Why They Kneel: New York, San Francisco and How To Colonize a City in 5 Easy Steps

Illustration for article titled Why They Kneel: New York, San Francisco and How To Colonize a City in 5 Easy Steps
Image: iStock, The Root (FMG)

To examine the injustice and inequality that prompted some NFL players to protest during the national anthem, each week, for the remainder of the NFL season, The Root will explore the data behind racial disparities in the two cities represented in the National Football League’s premiere matchup—Monday Night Football.

Tonight, the New York Giants travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.


Gentrification is a good, non-threatening euphemism.

It doesn’t sound as aggressive as “takeover” nor does it require one to think along the lines of “economic ethnic cleansing.” While it is more than a mouthful, it is shorter and carries less of a stigma than “micro-colonialism.”

But it is all of that, and more.

The 49ers are named after a colonization effort—when white people seeking gold invaded the area in 1849, while the Giants were founded by a man who made his fortune off legalized gambling and literally colonized another team’s name.


When the New York Giants take on the San Francisco 49ers in Monday night football, aside from representing franchises headed to nowhere, the two teams will also represent two cities that have managed to successfully displace their black populations and replace them with younger, more affluent white ones, all for the sake of capitalism.

In 1970, when America’s black population was 11.1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Francisco’s black population was 13.4 percent. Today, San Francisco’s black population is 5.4 percent, second-to-last among NFL cities (Green Bay, Wis.,’s Black population is last at 3.6 percent.) And of the top 20 most gentrified zip codes in America, seven are in New York City, according to a study by Rent Cafe.


So how does this happen?

It’s easy. The colonization of real estate is a practice as old as America itself. Whether it’s the wilderness of Jamestown, Va., or a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., the tactics of gentrification haven’t changed in 400 years.


Step 1: Discover a New World

In the late 1990s, explorers landed on the East Coast and “happened upon” two new lands teeming with dark natives. They are still called by their old-world names: Brooklyn and Harlem.


According to the New York Times, since 2000, central Harlem’s population is growing at a rate faster than any time since the 1940s. But its black population is smaller than it has been in nearly a century. The Manhattan neighborhood is no longer majority black as white people looking to live in Manhattan “discovered” the enclave.

Brooklyn is the same. Three of the 10 most gentrified neighborhoods in the U.S. are located in the borough, and it has become a symbol of gentrification in America.


San Francisco has experienced the same influx of white residents when the great explorers hoping to build a new tech industry happened upon the Bay area. The city’s population is swelling while its black population continues to decline by nearly 10 percent since 2014, Forbes reports. By 2040, census estimates reveal that San Francisco County is projected to have a non-Hispanic white majority—jumping to 52 percent.

Step 2: This land was your land, this land is their land

Instead of spreading smallpox or marching the natives out on a Trail of Tears, the new-millennium gentrifiers use economic means.


In Harlem for instance, rent in central Harlem increased 53 percent between 1990 and 2014. And as Brooklyn became the mecca for New York hipsters, the area became younger, whiter and more affluent. A report by New York University’s Furman Center says that the black population has decreased while the white population has increased for the first time since the 1970s. As the number of people with college degrees increased, so did the rent. Since 2000, rent in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint has increased 79 percent, the report found.

The same is true for San Francisco. As tech companies moved into the area in the 1990s and the housing market skyrocketed, savvy white people simply moved into the more “undesirable” areas of town. Landlords seized the opportunity to raise the rent in the black areas of town, displacing black San Franciscans, who didn’t expect their neighborhoods to be Columbused.


In 2014, a black couple hoped to attract potential buyers put a modest 2-bedroom house up for sale in the historic black Bayview neighborhood, hoping they could get someone to purchase it for the exorbitant price of $599,000. They found a purchaser ...

... for $915,479.

As rent rises, neighborhoods tend to get whiter and less diverse eventually pushing poorer and minority residents out of the city, opening up homes for more white residents.


That’s how colonization works.

Step 3: Call the police

Remember “Permit Patty?” That was in San Francisco. BBQ Becky was in the Bay area. #BrooklynBecky or #CornerStoreCaroline both hail from New York City.


There is another tactic gentrifiers also employ to push out black residents: it’s called “order maintenance.”

It’s when police patrol white neighborhoods heavily to keep the peace. They stop black suspicious people on their “gut feeling” when the perceived perpetrator looks like he or she doesn’t belong. They respond to calls quicker. Sociologists also note that “quality of life” calls to law enforcement rise as traditionally minority neighborhoods become whiter.


In San Francisco, police patrol more in the city’s gentrified areas, which have also seen a rise in cases of police brutality. They have also seen a rise in people calling 311 (the nonemergency police number) to report people in their neighborhoods for noise violations and minor infractions.


Cops want to ensure that white people are happy. Many cities have installed “quality of life” phone numbers by which they can call police about nonemergency issues.

In the Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Gardens areas of Brooklyn calls to 311 have gone from 11,515 in 2010 to 37,039 in 2017. In Flatbush, Brooklyn, calls rose from 18,480 in 2010 to a high of 83,398 in 2014 before dropping to 52,021 in 2017, reports Brooklyn Paper.


Step 4: Push out minority businesses

Minority-owned businesses always disappear when a neighborhood becomes gentrified to make way for high-volume, corporate stores because small businesses can’t afford the rent. This eventually leads to the economic disempowerment of black communities because, often, the people who own small businesses live in the community and spend their money at other small businesses.


Why does this happen? Well (surprise!) white people tend to patronize minority-owned businesses less than black people. A 2014 Neilsen report found only 20 percent of whites who make over $50,000 annually say they would support a minority-owned business while 55 percent of blacks said they would. White people like artisanal delicacies like bread from the Italian island of Panera.

In minority neighborhoods, the people at the Jamaican restaurant patronize the local dry cleaners. They get their hair cut at the local barbershop. They hire neighborhood kids.


Gentrification ends the recycling of money in minority neighborhoods because the new businesses usually send their money back to corporate headquarters, or have owners who don’t live in the neighborhoods where they own their business.

Alternately, there will always be a shop that sells cupcakes in mason jars and a boutique that sells flowery dresses for $534 apiece. You’ll never see anyone in those stores, but somehow they stay around. I have a theory about those places:

Either it’s the Russian mafia, or they’re just reselling stuff they found at thrift shops.


Step 5: Destroy the schools

It might seem counterintuitive, but richer, more educated residents don’t always lead to better schools or even whiter schools. That’s because affluent residents often don’t want their children mixing with “the blacks.” As The Root reported earlier:

Almost 30 percent of children in San Francisco attend private schools — the highest rate of private-school attendance in California, and the third-highest in the nation. An exact count is not available, but public data suggest that the majority of students from high-income white families attend private schools.


So what happens when a growing population of wealthy, white, politically active voters pulls their children out of public schools? Do you think they care about the quality of the schools in their communities? What would incentivize people who have no use for public schools to increase funding or resources in a state with astronomically high taxes? And if the wealthy white residents don’t care about the schools, why would local politicians and school board officials care?

More importantly, how does this affect black and brown children?


Well, the NAACP has declared a “state of emergency” for San Francisco Unified Schools; the district ranks as the worst school district for black student achievement. In 2017, 77 percent of SFUSD’s white students tested as proficient in English and language arts, while only 19 percent of African Americans did so. Thirteen percent of black students and 22 percent of Hispanic students were proficient in mathematics, compared to 7o percent of white kids, according to the district’s data.

A 2017 report by Innovate, a charter school startup in the Bay Area, showed that the achievement of black students in San Francisco public schools is directly related to poverty and race. Although black and Hispanic populations are dwindling, they still attend disproportionately segregated, low-income schools.


And in Brooklyn, investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones told the Atlantic that “gentrification, it turns out, usually stops at the schoolhouse door. Because newcomers tend to send their kids outside of the local system, often to private or charter schools, gentrification tends to have a neutral or even negative effect on neighborhood schools, at least in the short term.”

And if you find that hard to believe, ask The Root’s own staff writer Anne Branigin about the boatloads of hate mail she received after reporting on the white parents who were upset about the possibility of their children’s elite schools being diversified.


So there you have it. Two of the most diverse cities in America are also becoming two of the whitest. What is also interesting is that Colin Kaepernick played for the 49ers and now lives in New York.


Maybe he saw the gentrification close-up and knows of the havoc it wreaks on black and minority residents.

Maybe this is why he kneels.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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The white people of today aren’t all that different from their colonizing ancestors. Gentrification is just their modern-day, updated, organized and systematic attack on black and brown communities.

Same script, different cast.