I’m sitting at the newest cafe to open in my Harlem neighborhood – it’s called Manhattanville Coffee. The name itself describes the recent strife this neighborhood has seen in the past few years ago as young professionals began immigrating to the area in swarms in search of cheap rent and easy downtown access. Manhattanville is generally recognized as being distinct from the rest of Harlem. It’s where the Columbia University main campus is, it houses, for the most part, university affiliates many old money white families. Its what folk generally consider a “nice” part of town. This connotation is exactly why the cafe has been given this name. It is an attempts to align itself with the new Harlem, the Harlem that is less poor, less black and hispanic. One poster on yelp described this place as real estate rebranding intended to speed up the already dizzying pace of gentrification that’s taking over this neighborhood.
I’m okay with nice dining establishments and coffee shops, especially when they are independently owned like this one, but I’m scared that it’s too far removed from the original community that houses it. Why does the coffee cost $4-5? Why are they blasting indie folk music, why are there no fliers for community events and resources near the door?
A group of young black boys just walked by the door and one of them ran up to the door, looking back at his friends as if for encouragement, held onto the handles looked inside and then let go and ran away with his group. To him, what he just did was a small act of defiance. He was making to enter a place where he knows he is not welcome. I wish this were more of a place where young neighborhood kids would feel comfortable coming in. If only to get a drink of water, to rest, or maybe even to sit in on an event where a book is being read by a fellow Harlemite.
And since I’ve started sitting here…every one in the cafe is white with the exception of myself and two black men, while 90% of who strolls by the massive french windows are black. Kids on they’re low-riding bikes with the pegs, two girls with long braids down their backs run by. Adults from the neighborhood walk by too, they look inside as they walk by then they turn to look at the car of young white men parked outside, their is sadness, a sense of loss in their eyes.
I look up and notice that someone has vandalized the glass on the large French window that make up two walls of the cafe: “DEE” is etched in a childish cursive on every single window pane. I think this act of vandalism represents the territorial strife this neighborhood is experiencing. It is an attempt to assert the power of what was here before. I don’t think this would have happened had a bodega opened up no this corner.