The Evolution of Shaw: Uncovering a Seemingly Forgotten History

We’re all guilty of enjoying the pleasures that gentrification brings. Who doesn’t like a nice perfectly swirled latte, made with beans that were specially imported from Costa Rica. From the cute boutiques, primarily made up of young women in either white jeans or lululemon outfits, to the specialty muffin shop on 7th Street, where you can witness literally every possible use for a muffin, and everything in between, Shaw is the epitome of gentrification. The downside to gentrification is the idea that as prices increase, the amount of original inhabitants that can afford the new cost of living decrease, thus pushing hundreds of undeserving people out of their own homes. Like most things, this phenomena is so very complex. Luckily, it is not my job to determine whether or or not gentrification is bad. In terms of the Shaw neighborhood in D.C., I want to focus on a time in recent history, where gentrification had not yet taken place, and Shaw was known as one of the most dangerous and drug ridden areas in all of D.C. Furthermore, I want to look at the variety of relationships that people have to this period of time.

During the 1980’s through the early 2000’s, Shaw was a scary place. People were shot every single day, and it was one of the easiest places to find crack. However, this era in Shaw’s history isn’t talked about. I would guess that at least 50% of the people who move to Shaw don’t realize that their luxury apartment building overlooks the exact location of teenaged boys being shot to death as result of gang violence. I would argue that this lack of knowledge is inadvertently adding to the racial tension that has brewed as a result of gentrification. How can it be that after such a profound history, that not one article references this time? Current articles have no problem telling people that by coming to Shaw, they will be able to “experience African American History and Culture” but they do not dare mention the most recent history. No matter how harsh the past may be, it cannot simply be expunged from history. In doing so, the heartbreak and despair that the people living in Shaw at the time felt, is also being erased. People who write about Shaw nowadays are not writing to the people who have lived in Shaw for the past thirty years, they’re writing to the white and wealthy young people.

The following two clusters of words visually depict this disparity between the current dialogue and the dialogue from this seemingly erased time period. I took the words from articles that are currently talking about Shaw. I then took all of the words specifically from all articles I could find that talked about Shaw during the 80’s to the early 2000’s. No alterations were made to the sources used.


The difference is astonishing. This rhetorical change that occurred after just twenty five years incites a sense of uneasiness, as it very clearly demonstrates the power of rhetoric and the power of dialogue. To be in charge of the dialogue in a situation is true power. The following video briefly shows the evolution of Shaw and the obvious change between the two eras.

Who’s in control of the narrative? There’s no such thing as a single story.


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