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Gentrification as a Manifestation of Colonialism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Society
Wordcount: 1316 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Gentrification– a Manifestation of Colonialism

Based on the information covered in the Gentrification in Latinx Communities course and previous knowledge on colonization of America, I indeed believe that gentrification resembles a new form of colonialism. These two social phenomena share various crucial characteristics including perception of territory space value, actors, displacement and racialization of peoples, legitimizing ideologies, and resistance; however, the differentiating ways in which these characteristics play out in each clearly highlight their distinction. This essay specifically reflects on the occurrence of colonialism and gentrification in America to argue against the uniformity of these social phenomena and limit their sharing of characteristics to a mere resemblance by contrasting the ways in which they embody those aforementioned characteristics. This supports the idea that gentrification is not colonialism itself, but rather a new paradigm that manifests it.

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In both gentrification and colonialism it is obvious that the actors’ desire for territory space is the principal factor behind their occurrence. Nonetheless, the areas of territory desired and the reasoning behind that desire are not necessarily the same. In the colonization of America, the force behind the actors’ extreme desire for the land is their presumption of sovereign prerogative. Saito (2018) explains this as a firm belief that they have the right to establish states and rule them, which consequently requires territory on which to do so. In other words, colonizers desired to colonize as much of America as possible in order to maximally execute sovereign prerogatives. Contrastingly, the reason behind gentrifiers’ desire to seek urban spaces is due to the notion of economic value that this particular type of space potentially holds. In the end, both phenomena aim to gain power over new/unfamiliar spaces.  Highlighting gentrification’s likeness to colonialism, Wharton (n.d.) asserts that essentially gentrification can be seen as a continuation of modern colonialism due to its fixation on conquering and capitalizing on already inhabited areas for personal benefits, specifically economic ones.

The actors of gentrification and colonialism, whom in this case are those who practice and initiate such, are not the same characters; however, they both exert a dominant position over non-actors. In colonialism the actors were Europeans and their established military, who exerted economic and physical dominance and racialization of Native Americans. In gentrification there are two types of actors: the profiteers and the young professionals moving into the urban space. Wharton (n.d.) explains that profiteers are often developers, realtors, bankers, investors, planners, architects, engineers and politicians, and are those who directly input for the redevelopment and displacement of urban areas. The young professionals are those “upwardly mobile urban professionals” who indirectly, and often unknowingly, displace the long time and/or low income residents of those urban communities (Wharton, n.d.). Again, the actors, both profiteers and young professionals, are dominant over the non-actors as they have more resources, social and economic, to influence the experiences of the urban communities. In essence, gentrification’s unique encompassment of dominant actors resembles the pattern of unequal relationships, between actors and non-actors, that is observable in colonization.

There are significant dissimilarities between the ways in which the discussed social phenomena induce displacement and domination of the long term inhabitants of the newly desired land. Anglo-American colonizers prove to have been extremely harsh in their approach to purposefully displace Native Americans Indians through their heinous and extensive methods of domination. Saito (2018) advances colonizers’ jarring brutality by asserting that some methodologies included were military decimations, incentivized scalping, and purposeful spreading of deadly diseases. Moreover, a major key to American colonialism was the forceful and indefinite detention of Natives either in internment camps or boarding schools. These detention centers asserted absolute colonial domination by forcibly separating families and creating a “setting in which human beings could be so completely deprived of their rights and prerogatives that no act committed against them could appear any longer as a crime” (Saito, 2018, p.6). Although gentrification actors also assert dominance and drive a displacement of people, their methods are not nearly as barbarous. In my opinion, their displacement of urban inhabitants is not intentional, unlike colonizers’, but rather a repercussion of their economic quest. Upholding this idea Wharton (n.d.) explains that long time urban residents are priced out of their homes due to the increase in housing and living expenses from redevelopment set to attract young professional renters and thus increase profiteers’ earnings. Furthermore, this propounds that domination and thus displacement of urban residents is subtly manifested through high economic demands, and as Wharton (n.d.) states “in the name of market freedom and personal choice or through vengeful policies which have attacked the land tenure and human rights of those least able to articulate resistance to the process.” Clearly, the method of domination in gentrification is nothing like those in colonialism; however, it is evident that the dominance of people in either phenomena results in a vast compromise of those people’s rights. Regardless, the differences between the two phenomena the results are similar, in that they oppress already disadvantaged peoples.

Moreover, the legitimizing ideologies behind these social phenomena are not based on the same ideals. Many American colonizers defended their actions with their believes in sovereign prerogatives and Christian missions. As Saito (2018) explains, colonizers’ actions are founded on the idea that God wanted them to spread religion and create states on, therefore their actions were to fulfil God’s desires. On the other hand, gentrification has nothing to do with religion or creation of states, but rather focuses on the revitalization of economics in overlooked urban communities. Gentrifiers support their selfish economic actions with the fact that gentrification “refurbishes once blighted neighborhoods” (Wharton, n.d.). This idea that they are making things better, is not entirely true, but works to falsely maintain the ‘good intentions’ of gentrification. Despite the reason behind the social phenomenon, I do not believe either one successfully justifies the repercussions and experiences of the vulnerable peoples undermined.

Drawing from this information, I conclude that gentrification can basically be seen as a much less heinous manifestation of colonization due to the contented resemblance of characteristics between the two social phenomena.

Work Cited

  • Saito, N. T. (2018). Indefinite Detention, Colonialism, and Settler Prerogative in the United States. Social and Legal Studies
  • Atkinson, R., & Bridge, G. (2005). Introduction. In R., Atkinson & G., Bridge (Ed.). Gentrification in a Global Context: The New Urban Colonialism (pp. 1-17).
  • Clark, E. (2005). The order and simplicity of gentrification: A political challenge. In R., Atkinson & G., Bridge (Ed.). Gentrification in a Global Context: The New Urban Colonialism (pp. 261-269).
  • Wharton, J. L. n.d. Gentrification: The New Colonialism in the Modern Era (pp. 0-11).


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