So, Diesel Cafe, everyone's favorite hipster dyke cafe in Davis Square, Somerville, is opening up a new location called Bloc 11. Exciting, right? Not if you're part of the community that they're moving into.
As is so often the case, queers are moving in to "renew" the neighborhood. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the location of this Diesel Spawn, it's set to be located in historic Union Square in East Somerville. Now, Union Square is important for a number of reasons, including a claim to the first American flag being raised in 1776. But historical patriotism aside, Union Square is significant because it has been an important residential neighborhood for immigrant communities and communities of color, particularly Brazilians and African-Americans. Over the past 15 years or so, gentrification has slowly begun to creep into the neighborhood. More and more young, white, college educated folk have moved in, seeing it as a cheap, hip, alternative to more expensive neighborhoods, but still able to take advantage of its proximity to uber-hipster Inman Square in Cambridge. There has also been an influx of bougie restaurants, bars, and clubs, including the lesbian bar, Toast. A lot of this has to do with public policy related to zoning and developers wanting to "develop" the neighborhood and complicit politicians who don't give a damn about immigrants or affordable housing.
So, Bloc 11 is going to be the newest addition to Union Square's "development." We see this happen again and again. It's happened in Chicago. It's happened in Boston. It happens all over. It's the same old story of communities of color/immigrants living in neighborhoods with affordable housing, developers/business folk/white queers move into the neighborhood, drive up rent, change the neighborhood, push out residents, and essentially take over in the name of "urban renewal."
Diesel Cafe is a place that attracts, for the most part, young white queers with disposable income (I mean, $2-5 drinks? honestly). Being one of very few queer, day-time, social centers outside of Boston, Diesel has attracted an admirable following that has allowed them to expand their current building to accomadate more customers. But, that expansion is clearly not enough. As Diesel invades Union Square (even under the tricky code name of "Bloc 11"...whatever that means), it's going to bring the whiteness and the middle classness, and all the socioeconomic cultural/political baggage that goes along with that into a neighborhood that, frankly, would be better off without them. It will attract even more middle class white folks to the area. It will drive up rent and alter the way space is used in a community. It will also hurt already present businesses, some of which are own and operated by community members. The only way Diesel will hire people from Union Square is if they're hip white folks who will attract hip white customers and hip white money. Oh, and as if the cafe itself weren't enough, there're also going to be opening an art space above the cafe in true gentrifying style. Nothing like a space for white artists in a cheap queer space to make art on the backs of people of color.
I know for some people, this is probably hard to hear. It's even a little hard for me to write. I have friends who work at Diesel, I enjoy hanging out there, etc. I bet a lot of us do. We may not want to criticize a place that has come to mean so much to the a large part of the queer community. But, it is precisely for this reason that we must be willing to do so.
As a place where our voices, our presence, our cash, etc, are eseential part of the success of this cafe, we have an ethical obligation to speak up. We must be able to criticize Diesel for this blatant disregard of the residents of Union Square.
We've seen this happen in other neighborhoods in Boston. We've seen it happen in the South End (used to be mostly public housing, latin@s in affordable housing before the white gays moved in), Chinatown (thank you, Tufts Med school, condos, etc.), and the latest conquest: Dorchester (D Bar, housing). There's going to be a huge condo building there soon marketed to lesbians and gays who can't afford the South End. Who gives a damn about the folks who live there now who won't be able to afford to stay in the area.
Some folks might argue that this is going to be good for the community. That it's just the revitalization that a neglected community could use. Wrong. This is going to be extremely harmful. Yes, community development work should be going on in East Somerville, but not "urban renewal." Groups like Somerville Community Corporation and the East Somerville Neighborhood Association are working to do actualy community development with the community, opposed to in opposition to it.
Speak up, folks. Let your voices be heard. Don't give Bloc 11 your money. Maybe not even Diesel, if you can help it. But if it comes down to the Transnational Coffeehouse across the street, and Diesel. Go to Diesel. I don't want to shut Diesel down. I'm just opposed to Diesel imperialism.
wow... don't touch your computer for a weekend, and suddenly everyone hates you. cool.
i could post this under the comments section, but i feel like at least, this part of it should be made public.
i don't even know where to begin to respond to all of this. mostly, i'm really glad there is at least discussion going on about this. in general, i don't think we talk about issues of gentrification, racism, and classism enough in queer spaces. so whether or not you agree with me, or whether or not my "rant" is full of shit, i'm glad people are talking and getting worked up about it. there is plenty of stuff to get worked up about.
so. let's see. a few corrections on my part. for the record, a small coffee at diesel is in fact $1.25. the price range i originally selected ($2-5) was inaccurate. but 75 cents aside, the reason for mentioning that was not to accuse diesel of outlandish prices, but rather to point out that their customers have disposable incomes.
secondly, if i implied that diesel was not making any sort of effort to engage the community, then i apologize. that is not the case. i know about the community meeting. and they also have one of their employees (who happens to be a good friend of mine) doing outreach work, with the intention of, among other things, attempting to hire a demographically complex staff. if they do in fact achieve this, i will be somewhat less miffed about the whole thing. but only somewhat.
also, for the record, the building that bloc 11 is moving into has been empty for 3 years. so it's not like they are immediately kicking anyone out.
i also think it's worth mentioning a few last things. 1) i don't hate white gay people. i just hate what some white (gay) people do. for the record, i am white (feel free to call me a race-traitor. you're not going to hurt my feelings). 2) i don't hate diesel. i don't think diesel wants to harm the residents of union sq. in any way. they probably think they are doing something good for the community. like most folks doing messed up things, they have good intentions. 3) as some folks pointed out, it's not entirely fair to just be blaming diesel for what's going on. as i mentioned, there are politicians (with rumors of corruption circulating) allowing zoning to happen in a way that benefits developers rather than the residents. also, as people like gerry and brian pointed out, what is going on is part of larger social forces and institutions that are a product of living within advanced capitalism in a racist society. not to mention the commodification and consumption of queer cultures and the (white) queer feeling of "we're just oppressed enough that we can move into neighborhoods of color." diesel is a mere cog in a very large machine of exploitation. but, even looking at this from a much larger perspective, it is still important to hold individuals responsible for their decisions and the effects of their actions. while it's true that diesel is just one tiny piece of a complex puzzle of gentrification, it's still a piece that we, as queers, need to hold accountable.