Gentrification and Paralyzes of the Heart

“Imborghesimento del cuore ci paralizza.” The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us. Pope Francis


Artwork from, artist Ashley Lukashevsky

Since I read this a few days ago the English translation has been rolling around in my brain. At random moments the thought of gentrification as a feeling and paralysis bounced through my thoughts and I paused to think about what it really means. I couldn’t pin it down until today. While sitting in a downtown law firm I saw several Black men wearing traditional Muslim taqiyahs. I wanted to give them a fist-bump for momentarily un-gentrifying the law firm. Their simple presence in a gentrified space was unexpected, yet so affirming. It was a feeling of belonging even though I had never met them before.

I haven’t read the full papal letter to understand the Pope’s words and intentions. After ten years of Catholic school, I can’t tell you the names of more than maybe two popes, three if you let me count Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. All of this to say I’m not a Catholic or religious scholar. What I appreciate about the line from Pope Francis is he ties gentrification to a way of being and not just an act of moving into a neighborhood. I’m not going to delve into gentrification as it relates to urban planning or place because I’m a novice on the topic. What I do want to think about how gentrification is more than moving into a neighborhood, it is as Pope Francis says a consequence of comfortable living.

More Polite or Authentic

Gentrification at its most basic definition means “to make something or someone more polite and refined.” On most days because of the privileges I have, I am a gentrifier. I have professional access to meetings and in those meetings, I practice gentrification so I don’t get kicked out and lose my access and my livelihood (I like my job and the wages that come with it). In practicing gentrification, I temper my words, saying “we would appreciate if you can share the timeline for transparency,” versus the ungentrified line of “you need to share the timeline because we don’t trust you, we think you’re just going to blow us off.” Or as another friend said, “I’m going to get myself kicked out, I just said ‘this is bullshit!’ in the middle of the meeting.” I am professionally rewarded and live a comfortable life because I gentrify meetings and am able to act politely and refined – all of which Pope Francis warns against. Comfortable living for some is often at the sacrifice of others.

When we practice gentrification of the heart it comes from an inauthentic place. I’m giving you the sanitized version because that is safer. Sanitized and gentrified versions of ourselves allow us to keep our distance and to be polite. Do we want refined or do we want real? When I speak in coded language asking for things politely do I sellout and keep it safe for me, but sacrifice those I’m supposed to be advocating on behalf of? I can argue it both ways in my head — gentrify some and I can stay in it for the long game, un-gentrify maybe we get to a resolution faster — hard to know which is the more effective strategy.

Are you ready to un-gentrify?

For white people are you ready to give up some of your white comfort as your act of de-gentrification? Earlier this week I was in a meeting and a white colleague kept pivoting the conversation away from race. The combative nature and not-so-subtle signs of white fragility showed his paralysis and his fear. On an elevator ride down with another colleague we both looked at each other and asked, “what just happened?” I sighed and said “white fragility.” I explained the person has to do their own work on understanding race and as a result, their heart is paralyzed and in protectionist mode versus being willing to tear apart the manicured whiteness and privilege built up and receptive to new learning.

For pocs, our acts of de-gentrification should be looking at how we change who we are to be more polite or refined for the sake of systems, institutions, and power structures. When we show up and have to cater to whiteness we gentrify and paralyze part of ourselves. For our acts of de-gentrification we need to work to show up more authentically and true to ourselves. We also need to have each other’s backs when we do this. My speaking truthfully and openly means I’m placing trust in others around me to accept and suspend judgment about what I am sharing. We may not agree with each other in the moment but work to build a relationship of understanding and trust with each other. A friend who does research on trust and pocs shared her research which found trust is built over time and when we are willing to show up more authentically, including sharing what could be vulnerabilities.

If we want to work on de-gentrifying physical spaces we also have to work at un-gentrifying our hearts a well.

By Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar.