company offers “ghetto tourism” around an impoverished and gentrifying brooklyn neighborhood

June 6, 2017

For many already reeling from the devastating effects of gentrification in Brooklyn’s rapidly changing neighborhood of Bushwick, Free Tours By Foot is just the latest step in their displacement nightmare. The company, which claims a focus on street art, offers walking tours to tourists through the neighborhood where 30 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level.

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

Journalist Jonathan Turton recently went on one of these tours and wrote about his experience for Dazed Digital. For the piece, Turton spoke to a local artist and resident Chris Carr, who summed up our opinions thusly: “A lot of the ‘street art’ people are looking at on the walking tour is actually corporate sponsored marketing material now […] The tour applies a capitalist mentality to something that was made in total opposition to that. Graffiti was ostracised and the artists that did it around here were criminals. Now there’s a tour? I’m not mad at people that want to see cool artwork but it feels like commodification and appropriation of a culture.”

As is always the case with cultural theft, the culture of poor Black and Brown communities are scary, wrong and terrifying unless white people can profit from them. Carr explains how graffiti has morphed in the white imagination from something to scrub away to something to gawk at, the same way Bushwick itself (and more and more of Brooklyn as a whole) is changing from a place to fear and avoid into a gentrifier’s paradise.

Turton asks at the end of his piece: “How many will be returning after sunset this evening for a beverage, without the luxury of an escort?” By escort, he is talking about the tour guide, but as rent prices continue to skyrocket and developers master how to push lower income Black and Brown individuals out of their neighborhood, more and more that escort becomes the police presence. In each case, it’s Black and Brown communities who suffer for white comfort and pleasure. This is gentrification.

Banner photo via Jonathan Turton / Dazed Digital

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.