By Valerie Reynoso
White’s Here is My New York is basically NYC from the perspective of the white man’s gaze and fetishizes colonialism and western ideals.
In the second chapter of the book, White describes what he considers the different categories of people which majority of New Yorkers fall under—those who were born in the city and are accustomed to it, those who commute frequently, and those who were born somewhere else and moved to the city which they still need to get used to. White then elaborates on the contributions he believes said groups add to the city; “Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”
The author conflates settlers who were born in New York for natives and disregards the history of native genocide, enslavement of Africans and Dutch colonies in the city. The true natives were the Lenape who were the first nations people of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the indigenous people who were slaughtered and displaced from their centuries-long homes by English and Dutch colonizers, along with the Africans who were brutally mistreated, kidnapped from their homelands and forcefully brought to the US.
White depicts settlers as being the backbone of the city, the greatest set of contributors New York has ever seen, rather than violent colonizers who committed genocide and enslaved indigenous peoples in the name of white supremacy and capitalism. Settlers ravaged colonized lands including New York solely for profit and imperial power. It was the true natives and other marginalized groups who created NYC culture, for instance, it was African Americans and Latinxs from the South Bronx who created the Hip-Hop genre.
Moreover, White displays his classism and racism by referring to Harlem as being “crummy slums” and having “voodoo charms” and Wall Street as having the “plushiest offices” and “merchant princes.” The author’s rhetoric demonizes the poor and places the capitalist elite on a pedestal, he also uses terms that tend to have racialized connotations such as “voodoo” and “slum” since voodoo is an Afrocentric form of witchcraft that is often shunned and slums tend to be associated with Black and brown peoples who make up majority of the impoverished population.
Furthermore, capitalism is rooted in Calvinist thought, in the idea that poverty is a punishment for sin and wealth brings people closer to heaven—this is what White perpetuates as well in his language, in using “plushy” to refer to capitalist offices that exploit the oppressed, alluding to clouds such as those in the sky associated with heaven but only for the rich and white. On the other hand, western media alludes voodoo to the demonic and to hell. I’m sure that White would also speak favorably on gentrification—making the “crummy slums” whiter and richer with empty luxury complexes replacing affordable housing and white yuppies driving out Black and brown impoverished people; more like his white supremacist, capitalist idea of heaven.
Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.