Thursday, June 21, 2018

Legacy Records and Black Branding

In his Times review of a new Hudson Yards restaurant, Pete Wells writes that Legacy Records has "ginned up a history for itself that brings together sloppy research with a superficial tribute to black culture."

I haven't been inside the place, so I'll leave it to Wells, who describes images of black musicians on the walls, stars like Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, who supposedly recorded in a studio on the site. Except they didn't. There was a studio there for a few years in the 2000s, he says, "mostly used by orchestras, Broadway cast recordings and commercials."

There's also a photo by Mickalene Thomas of a black woman with an Afro in a sexy pose.


photo by Gary He

Wells concludes:

"Legacy Records has taken this shred of history and turned it into a fantasy of black American music.

Exhibited in a museum or gallery, Ms. Thomas’s photo might be taken as a comment on the different postures and personas available to black women. Hanging it next to the counter where pastries and coffee are sold by day strips out some of its meaning; it looks like an attempt to buy a personality for a restaurant that doesn’t have one of its own.

If anyone gets to decide who can use black culture for what purposes, it surely isn’t me. But Legacy Records uses it in a gratuitous and offhanded way that made me uncomfortable. Stevie Wonder will always be cool, but a restaurant dreamed up by real estate developers doesn’t automatically become cool by putting him on the wall."


photo: Mo Gelber

What Wells describes is not just cultural appropriation, it is "black branding" for the purposes of commodifying an urban space for the wealthy and mostly white. It is a trend that comes with hyper-gentrifying cities across America.

In his book "Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City,” Derek S. Hyra writes: “Not long ago, an urban community’s association with blackness was mostly perceived as detrimental. But nowadays...neighborhood-based organizations, real estate developers, restaurant owners and urban planners commodify and appropriate aspects of blackness to promote tourism, homeownership, and community redevelopment.”

We saw it most famously at the Summerhill restaurant in Crown Heights, where locals protested the use of supposed bullet holes and Forty Ounce Rosé.

Black branding is happening in hyper-gentrified cities where actual black people are being removed. With hyper-gentrification, New York City is getting whiter. And, as we've seen in many recent news reports, as middle and upper-class whites move into black and brown neighborhoods, they call the police on black people--for barbecuing, playing music, and just hanging out. These attacks happen simultaneously with the commodification of blackness.

Lower-income black people are pushed out. Their images and symbols are kept by the race/class victors as trophies and marketing opportunities. It can be seen as a form of revenge.


Barbecue Becky, Oakland, CA

“The rallying cry of the revanchist city,” wrote urbanist and gentrification expert Neil Smith, “might well be: ‘Who lost the city? And on whom is revenge to be exacted?’”

The notion of the lost city, the stolen city, goes back to white flight, a phenomenon engineered by the federal government beginning in the 1930s. Without Jim Crow in the northern United States, the government had to use stealthier methods of segregation. They developed the racist housing practice of redlining to confine black and brown people in disinvested cities, while luring whites away with good deals on houses in whites-only suburbs. This drain of the city’s tax base played a major role in the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, which provided the economic excuse for New York’s reorientation away from social democracy and towards neoliberalism, the radical free market, aka "trickle-down economics." And it is from there that hyper-gentrification, as a top-down tactic of state and city government, began.

We cannot talk about hyper-gentrification without also talking about racism. The story of American capital cannot be disentangled from the story of slavery in America. Neoliberalism, while it is an economic approach, was a white supremacist solution. It was, and continues to be, a powerful method to “take back” the city -- and, ultimately, the country—from black and brown people and to re-establish the power of the wealthy white elite. 


Inside Legacy Records, photo: Gary He, via Eater

So it seems appropriate that this restaurant is part of Hudson Yards, the fake city within a city, a curated space for the ultra-elite, and the perfect product of neoliberalized New York -- with all its corporate welfare, Hudson Yards has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

As I noted in my book Vanishing New York, Hudson Yards is a "dreamworld of exclusion," one of those places Mike Davis describes in Evil Paradises: “where the rich can walk like gods in the nightmare gardens of their deepest and most secret desires.”






2 comments:

Donnie Moder said...

Rant of the day. Hudson Yards makes me sick. Seeing the huge towers loom over the neighborhood south of there where I reside, it is just stunningly sickening. The amount of money that has been pumped into thsee crazy tall buildings dwarfs any investment in NYC since the WTC area in the 70s. It's an offshoot of 57th Street area below central park with super tall condo towers being built so billionaires can park (launder) their money while everyone else's sun is blocked by the shadows. Just the energy expense in elevator is ridiculous. So, to have a white washing of black history in a sterile environment is not surprising if it is done all in the name of real estate development and branding campaigns to attack foreign investment and tourists who don't know any better and are looking for something "authenrltic".

Frosty said...

Thank you for this. I've mostly made peace -- now, finally -- with the changes and the NYC that so many of us grew up or came of age in is irretrievably lost. The show Pose takes place here in 1987 - yet so much of the buildings are gone the program really can't depict the NYC of the 1980s visually. It's reduced to pretending new structures existed 30 years ago.

But to the gentrification and race I thought you would find this piece from Black Agenda Report interesting.
https://wwwDOTblackagendareport.com/index.php/modern-black-codes-and-cops-enforce-them
Finally NY has its own Permit Patty and Barbeque Betty-style frame ups:
https://www.westsiderag.com/2018/05/01/cops-called-on-black-man-moving-into-his-own-uws-apartment