits and moving into Kreuzberg and Neukölln because those are cool places where they can save a lot of money.

      • Dena says:

        My thing is “benefits whom” or “better for whom” cause it’s definitely not better for the life-long residents who are forced to move out because of escalating rents. Which brings me to my other pet peeve: I have a serious problem with “outsiders” devaluing communities. How to make this clear. Hmm? Okay. I’m originally from Chgo. I knew people/families who lived in some of the housing projects. I’ve visited them and have spent the night, etc., etc. Was there violence and even shootings in those neighborhoods? Yes. BUT there was also community too. Flower gardens, block clubs, little girls jumping rope, little boys riding bikes, old folks coming to and fro, community centers, etc. Outsiders don’t see that. Can’t. But what they do is focus on broken windows and the proverbial cracks in the sidewalks and then denounce whole peoples and whole communities. They move in and then say “it’s better, we made it better.” For whom MFs cause those residents have been displaced/dispossessed?

        Here is my rule of thumb: whenever you see a Starbucks being built in certain” neighborhoods pick up your protest signs and take your clip-board of a million signatures and leave cause the neighborhood is GONE. There will never be any socio-economic parity or balance in that community ever again.

      • Tiffany :) says:

        Is there any rent control/rent stabilization laws in NYC? In LA, there are laws that prevent landlords from raising rent in absurd amounts. In basic terms, they can raise rents when NEW people move in, but they can’t raise them substantially on current residents.

      • Bella bella says:

        @Tiffany, yes. But at this point the only people who benefit from rent stabilization are elderly people who have had their apartments forever or people who have been lucky enough to stay in the same apartment forever, which is rare in NYC. And even if you are in a rent stabilized apartment, your landlord can make your life fairly miserable so that you feel you must leave.

      • Tristan says:

        What on earth is everybody moaning about? Gentrification is the best thing that can happen to a neighbourhood. Property values go up, you get good social programs, crime rates go down & the area gets a major facelift. What is so great about living in a rough, miserable area? This is even more the case if the area is an abandoned ex industrial site. Moaning about gentrification is the same as moaning about progress. However, some misguided people seem to get nostalgic for a miserable way of life. Its 2014 people, stop wallowing in the past & get with the program

      • Fatty Cakes says:

        Tristan, are you serious or making a joke? Increased property values, social programs, decreased crime rates and aesthetic makeovers mean nothing to people who can no longer afford to stay in their neighborhoods. That’s the point of gentrification and why people complain about it. I’m quite sure they would all appreciate those perks if they were able to stick around to benefit from them. No one wants to live in a rough neighborhood and to assume that’s why people complain is a pretty lazy way of “thinking” about this situation.

    • PennyLane says:

      Unlike Michael Rapaport, Spike Lee grew up middle class – his mother was a teacher and his father was a jazz composer and musician. Lee went to Morehouse, which is a very prestigious school…Rapaport never went to college. In this situation, Rapaport is the one with street cred.

      Also, Spike Lee made millions of dollars with his real estate investments in Fort Greene in the 1990′s, so he is involved with creating all these ‘awful’ changes to Brooklyn that he speaks so disparagingly about. Spike Lee sent his children to private schools, so he doesn’t need to worry about the quality of the public school system – he bought his way out of that problem, as rich people tend to do. Perhaps there is a bit of projection and guilt involved in his complaints.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Ha! I didn’t know that.

        That said, I don’t think that you need to be “authentic” to recognize inequality. And, at the end of the day, Spike Lee is still an African American and sees a problem that is very real for people he identifies with. Forest Whitaker was accused of stealing in an UES deli last summer, just for going in and taking his time looking around. You can be rich, famous, and black, but in America, you’re still black.

      • Alma says:

        I would like to know more about his real estate investments! Any sources I could read about that…

      • Sozual says:

        @T. Fanty

        Things are changing and is becoming more about money. The French and Italian have discriminate with one another. It is not just about color, but being different. If they knew who Forest was they would have seen dollar signs.

      • COCO says:


        Spike Lee’s point is valid whether he went to Morehouse or not. The poor people have suffered through a lot and as the neighborhood start showing progress, wealthier Manhattanites, Hipsters, etc started moving in, even bargaining prices higher than the going rate. In turn, pushing poorer people out who are black and Hispanic. More telling is they are going in to neighborhoods that they would never frequented before: Park Place, Bedstuy, Crown Heights, etc. A lot of these places are not how Rappaport is making them out to be and all they needed were investments not neighborhood takeover by wealthy white people. This is affecting poor people no matter their ethnic background.

  2. David99 says:

    They are both huge a-holes.

    • Jegede says:

      But Rapaport has appeared in Spike Lee movies and he’s also an artist who emphasises his NY roots so I’m surprised at this turn of events

      • Belinda says:

        I just want to remind everyone that this isnt Rapaports first time firing shots at people over an interview. Remember his boy dramz with a Tribe Called Quest? Spike brawls but so does this a$$hole.

      • Bella bella says:

        I like Michael Rappaport. His movie with Spike Lee (Bamboozled) was brilliant, though not too many people saw it. I highly recommend it!

        Not sure what his beef is with Spike, but he wouldn’t be the first person to have worked with Spike Lee and then have a falling out. For instance, Samuel L. Jackson also has said smack about Spike, and Sam was in Spike’s early movies (Jungle Fever, for one).

  3. Kiddo says:

    I didn’t read the entire deal, but I agree that those who get pushed out often fall along racial lines, and along economic lines, which in fact, often overlap. That is not to say that whites or other groups don’t get pushed out, but black people largely are, replaced by wealthier whites. Just because Spike Lee is now wealthy, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an argument, he is likely an outlier to the majority.

    If the school systems have improved, it does nothing for the people who can’t live there any longer or benefit from it, so it’s not an improved system, it’s a new system for new residents in a very different place.

    • Esmom says:

      ITA agree about the schools. I feel a lot of ambivalence about gentrification. I watched with dismay as my solid working class neighborhood, stable to begin with, turn into an upscale enclave that we couldn’t have afforded had we not bought our place 10 years before it became “hot.” Yes the school benefitted from the influx of wealthy parents who were very generous with their checkbooks, but it also became overcrowded. One of the solutions suggested by some of the newer residents to relieve the overcrowding was to limit enrollment to homeowners and exclude renters!

      And when our alderman and a developer proposed converting an old factory into a partially low income housing development within the school’s attendance area, these new residents came out in full force to oppose it. That was my last straw…I realized we were better off moving to the suburbs, which were essentially less “suburban” than our city neighborhood had become.

      • Kiddo says:

        “Gentrification” is a euphemism for a take-over. Plain and simple. Especially if it is engineered by outside sources and investors.

        A slower growth with input and benefits to the existing community, like tax breaks, and the like to locals, usually only given to outside big development investors, might help the old and the new merge and benefit. But how often does that happen?

        What usually happens is that the entire ‘feel’ that made the community desirable to begin with, is dispensed with by the new power players, and people just leave, even if they can narrowly afford it, because neighborhoods lose all remnants of ‘home’ and community. It’s incredibly sad.

      • T.Fanty says:

        The term itself is offensive, too. They just don’t want to use the more accurate word, “colonization.”

      • Esmom says:

        Kiddo, “A slower growth with input and benefits to the existing community, like tax breaks, and the like to locals, usually only given to outside big development investors, might help the old and the new merge and benefit. But how often does that happen?”

        Exactly. Money talks, especially in a place like Chicago where I am from. I give a lot of credit to our old neighborhood’s new alderman, who is extremely concerned about longtime residents/businesses being displaced and about lower income kids getting the same educational opportunities as the wealthier ones but I feel like it’s too late. The corporate genie is already out of the bottle. Incredibly sad indeed.

      • Hiddlesgirl85 says:

        @Esmom: Yay — I’m also from Chicago! What ward or neighborhood were you referencing in your above post?

      • Esmom says:

        Hiddlesgirl85, 47th Ward, Ameya Pawar. Amazing young guy, first Asian American to be part of Chicago city council. Took office right after we fled.

      • Hiddlesgirl85 says:

        @Esmom: Awesome! I’m from the 46th ward. Yea, your Alderman seems awesome. I’m trying to survive the changes in Uptown … We have a good alderman, too. The problem is that we are so close to the lake that continued gentrification is inevitable.

      • Sozual says:

        @ Kiddo

        Sorry but NYC and all the boroughs are just blocks of cement when the area is poor. These stores you speak of are just thrown together. Only cultural significance are the things of culture. The Apollo, art museums, and etc.

      • Dena says:

        @Esmom & Hiddles

        Another Chicagoan here. I’m old school though when the machine ran the city. Were u all there when most (if not) all of the aldermen were takien down and taken out for taking petty $10,000 bribes? I grew up on both the north and northwest sides of the city but I owed the whole city!!!! I feel as if I have stood on every street corner in Chgo–from Evanston to 95th and from the Lake to Oak Park.😄😍

        I miss living there but travel back often enough.

    • Jeanne says:

      Esmom – I live in the 47th Ward! Very disturbing that people would think they could exclude renters from a public school. We live west of Western, so on the wrong side of the tracks on the ward. ;)

  4. Beth says:

    This is really kind of interesting.

  5. Greata says:

    Go Spike! Say what you will about Spike, he stands by and walks his truth no matter how much it ruffles feathers.

  6. Miss Jupitero says:

    Does gentrification improve neighbourhoods? Sure it does. But for whom? That’s the issue. Who gets to enjoy all those nice new amenities? Not the people being driven out.

    • Esmom says:

      You’re exactly right.

    • RobN says:

      No, the people who are actually paying for them.

    • TheOriginalKitten says:

      Well not always. In my Boston neighborhood I’ve seen UNREAL gentrification over the past 5 years. It’s been really wild to see because in all the Boston ‘hoods I’ve lived in (and I’ve lived in almost all of them) I’ve never seen this kind of rapid change. The craziest was when they changed the Johnny Food Master (AKA Johnny Stab Master) into a Whole Foods last year.

      That being said, my neighborhood is literally one square mile with about 5-6 square blocks of brick housing projects that have weathered all these changes. So yes the people paying for it get to experience the new housing and renovated condos, but by proxy, the people who live in the housing developments get improved schools, nicer streets to walk down, and a safer neighborhood. The projects are still there providing affordable housing, but they don’t experience anywhere near the same level of crime they did 20 years ago when they were considered extremely dangerous.

      I realize Charlestown is a unique example due to it’s size and layout and it doesn’t always pan out that way but in this scenario it did.

  7. Rhiley says:

    I am going to dumb down the conversation a bit, but I as I was watching Orange is the New Black last night (I am still working on the second season because watching it gives me weird a** dreams so I can only watch one or two episodes a week) I was thinking that Michael Rapaport would be great on the show. I haven’t heard anything about him since he was on Friends.

    • Willa says:

      He was on Justified last season and let me tell ya, he can not do a southern accent!

      • lucy2 says:

        He was the only guest star that show has had that I didn’t like. Everyone else has been amazing. He was good when he needed to be really menacing (the diner scene!) but I think he was miscast.

      • MaiGirl says:

        I usually like his acting (didn’t know he’s kind of a jerk, though), but he was HORRIBLE in Justified! I mean, monumentally, fremdschamen terrible. Besides the awful accent, his acting was just bad!

      • Fatty Cakes says:

        His Brooklyn accent is so thick, I can’t believe he even attempted southern! Thanks for the heads up, I can’t stand a bad southern accent and I do plan to check out Justified…at some point.

  8. Lizzie K says:

    Bah. Neighborhoods shift and change all of the time. Somebody is always getting displaced as neighborhoods change. You can’t set a place in amber and keep it that way forever. Never has happened, never will, and all the angry words about it doesn’t change it. Spike’s family wasn’t the first to settle in Brooklyn and won’t be the last.

    • Lauren says:

      Nothing to add but I love your ‘you can’t set a place in Amber’ comment!

    • Kiddo says:

      Neighborhoods that change organically is way different than forced evacuation. People who lived the American Dream, in the past, might migrate to better places or different places, but the corporatization of neighborhood development is not a normal ebb and flow of new and old, it’s pushed upon people with little recourse, and they HAVE to leave.

      • Lizzie K says:

        What is the corporatization of neighborhood development? Not being snarky, I never heard that term. Is there some organization of developers who are working together to drive up prices in Brooklyn? ‘Cause I would agree, that would be bad, just like I don’t agree when some big-pocket developer bribes a city to steal property by eminent domain so they can build high-rise condos.

        But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. Brooklyn is an attractive place to live, and more and more people want to live there. Prices are going to go up, because people are willing to pay them. The value of my childhood home, on the other hand is nearing zero. I grew up in a kid-friendly GI-built zone of tract houses. We weren’t displaced by money, we were displaced by crime. It sucks, it’s sad, but it happens.

      • T.Fanty says:

        Kiddo can forgive me if I speak out of term on her behalf, but it isn’t about keeping the neighborhood poor, but making improvements that benefit the people living there to begin with. Familes don’t choose to live in crime-ridden and impoverished neighborhoods – particularly in NYC, there often isn’t an option. Replacing a local deli with a $5-a-latte Starbucks, essentially widens the gap, and pushes people out by cost-of-living expenses, so that they don’t get the benefit of improved schools, nicer parks, etc. It doesn’t solve a problem of poverty; it just moves the poor out. Gentrification, is in essence, parasitic. It makes claims for the authenticity of the world it’s taking, but the reality is that people who move into these neighborhoods don’t actually want to deal with helping these neighborhoods. They just want to claim the space for cheap, and make it appropriate to their lifestyle.

      • Esmom says:

        T.Fanty, agree 100%. One perfectly funny/sad example in my ‘hood was a block of new homes that were built on the site of an old industrial park. They extended streets and alleys from the “older” part of the neighborhood to make it seem seamless. And the residents put a GATE at the end of the PUBLIC alley so only they could get in and out. Not exactly trying to assimilate into the old neighborhood…

      • Chris says:

        “Gentrification, is in essence, parasitic. It makes claims for the authenticity of the world it’s taking’

        Spot on. I couldn’t agree more.

      • Lizzie K says:

        Guys, we’re talking at cross-purposes, I think. The people who live there aren’t the first people who lived there. The people living there now displaced someone else when they moved in. Hell, we displaced Native Americans of an entire country.

        Whether someone “ought” to improve a neighborhood for the benefit of whatever population currently owns it/ leases it/ lives in it doesn’t matter. People don’t behave that way. You might get some government funding for parks and better school infrastructure, but that’s about it. Urban neighborhoods have been through many, many waves of repopulation, and it’s not going to stop with the current wave of gentrifiers.

      • MaiGirl says:

        Everything T.Fanty said. Spot on!

      • Jaded says:

        @Renee – yes I am! I grew up in Oakville in the 50s and 60s and actually worked there for a few years up until last summer when the art gallery I worked for had to close up shop as the rent the blood-sucking property owners wanted was too high for the owner to afford. Where are you located?!

      • Renee says:


        I was born in St. Catharines, Ontario and grew up in Hamilton, so I was right down the road from you!!

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I sympathize with people who are being pushed out of neighborhoods they grew up in because of gentrification. I just don’t see a realistic alternative. As Lizzie said, neighborhoods change. I lived in Brooklyn Heights, which used to be a wealthy neighborhood with a promenade overlooking Lower Manhattan, then became a poor, dangerous neighborhood with drugs and beautiful but completely run down and deteriorating homes, then became “gentrified” and the homes were fixed up and the neighborhood was safe and prosperous again. This was before all the Starbucks /Ann Taylor/ Gap era, so there were still lots of local businesses and racially it was diverse. I’m not sure what my point is, except what’s worse – to leave it alone and let it continue to deteriorate, or to improve it at the expense of some the people who live there. T.Fanty – who’s going into drug-ridden neighborhoods and making improvements to benefit the people living there without any chance of profiting from it? And how do you even do that? Definitely we could and should improve the schools in these neighborhoods, and finance more police protection for them, and be more generous with small business loans. I’m not being snarky, I honestly don’t know how you would do it. I don’t see an answer to the problem of improving the neighborhood without displacing some of the people. How would you do it?

      • T.Fanty says:

        I think it’s precisely what you suggest (although I do freely recognize that it’s very far from black and white). Put money into public programming. Put money into education, and affordable healthcare. Affordable housing in the new high-rises is a start (but not with a secret entrance for the poor people). Did you read the recent Atlantic article on reparations? It’s really good, and very thought-provoking. To me, the problem is that by not acknowledging the inequality, and that it’s so racially defined, we’re not recognizing that some neighborhoods really do need a lot more help than others in terms of social services, and we all have an obligation towards that. This country built itself on unpaid, exploited labour, and socially, there still isn’t a balance. There’s a big debt owed to African American poverty in this country and that should start with tax-funded social programs to improve neighborhoods, even if it happens slowly, generation by generation.

        My problem with gentrifcation/corporatization/whatever we’re calling it, is that more often than not, it prices out the people who will benefit from it. To me, the corporatizaion bothers me less than the overall sense that the people moving in “deserve” the better neighborhood. There’s an ideological problem for this discussion, because it’s based on the principle that it’s all either poor, crime-committing, drug types, or gentrified bourgeoise. This isn’t about either/or.

        (for the record, I live on Avenue C, which I think is still fairly integrated between old residents and the hipsters. I think that if you go to to Tompkins Square Park, or the public pool on Ave C and 13th, you can see the way co-existence between “old” and “new” can work.)

      • videli says:

        Awesome post, T. Fanty, but your points only make me sadder when you account for the lack of political will needed to turn things around. My husband and I put together a proposal in which the city would grant small municipal funds to house owners who could fix their Rust Belt homes. A third of the city screamed bloody murder. And that is the least threatening initiative. More forceful ones like mandating mix-income tenement buildings, reducing the number of big brand businesses or their operating hours, like in Norway, that’s just inconceivable, at least where I live.

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        That makes a lot of sense. I didn’t read the article, but it sounds like reparations would be made in terms of social services, which is an excellent thought. I like what you said about all of us having an obligation to support these neighborhoods very much.

      • T.Fanty says:

        The article’s REALLY good. It’s long, but worth it. It talks about Black Wall Street, and the Contract Buyers League in a way that directly makes a case for a systematic economic repression of aspirational African Americans throughout the twentieth century.

      • Jaded says:

        Absolutely – I grew up in a lovely southern Ontario town on Lake Ontario. It had some rich enclaves but for the most part was a charming town with an affordable lifestyle, a downtown area with small, independently run pharmacies, clothing and shoe stores, a library, high school, affordable coffee shops and restaurants.

        Then the gentrification began as new property owners raised retail rents. High end art galleries, jewellery stores, etc. started moving in and it attracted a ton of wealthy people. It became one of the richest, snootiest towns in Ontario, property prices skyrocketed, and one by one all the small, independent, charming and unique businesses were forced out. Rents kept escalating to the point that even the high end, independent retailers started to move out and mass retailers (Nordstrom, Gap, etc.) have started moving in because they’re the only ones who can afford the astronomical rents. What’s sad is the town has lost a ton of trade and the main street is starting to look like a ghost town with lots of empty retail space.

        So I get what Spike Lee is saying – once you “gentrify” you lose that uniqueness and become just another unaffordable playground for the wealthy.

      • Lizzie K says:

        T.Fanty, I did read the reparations article, and I agree that it was very good in detailing the years of theft from African Americans of the value of their labor. (I remember as a kid wondering why we were taught that the slaves were freed after the Civil War, because the Jim Crow era sure didn’t seem very free to me.) But Coates was arguing for a lump-sum payment from the government over a couple of decades. I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I don’t think it has much to do with stopping gentrification. It would be more likely to increase the number of African-American gentrifiers which, arguably, Spike Lee is one of himself.

      • T.Fanty says:

        I don’t think he is. I think he’s arguing for HR 40, the investigation into what kind of lump sum is reasonable. I think there’s an understanding that it wouldn’t be feasible, but to start thinking about a debt will be to start thinking about what can be done to bring equality in smaller measures, such as reallocation of tax dollars towards impoverished neighborhoods. It’s kind of a pipe dream, still, to be honest. People don’t like giving up what they have, and the political rhetoric has boiled down to us/them, demonizing the poor as scroungers and criminals that it’s going to be hard to have an honest conversation about what needs to be done to help people burdened by the legacy of socio-economic racism.

      • T.Fanty says:

        oop. Double post. Sorry.

      • Renee says:


        Are you referring to Oakville??? Or maybe Niagara-on-the-Lake or another town in the Niagara region??? I am super curious because I am from Southern Ontario!!! Woot woot.

      • Jaded says:

        @ Renee – sorry double post but my comment ended up up-stream – yes, grew up in Oakville, worked there until last summer when the art gallery I was at was forced to close down due to extreme rent increases. Yayyy southern Ontario!!

      • Kiddo says:

        I am having a pretty crappy day, so I apologize for not responding, but real life is dragging my already low intellect to new lows, so I hope you will accept my not responding at this time to something that would take me a while to articulate.

      • Lizzie K says:

        T.Fanty, I think at one time there was the political will for the kinds of things you’re talking about — LBJ’s War on Poverty back in the 60′s. It wasn’t framed as reparations, and a lot of people today just think of it as “welfare,” but it was a whole lot more than food stamps. It brought in Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the working poor. The Job Corps was set up for vocational training to help young people learn the skills to get good jobs, and Head Start was established to help babies born in disadvantaged circumstances learn preschool skills and get solid nutrition prior to entering their school years. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted to provide, for the first time, federal dollars to school districts to improve and provide fair and equal access to education. Legal Services was set up to assist the poor who were being “legally” robbed blind, and the Community Action Program was set up to provide financial and other assistance to impoverished neighborhoods and businesses.

        Some of these programs did some good, some are no longer around, and some of them are the subject of a lot of criticism today. (“No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core” are some of the current requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.)

        I don’t think America is as hopeful a place as it used to be, and I don’t think there is much optimism that these kind of initiatives can do much to eradicate poverty. But maybe if I live long enough, I’ll see that kind of era again. Hope so.

      • Dena says:

        Oftentimes, in poorer neighborhoods, the city doesn’t enforce ordinances that residents in more affluent neighborhoods would go ballistic about. Poor people pay taxes too. There is also the problem of absent/slum landlords. Not maintaining their property contributes to blight. Yes, there are slum-tenants be absentee rent seekers (who never ever check their property) is problematic.

        Yes. People and communities come and go. Case in point: The area around the Cabrini Green housing projects (which no longer exists) has changed hands a few times. It was first settled by Swedes, then Italians—a little piece of Chgo trivia for u: under Al Cappone & Italian gangsters, one of the corners on Larrabee (I’ve forgotten the cross-street) near Division is called death corner. Why? Cause they’d drive a casket through the street with the next victim’s name on it—then the area was resettled by African Americans but Italian and white families lived in the housing projects when they were first built. Now it’s under the thumb of gentrifiers (who are mostly white and affluent). Whites can replace whites too.

        In the case of areas like Cabrini & Woodlawn, etc., white flight, white racism & redlining drove whites out of the community. Those were in part structural & institutional/business forces. Gentrification is also driven by those same forces–minus the white flight & racism. This time around its city zoning ordinances & incentives given to developers by the city. Same institutional/business and structural forces colluding & colliding.

        BTW: I admitted upstream that I love Chgo–born and raised. I have a million stories about the city (history & it’s people).

  9. Chris says:

    Hate gentrification. Nothing worse than seeing a suburb with character get transformed into a soulless enclave for the bourgeoisie.

  10. elo says:

    I live in San Antonio and with all of our Downtown campaigns there is gentrification like a mofo, especially on the south side, it is sad to watch neighborhoods become to expensive for families that have lived there for years so that rich hipsters and artists can dine at places called Feast, Taste, and Bite. It really starts to wreck the culture. On an aside, is it awful that I’ve had a thing for Rappaport since True Romance. I’ll put him on my shame f%&* list with Ethan Hawke.

  11. elo says:

    I live in San Antonio and with all of our Downtown campaigns there is gentrification like a mofo, especially on the south side, it is sad to watch neighborhoods become too expensive for families that have lived there for years so that rich hipsters and artists can dine at places called Feast, Taste, and Bite. It really starts to wreck the culture. On an aside, is it awful that I’ve had a thing for Rappaport since True Romance. I’ll put him on my shame f%&* list with Ethan Hawke.

  12. Tx says:

    K am I the one who thinks Spike is just racist, plain and simple?

    • FingerBinger says:

      How is Spike a racist?

    • Chocolate bunny says:

      Racist? Every time a black person speaks the truth about racism, they get the racist label. You just can’t handle the truth!!!!

      • TX says:

        Not saying racism is not alive and well, it certainly is. But, I take issue when someone makes sweeping generalizations about ANY race (yes, even white people).

    • RobN says:

      No, you’re not the only one. Integration, apparently, is great when its minorities moving to whiter areas, but when it’s the other way around, all of a sudden people start screaming. Spike is a hypocrite, always has been.

      • Dena says:

        @ Robyn
        I think the difference in response is a bit more nuanced. It’s not as straight forward as you’ve stated. In particular, when people (in general) talk about African Americans moving in–to the exclusion of any other ethnic group on earth–all types of negative stereotypes and pathologies are slung at the individuals moving in and at the entire AA population (13% of America’s population). Despite their money or historic socioeconomic status (of being part of the middle/upper class), the stereotypes of race and poverty are at the forefront. The latter reeks of racism. “The blacks are moving in!!! The blacks are moving in!!!” Government & cities (and the power of the collective) have acted on “nativist fear” to marginalize and “check black over-reach”, if u will.

        No one is particularly condemning gentrifiers because of their race (cause they come in all colors & ethnicities). No one, I don’t think, even gives two-sh*ts that the gentrifiers have money. The problem is HOW cities have basically sold-out it’s life-long residents to monied interests (developers) who in turn build properties in “enterprise” zones to people whose money has allowed & continues to allow them to be oblivious of the history of peoples/places/cultures of where they have decided to settle. Someone said upthread (and I agree), it’s colonial, it’s Christipher Columbusesque, and even a little bit of John Locke’s philosophy in there. That’s the problem!! Not their “whiteness,” if you will, and what seems to be their insensitivity (not all) and utter lack of awareness about the people being marginalized because of money (or lack thereof$.

  13. FingerBinger says:

    It’s not just Brooklyn, it’s Harlem too.

  14. lucy2 says:

    They might both have points for all I know, but with all the name calling, personal insults, and whining, who could tell? Can’t they present their opinions in a mature manner?

  15. Neelyo says:

    It’s all over New York City. I’ve lived in Hell’s Kitchen since 2000 and I hate what it’s becoming. I am scared that my block of mostly tenement buildings will be bought and torn down and i’ll be kicked out to make room for more luxury high rises that remain empty because the owners don’t even live in them.

    And on another note, Michael Rapaport is aging horribly. Not that he was ever a looker.

  16. GeeMoney says:

    Gentrification at this point in time is not limited to whites moving into poorer neighborhoods anymore, but middle class blacks moving into them as well. Rapaport is right… it’s more of a socio-economic thing at this point in time then it is about race (race will always be a factor, though… don’t get me wrong).

    I can’t find the exact article in the Washington Post which points that out, but here are a few that kind of talk about it:



    As a black person, it is sad to see black residents being displaced out of the neighborhoods that they grew up in. But also as a person who grew up in a bad neighborhood in DC that’s now completely gentrified many years later, I can tell you that I would have welcomed that transformation while I lived there.

    It would have been nice to be able to play out in front of the house without having my mom watch me like a hawk. And don’t get me started on the drug needles I used to see lying around in my dad’s old neighborhood…

  17. TheCountess says:

    Glenn Close is looking rough.

  18. Victoria 1 says:

    As a real native born and bred New Yorker, I’ve seen the changes in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan has undergone. There are positives and negatives to both. On the one hand, it is safer to go out at night in parts of Brooklyn. The negative part, is places like the LES that has lost a lot of it’s character. I blame NYU for that. It’s hard to choose a side because the amazing changes and how Brooklyn is thriving but people being displaced because of higher rents. As a struggling 30 something, I can’t choose a side. Why can’t there be a thriving artsy community with affordable rent? It seems impossible to attain due to greed. Or maybe I know absolutely nothing.

    • Sozual says:

      I am about to be 31 and I feel you. I just think if people started moving out of NYC the rent would go down because the rich people that buy these places won’t be contributing to the community….businesses will suffer…and they would have to make room again for the middle-class.

  19. AllsWell says:

    Oh gosh, RACE! I’m so sick of people using race as an excuse/argument/etc. for everything. People need to move on. We live in a capitalist society where if you can pay, you can have the product – be that houses, computers, cars, or clothes. Is it fair? No. But life’s not fair. Spike Lee needs to focus on doing what he does best (making movies) and not on politics.

    • videli says:

      OK, here’s a fancy word for you: teleological argumentation.

      • AllsWell says:

        You mean the argument that things exist; therefore, so must a creator? Or are you saying that I’m starting my own argument? Either way, I simply meant is that NO ONE should be discriminated against, whether it’s based off of skin color or socioeconomic status. But to tell people that they cannot live in a neighborhood because the might interfere with the ‘culture’ there is ridiculous. If the newcomers can improve the places they are living why not let them? I think the bigger issue shouldn’t be gentrification, but wealth distribution – why is there such a large gap between economic classes?

      • videli says:

        I’m deferring to Dena’s comments above, she’s written what I have in mind, only much better.

  20. Hiddlesgirl85 says:

    I stopped liking Michael Rapaport after he publicly shamed Natasha Lyonne about his apartment, when she was going through her drug-addiction issues. He was such a jerk about the entire thing.

    Also, I think that when Spike calls Michael, “stupid,” it’s coming from his past experiences with Michael. Michael has never seemed like the sharpest tool in the shed to me, (I’m basing this off of the many interviews that I have seen him in), and this argument just highlights that. Michael is just offering a very superficial analysis of gentrification and whom it actually affects.

    • COCO says:


      I am annoyed by it is better now. NOPE, it has been better, that is why those people are coming. Spike made a great point in that people suffered through these neighborhoods, now fancy hipsters think its cool to live in Brooklyn, and have quadruple the prices that the locals can’t even afford to be their. What people fail to realize is that people have businesses, and cultural investments there that fall victim. Poor Hasidic Jews, West Indians and African Americans are losing their neighborhoods culture and Rappaport’s nonchalant attitude annoys every bone in my body.

  21. TheCountess says:

    On a serious note, and have others have pointed out, every place changes with time – midtown Manhattan is radically different now than it was in the 1980s. There are still people who bellyache about the “Disneyifcation” of Times Square, looking back with rose colored glasses to the era when the area was an utter, urine-soaked criminal cesspool.

    • RobN says:

      But I so miss stepping over passed out druggies and being aggressively panhandled. There was so much character! The smell, alone, on a hot summer day, so delightful. I miss the good old days when I had to disinfect the bottoms of my shoes before I’d walk into my own house.

      • TheCountess says:

        Even thinking about the putrid smell – the mix of pee and roasted peanuts – makes me want to hurl.

      • Dena says:

        When Chgo “moved the bums” out of Lower Wacker Drive & fenced off the area, the city threw all of their stuff in the garbage. Cause well “it’s garbage.”

        I rather miss the bums. The city had grit and character. Now, it’s a plastic, empty-soul colony of latte sipping sameness. Even the artists. It’s just a vanilla-flavored mono-cultured metropolis inhabited by the characters on Friends. And I’m not talking about race.

      • TheCountess says:

        Yes but that stuff was likely a biohazard and an epic level of unsanitary. Sorry but public health comes first and disposing of it was the safest course of action.

        It’s all well and good to wax romantic about the good old days of “grit and character” but as RobN said, for the majority of people living among those messes, having their property used for urinals, dealing with crime run rampant, aggressive panhandlers/squeegee thugs, it was a nightmare. Times Square was a toilet bowl. The city is better off for having cleaned it up.

      • Bella bella says:

        @RobN, and once you move out of NYC (as I did in ’91), when I go back for work or to visit, it STILL has that putrid smell of hot piss everywhere. You may think it is gone but it has not — you are just used to it! : )

  22. Sozual says:

    Awesome debate!!!!

    It is about race because a majority of the people of color are POOR!!! I mean broke. I am a black girl from the south and middle-class. I mean I have lived so well here. I lived in NYC for three years and unless you are making a few million a year then you are screwed. Anything less than you are getting by. It is about race and it is also about money. I am going back to NYC for some school business, but I am going to work hard to only be there for another three years. Bloomberg and his rich crew just want wealthy there. Folks that are middle-class making a few hundred thousand a year are still struggling. People just need to move out of NYC. Do what you need to do, than leave. There is too much poverty there, too many criminals, and too many illegal immigrants there. People are just up there scamming each other.

  23. RhymesWithSilver says:

    I had a rhetorical argument with a friend. I was born in one of these Brooklyn neighborhoods before it gentrified. My family had been there since the 19th century and was mostly poor. Crime got bad, the place got scary, tax base fled. My parents, being the first generation able to afford a house, left for the suburbs with the rest of the white flight. Most of my friends were similar- most of our families left Brooklyn when we were babies, because that was the city’s nadir. But not everybody- I still had family in the old neighborhood, spent holidays there, etc. By the time I went to college and got a job, the city had been through Giuliani and Bloomberg, crime was down, the neighborhood’s stock was wayyyy up, and I would have considered moving to Brooklyn if I had the chance. A lot of my friends did, and they live there now. So…we have history there. Most of us were, in fact, born there. We never completely abandoned our economic or social roots there. My father continued working there the entire time. Are we gentrifiers? Because we look just like all the other yuppies now on paper. In a way, we got exactly what our families wanted for 100 years: to live in Brooklyn with the kind of dignity you get from education and safe streets. We don’t want to deny anyone else a good life, and the city is still broken and unfair in many ways, but my friends making it work in Brooklyn are more or less the culmination of a century in the city. So are we a social evil or the fulfillment of an American dream?

    • k says:

      love love love this. well said.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      That was sort of my question above, but you put it much better. Not that I know the answer…

    • TheOriginalKitten says:

      Loved this comment. Like GNAT, I have no answer but there’s so much to think about here..your story is really touching.

    • Mitch Buchanan Rocks! says:

      thank you for such vivid writing – it brings the area alive even to a person who has not visited the area.

    • Tiffany :) says:

      Wow, that is a very interesting perspective, thank you for sharing! The 19th century, amazing!

  24. k says:

    whatever. if a place is made safer i’m all for that. i’ve been assaulted and robbed at knife and gun point too many times on this g-d damn planet. im not going to side with the person who complains that the area improved. yes i understand the double standard hes demonstrating say it only got safe after “the upper middle class” people came in and the schools improved when the “upper middle class” showed up etc etc. if that were my case i wouldnt be pointing fingers at anyone id be looking at myself

    • Sozual says:

      @k AMEN!!!

      I was mugged to living in the NYC area. Lived and mugged in NJ. I worked in NYC.

  25. Mixtape says:

    I think they’re both right, coming at it from different angles. Gentrification both helps and hurts members of the “old” neighborhood, depending on whether they are a renter or an owner. Gentrification drives up rent and drives renters out completely–they leave with no financial gain and have to spend more on things like transport from the new location. Homeowners, on the other hand, experience a windfall when their property values explode. They can choose to stay (since they are now worth more) and enjoy the benefits of the nicer amenities, or cash out and leave. Lee is speaking from the position of a renter, while Rappaport is speaking from the position of an owner–perhaps reflective of the background of each. Unfortunately, I’m sure Lee is right that the line between renters and owners can be viewed as a racial one as well.

  26. Allie says:

    At some point, the economic status of a group of people is going to start reflecting an overwhelming majority of certain skin colors. Unfortunately, that is how it is. Shitty, inner-city neighborhoods are populated by impoverished people and at this point in history, the majority of those people are people of color.
    That being said, gentrification happens. It has always happened and it WILL always happen. That is simply the ebb and flow of life. I see it in my own city, in the late 19th century and turn of the 20th, gorgeous mansions were built right outside the city by the wealthiest people around. Those mansions turned into hovels and drug dens in the 70s-90s and now they’re being bought up by young people looking for a nice house in a cheap neighborhood. These homes are now being restored, but it’s a bad thing?
    I would like to know what the alternative is.
    Should our impoverished neighborhoods be left to decay, lest a few white people weasel their way in and bring along a Target and Trade Joe’s?
    And the young professionals who would have “gentrified” an old neighborhood, they should just live with their parents until they inherit?

  27. Mitch Buchanan Rocks! says:

    He was great in that movie with Natalie Portman and Timothy Hutton. Wonder what ever became of Timothy Hutton who was a hottie in his day.

    • TheCountess says:

      He starred on “Leverage” for several years (it just ended not too long ago).

  28. Bella bella says:

    1) Spike Lee grew up in an upper middle class family in Brooklyn. They probably ousted somebody to get their living space.

    2) Williamsburg was primarily Polish originally, not black.

    3) NYC’s rental/gentrification history is all about one population being displaced by another. Lincoln Center used to be tenements (where they filmed West Side Story). The East Village used to be Ukrainian/Polish/Jewish. The upper upper East Side used to be Greek. It’s the story of NYC and the 5 boroughs. I’m not sure why Spike Lee is harping on it now. Fort Greene’s first “gentrification” happened when high-profile black artists moved in! And that was back in the 80′s!!

    • Jenny12 says:

      Williamsburg and Crown Heights were primarily where extremely religious Jews and African-Americans lived. Crown Heights still kind of is.

  29. CJ says:

    I still love Spike’s movies. Still brilliant. Red Hook Summer was good. Spike still delivers.

  30. Moi says:

    I watched the entire video and Michael Rapaport has every reason to be pissed off. Spike Lee started the insults of MR’s character, “he’s stupid, he’s a terrible director”. I dare Spike Lee to say that to Michael’s face as well. This was/is a debate. This was not meant to be a character assassination because Spike Lee can never be wrong, or challenged intellectually. What a punk move. Michael Rapaport is pure Brooklyn and I feel he is absolutely correct in this argument…..that was started initially by Spike Lee. Because Spike Lee always has to be right. Always.

  31. Jenny12 says:

    In the 70s, Hell’s Kitchen was primarily Irish and unspeakably violent. Gentrification came along and stopped the violence and murders. The neighborhood lost a lot of its character and drove a lot of people out, but it also helped the violence end. It’s a double edged sword. I’ve seen big box stores all over the Bronx, and in the poorest places; sometimes it’s a good thing because it gives the neighborhood some equality and the feeling of being on par with other neighborhoods and jobs. When you see a Starbucks in a poor neighborhood, the message is that they don’t just appear in upscale neighborhoods. There are good parts to gentrification, though when people get pushed out, it shows the other side. It’s a good thing when people WANT to live in a previously undesirable neighborhood and the kids go to school together and grow up together. There was this hilarious book years ago called Yuppies Invade My House At Dinnertime, about the gentrification of Hoboken, NJ, taken from letters to the editor from frustrated residents feeling pushed out. Race isn’t involved, but socio-economics are.