“I’ve never known a white person to live on Hill Street:” Racializing Gentrification through Framing and Erasure
Gentrification, the “production of urban space for progressively more affluent users” (Hackworth 2001) is quite possibly the most well-studied phenomenon in urban studies, urban geography, and allied fields which deal with urban culture. It has, however, been seriously under-theorized and under-explored by linguists, with its studies being limited mostly to studies of linguistic landscape. In this talk, I discuss data from an ongoing project in Anacostia, Washington, D.C., an historically-Black neighborhood which has undergone rapid change in the 2010s. Despite that during the time the data was collected, the neighborhood was experiencing an influx of affluent African Americans, the process of gentrification is still thought of as being primarily driven by whites, a la the “white offensive” documented by Mary Patillo (2010, 2013) in her work on Chicago’s northern suburbs. Using data from 34 sociolinguistic interviews, I trace three frames of how Black residents of the neighborhood evaluate white presence in the neighborhood: neutrally, as a novelty, negatively, as a takeover, and positively, as diversity. I argue that these three frames have the effect of erasing the existence of Black newcomers, which in turn re-produces Big-D discourses which see gentrification as a purely racial, rather than economic issue. This in turn, allows the community members to position the neighborhood’s Black residents—old and new, lower income and affluent,—as a single cohesive community staking a firm claim on Black urban space.