Diesel Cafe, a dyke-owned/operated coffeeshop in Somerville’s Davis Square, is spawning. Earlier this year Diesel made public their plans to open another store in Somerville’s Union Square, this location called Bloc 11. One of the only remaining historically African American neighborhoods Somerville, Union Square is also currently home to working class communities of Brazilian and Korean people. In recent years Union has become increasingly popular for young, predominantly white, mostly college-educated, queer and non-queer people looking to move to a cheaper area. Because Union Square is not yet accessible by the Green Line, gentrification has been a little slower– the bus-phobic caving to “pay a little more than they can afford” to live elsewhere. Most of the businesses in the area– a cafe included– are locally owned and operated.
Diesel Cafe’s invasive move is unethical and irresponsible. It will endanger other businesses in the area, attract more and more students and former students who can afford to pay more rent than families already living in the area, and drive people and businesses out. Beyond these obvious and material changes are another set of (equally obvious) disavowed changes. Colonizing one community as another population’s recreational area is divisive to the original population.
And as if it weren’t outrageous enough, Diesel Cafe’s owners have planned to open a large art space above Bloc 11. As if the cafe weren’t imitation-highbrow enough on its own.
It isn’t the responsibility of the people already living in Union Square to mitigate the divisive effects of Bloc 11, despite Diesel’s assertion to the contrary. First it is the responsibility of the owners of Diesel Cafe– who have already clearly demonstrated their unabashed racism and disregard for ethical decision-making. Second it is the responsibility of queer people to not contribute to this sort of thing. Not contributing to the gentrification being the absolute least one can/should/must do. Especially it is the responsibility of white, middle-class people– who are not off-the-moral-hook just because they can identify that what Diesel Cafe is doing is wrong. Recognizing privilege and feeling guilty about it isn’t actually enough.
I was already going to blag about Bloc 11 today when I received a disturbing article from my ladywife on insanity-watch at home. For those of you who don’t know Boston– Dorchester is a densely populated group of neighborhoods, (still) working-class Irish, African American, East Asian and Southeast Asian. But uncomfortable white queers, fret no more, developers plan to turn it into the next Southend– with “upscale” shopping and “classy” restaurants to draw in the gays. Just another opportunity for queer people to engage in the “time-honored tradition” of gentrification with a dash of progressive lip service before we scamper away to latte land.