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Gentlefication, a Gentler Gentrification.

Gentlefication, a Gentler Gentrification.
When I came back to New York City 5 years ago, after living and working in Europe for over 20 years, I couldn’t wait to embrace the diversity of the city, I have always been proud to call home. As an artist observing life, struggle, and the pursuit of inner fulfillment, there is no place I have ever known that offers so much intensity, contrast, culture and passion, in such an incredibly close proximity to each other. It is this uniqueness that feeds the many possibilities of my personal growth and dreams. I thought in accepting the diversity, it would turn and accept me back. Unfortunately that was not the case. I wanted a kinder gentler world and it was to start in the area I chose to live in. As a working actor there were only a handful of places that I could afford, with the rents being what they are in the city. I found a place in the West 170s in the Bronx and I began to acclimate myself to the new neighborhood, making use of my keen observant talents as an actor. Right at the beginning, I began hearing the
n-word not once or twice, but multiple times in the first two to three weeks, and thereafter. Even as I was addressed as n****, I considered it to be a welcome to the neighborhood. A kind of induction, I guess. I was approached often from people asking for money, but instead of asking for a quarter or a dollar it was five or ten dollars. “You rich, man give me $10.” I would smile and think nothing of it, or I would answer “I wish I could, but it’s over my food limit for the day, sorry.” Some days I would have to dress in a suit, but then I would hear “Oh the “suits” mov’in into our neighborhood”, and I could hear the animosity in the direct response to me being there. I wanted to be accepted. I did not want to stand out. I wanted to fit in. I did not want to be a threat. I felt white ; very white. I’ve never felt white! I do not even think white is a color. I was a lot of colors but my plethora of colors could not be seen. I began packing my suits in a small suitcase and wearing hoodies and baseball caps to hide my whiteness. I begin to hate the n-word, because I felt I was beginning to become it, although I could not or would not use it. It was stifling. People knew who I was and I began to feel uncomfortable. I remember once seeing a family of 5 in the subway and I began thinking maybe they are living in a small apartment just like me, and I began wondering how difficult their life must be. If their kids had opportunities. Upon noticing my gaze, the father turned to me shouting “What you looking at N*****? What the f*** you looking at? I wanted to say “I was looking at your beautiful family.” I wanted to say “God bless you.” I wanted to say anything that would take the rage and hate out of his eyes, but I left the half-full subway car in panic at the next stop, and hyperventilated for a good 2 minutes on the steamy subway platform afterwards. Feeling almost hated, I began to rely on my instincts, and began to ask questions to further analyze the situation as an actor and as an impartial observer more carefully. My well-being and personal security was being threatened, but I refused to be the victim and to react with the same aggression. That would be detrimental, non-productive and not serve any purpose at all! I found myself becoming gentler, taking breaths. FInding the humor, even though my humor was sometimes misconstrued. What do people see when they looked at me? What was their perception? Not ALL people of course, but the few resonated so strongly, it seemed to encompass the total picture. I had become the poster child for “the white man” and all the negative images it negated. I was the corrupt landlord, the horrible principle or teacher, the financial advisor stealing millions from his ever trusting clients, the uninterested social worker, the gun slinging police officer…worse. I get it!  I can put myself in the character of someone, and try to understand their predicament, to some degree. The effort is there. The respect is there. The civility is there. When did we stop being civil to each other? In all the decades of civil rights, when did we lose civility and respect? I do not even have to open my mouth or address anyone before I am called “cracker”, “casper”, “faggot” or told I do not belong in my own neighborhood of the Bronx. I am not angry. I am beyond angry. It makes me sad. Incredibly sad. I cannot begin to understand the plight of being a racial minority and dealing with the Injustice of what “the white society” has inflicted upon the minorities, fighting for their homes, families, and culture over the years. In the same regard I long to be accepted wherever I choose to live. I long to be perceived as like-minded, accepted and respected in the hood I call “home”. What may be perceived as a mask of a person who may seem to accept the stereotype of white arrogance and supremacy is NOT my reality in any way, shape or form! I am a person like you. I am spiritual, educated, articulate, a part of the dwindling middle class now entering the lower class, over 50 years old, finding it hard to get a job in the current market of online resumes, and accessing social organizations to get financial assistance for the first time in his life.  I’m not the rich person you think I am. Although I cannot accept the idea that I am poor poor either. Poor is not an option and refusing to accept the image of poverty. Be respectful. Be civil. I will return your respect and civility. That is what I have learned in all my years and especially on this new found journey. I am not taking away your home. I’m trying to find mine. The world is changing. I continue to learn and change with it. That is life. Be gentle with me. You see gentrification and I understand your fear. I prefer not to live in fear. I prefer patience and communication. I prefer dialogue. I prefer a gentler gentrification. I prefer gentlefication. I prefer the practice of civility, respect and love. Take that journey with me. And let’s learn and grow together. Nameste. Peace.
The writer James Pyecka has created a show on this subject at the NY Summerfest

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