Big news for Richmond, making the Frommer’s 2014 list of 14 places to visit. I can’t muster up the enthusiasm about this that seems to be the mainstream response. 2014 is the 150th anniversary of many battles in the Civil War, and this history is one of the main reasons Richmond made the list. Additionally restaurants and breweries and the rapids of the James are our selling points. I’m not buying.
And the part that everyone keeps repeating – ” While you weren’t looking Richmond got cool” – really makes me mad.
I’m sorry, but some old colonizing asshole “finding” Richmond in 1737 doesn’t make it cool, and neither does some out of town hipsters “finding” and gentrifying Richmond in 2013.
Shockoe Bottom, the controversial potential site of a bad public investment in a baseball stadium, is named from the Powhatan village which once was on this ground, Shocquohocan. And that area is full of historic sites of the slave trade which once dominated Richmond. We have history, no argument there. We have so much history we haven’t processed it all yet.
My argument lies in the fact that Richmond’s history is completely intertwined in our present. Our history isn’t an object gathering dust in a museum for tourists to check out. Our history is a constant battle. It isn’t quaint, or past, or collectible. It’s struggle.
People who colonize ruin the things that make a place ‘cool’. Richmond has a twisted grim history and a future that is really up in the air right now. Don’t yall remember our poverty rate? How about incarcerated folks? How way too much money goes to the police? How money is spent on sports, not schools?
I mean honestly Richmond isn’t cool – its complex. If you blaze ahead with fancy lofts and art galleries while ignoring the people who live here already you will ultimately ruin everything that once drew you here. And aside from ruining the character of this place, you will cause harm to people who live here.
There is some potential for tourism or development to help alleviate suffering in Richmond. But within the context of capitalism and the institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc. that permeates our culture I don’t see how. Bringing more people or money to Richmond won’t just trickle down automatically. Any attempt at drawing in tourists ought to be working closely with community organizations to make sure that impact is a positive one for the parts of our communities which need it the most.
I think that the people of Richmond are proud of our City. But there is something not right about attempts to be proud about gastropubs and new breweries and high end retail, which aren’t things that represent most Richmonders.
Stop telling people Richmond is cool. Why? Cool is attained with privilege. And a lot of folks who live in Richmond don’t have that kind of privilege. Bringing in fast development and fancy yuppie venues won’t help Richmonders.
Its not cool to be poor, hungry, homeless, without mental health care, without healthcare, stopped and frisked by the police based on racial profiling, without work, without living wages, without good public transportation and without engaging schools. These aren’t just generic issues, they are issues Richmond faces moreso than many other places.
Richmond has a higher poverty rate than surrounding areas. 25.3% is the official poverty rate in Richmond according to the Mayor’s 2013 Anti Poverty Commission Report. So 25.3% of our citizens living in poverty, which isn’t cool. We are twice as poor as the national average, and two and half times more poor than the state wide average.
One of my strongly held personal beliefs is that my life is only as good as the lives of the people around me. It is in my best interest for my neighbors to do well. Unfortunately I think some Richmonders feel this way, but think the best way to accomplish a good life is to push out the people who aren’t doing well and replace them with people with more money.
The Fast Food Workers Strike and VCU Living Wage Campaign are just two of the many campaigns in the works to make Richmond a better place. There are community organizations on the ground, doing grassroots work to alleviate poverty and suffering, and doing battle with the oppressive institutions. They need the spotlight, they need our support because they are doing work with and as the people who live here.
Don’t come here unless you are coming to help and stand in solidarity with the struggles around these issues.
The bottomline is – I don’t want to live in a place that’s cool. I have a lot of values, and cool isn’t one of them. I’d rather live in a place I could be proud of.