A Note on the Gentrification Syllabus

Recently I posted a syllabus co-created with a student for their independent study.  One of the documentaries we viewed was FLAG WARS, which I found to be an interesting examination of a predominantly white, LGBTQ group of homeowners and realtors that gentrified a predominantly Black neighborhood in Columbus, OH.  The documentary deftly illustrates some of the earlier waves of gentrification led by the LGBTQ community, particularly how this community created physical spaces/neighborhoods through gentrification.   Yet I found the documentary problematic in a number of ways.  The first was the homophobic language used by long term residents.  It wasn't necessary to the narrative, even if it did capture the realism and tensions of the time.  I am not a film studies scholar, so I won't delve into the merits of preserving hateful language (the comments in question are made on a resident's porch, as they talk with neighbors, and are not used to drive any antagonisms between the residents and gentrifiers), but I certainly didn't think I would show it in my seminar course, as there are other means to study LGBTQ gentrification.  The second was this false parallel the gentrifiers (and by extension, the documentarian) made with these long-term Black residents.  The white LGBTQ residents felt rightfully excluded from other (white) neighborhoods in Columbus, and saw the old homes in this depopulating Black neighborhood as a place to create their own space.  The social and political production of space is my reason for being, and so I truly empathized/identified with this community.  Nonetheless, these residents started to feel themselves and soon went from "we feel excluded and need a space" to "we, like these Black residents, have been discriminated against and because we have disposable income/access to capital to 'improve' the neighborhood, we deserve this space." There are no mentions of Black neighborhood formation via exclusion, the role of white supremacy in the housing market, and only one explicit mention of Black dispossession and disinvestment (via access to capital).  And of course, the documentary hinges on "queer people are white and affluent" "black people are straight and poor" binaries.  David Epstein's piece (which nudged me to write this note) does a wonderful job breaking down my last point.  


So if you must teach FLAG WARS, please do so with critical caution.