A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Flag Wars: Gentrification Attempts at Blaming the Victims
By Keisha Saul

Maybe it was during a visit to the town you grew up in. The little coffee shop on the corner is now replaced by a Dean and Deluca, or the primary signifier of change, Starbucks. The auto body shop next door to the “ mom and pop” photography studio is now a Sports car dealership; the “ mom and pop” shop welcomes its new owner, the high end fashion designer's boutique. The low income housing is now home to the developer's spanking new condominium-equipped with 24 hour security to ensure the property's former dwellers don't return for a stake of the wealth, or to stir up any trouble, because of course, that's just what they do.

Every society is stricken by change; it is not a modern phenomenon, but is constant in modern city life. So how do we border the lines between change and gentrification? The documentary Flag Wars tells the compelling story of what occurred when White homosexuals moved to a historically Black town of Columbus, Ohio. The story turns from the usual race rivalries caused by gentrification to a whole new argument on gentrifying Black communities with White urban gay �gentrifiers�.

Gentrification is the general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district. It is extremely evident in New York with the Columbia expansion in Harlem, causing many residents to lose the low-income apartments they have called home for a number of years, in the Brooklyn Atlantic Yards Project, where many long-term residents will also be forced to move, and with the move of Yankee's Stadium in the Bronx, which will cause many people to also lose their residence. A related increase in rents and property values and changes in the district's character and culture are also well known occurrences.

The documentary's title is inspired by an elder of Olde Towne East, an aged gentleman of about 80. Charismatic, strong, and insanely orientated to the awareness and perseverance of his culture, he is a Black man who was one of the first residents of Olde Towne. The flag posted proudly outside of his part house-part African Art Gallery, is a Nigerian flag, followed by his name. A complaint is made by his neighbor, a White gay male, who purchased a property eight homes away across the street. The Chief is summoned to take his flag down, while a gay flag is allowed to display high-staff in front of City Hall.

Olde Towne East is a former bedroom community and was the first suburban area of Columbus. It was populated by wealthy White families until 1970, when a so called �White flight� occurred as Black families began moving into the neighborhood. The neighborhood became the only suburban town in America with middle class Black homeowners.

AmeriFlora, an international horticultural exhibition, was held in Columbus in 1992. Taking place on 88 acres of landscaped grounds, the exhibition cost $95 million to produce and attracted 5.5 million visitors. The true reception of the potential value of the homes in Olde Towne East did not occur until AmeriFlora. After the season was over its visitors saw the historical value of the neighborhood, developing tactics soon after as outlined in Flag Wars. This began the requisition and purchasing of the homes in Olde Towne. The process was intense, the forceful removal of many African-American homeowners and the reception of many homosexual renovators. Many of Olde Towne's residents at the time did not hold the titles for their homes, since many of the homes were inherited after the deaths of their grandparents, or parents. This made the process easier for the mayor of Olde Towne to burden Black residents, ignorant to the law, into moving out of their properties and putting them up for sale for a worth of pennies on the dollar.

Suffering from a mental health illness, one of the residents of Olde Towne East had two cars and one truck on her property for twenty-four years. As the newcomers expressed more and more interest into acquiring land, there were now laws in place that regulated how one's own property was to be used. If a homeowner was ignorant to any of these laws, he/she would be forced to fix the problem within 14 days or lose their property. A woman in her forties, the resident was forced to put her house up for sale because of pressures from local authorities who near brainwashed her into believing that her house was an added stress on her mental condition. Even though she had taken care of her property for twenty-four years, she was forced to believe that she could no longer do so and that it was best to put her house on the market for sale and move elsewhere. Submitting to the stress, the woman died three months later, just after she was fined thousands for not removing the cars from her property.

Olde Towne East is no longer a community of lower-class homeowners. The long history of African-American culture is now overlooked, underrepresented, and scorned.

Gentrification can be a quick process– it takes advantage of subordinate, marginalized cultures that are less likely to know the true meaning of the law. More likely to trust ranking officials and individuals who accurately represent themselves as re-enforcers of the law, low income households are often plotted against and told almost anything that will initiate the wanted response. Because of the myths about the poor (disobedience of the law, prone to be criminals), gentrification is often an easy process without much protest. Lately, people are fighting for their properties and protesting for their cause. Unfortunately, it will never be a win-win situation for everyone involved.