White fight! Vandal wages one-person battle against Flatbush gentrification

White fight! Vandal wages one-person battle against Flatbush gentrification
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Anti-white-gentrification graffiti has greeted straphangers on the platform of a Flatbush subway station for the last six months.

The tags bearing messages such as “Fight white gentrification of FBush” and “Keep Flatbush black” have been scrawled across the pillars of the Church Avenue B and Q station as recently as last Thursday. The unknown vandal behind them — if more than one person is responsible, they have remarkably similar handwriting — has penned new messages each time Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers painted over the last batch, as they did last Friday. A neighborhood anti-gentrification activist said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the scrawls’ racial element, but that he understands what is driving it.

“I think it’s where people are at because we have a history of racism,” said Imani Henry, a 12-year neighborhood resident and organizer of the group Equality for Flatbush. “We live in a society that is already divided by race.”

Equality for Flatbush is undertaking a campaign called “Before it’s gone/Take it back,” which seeks to document life in gentrifying neighborhoods in New York and elsewhere through selfies posted online. The group is also developing resources for poor residents and agitating against the changes.

Flatbush, while still predominately black and working-class, became somewhat whiter but not much wealthier during the first dozen years of this millennium. The number of white people in the zip code around the Church Avenue station increased by 4,000 from 2000 to 2012 while the number of African Americans decreased by 10,000, so that white people now make up a 10th of the area’s population and black people constitute three quarters, according to census data.

The shift was far behind the 2000–2010 influx of white people to parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, where the white population more than doubled and came to make up nearly half of the total head count, making the areas comprise four of the 25 with the fastest growth in white population in the nation, according to an analysis.

Meanwhile, in Flatbush, the number of Latino residents increased by slightly more than 2,000 from 2000 to 2012, census data show. Local median income grew from $29,498 to $40,146 in the same period but fell further below Brooklyn’s median, which rose from $32,125 to $45,215, per the government numbers.

Henry said his group is trying to get neighbors to focus on fighting developers and landlords who are raising rents, not each other.

“I talk to white people who feel terrible about what’s been going on,” he said. “What we’re really trying to fight is corporate gentrification.”

Commuters on the platform earlier this summer were less impressed by the graffitist’s message, though they admit the neighborhood is changing.

One recent immigrant to Flatbush from Manhattan, a yoga-mat-toting white woman, said the angry tags are not representative of the reception she has gotten from long-time residents.

“I’m sure there’s probably been gentrification going on, but it’s not very obvious,” Danielle Blair said. “People have been pretty friendly to me.”

Another neighborhood newcomer, who arrived two years ago from Colombia, said he has noticed the influx of white folks continuing since the last census data was compiled.

“It used to be more rare to see white people in Flatbush,” he said.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌witz@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz