Bus Boys and Poets had the honor of hosting a panel for a prestigious professor’s new book Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City on Thursday, April 27th, 2017. Professor Derek Hyra of American University discussed the backstory of writing his book and his perspectives on the book itself. A former New York resident, Professor Hyra grew up in a city and has seen and studied the effects of gentrification across the country, especially right here in the District of Columbia. His research and journey that made his book possible is a story that was a pleasure to listen to, and a story that is hard to forget.
Professor Hyra originally did research in Bronxville and Harlem in New York City. Having this background, he was then able to apply his research methods to the District and thus, he selected the gentrified area of Shaw and U Street to write his book on. This research started when D.C. was still predominantly African American, even more so than it is today. Because of this fact, D.C. earned the nickname, “Chocolate City,” and this is where Professor Hyra derived the name for his book.
Map of U Street: Professor Hyra wrote his book on this area
Due to the introduction of whites into the Shaw and U Street area and many others, Professor Hyra reinvented this nickname to “Cappuccino City.” Professor Hyra explains this with the metaphor of a cappuccino. Whites are being mixed with the blacks in these areas, and pushing them out of the areas with the process of gentrification. Just like in a cappuccino, the dark espresso is pushed to the sides when the white milk is poured into the cup. That is what Professor Hyra argued is happening in his area of study, in D.C., and across the country. This “milk” in the U Street and Shaw area is not only whites, but it is predominantly white millennials. They are coming because the opportunity is here as Professor Hyra argued, and this brings a certain atmosphere to the area. These millennials seek opportunity, and many of them come in with loads of cash that their parents have. Thus, this makes the area have a wealthy atmosphere when these white millennials come into the area. Because the atmosphere changes, property values go up because wealth and white power is in the neighborhood. This drives long term residents out of the area, the majority of these residents being black.
The process of gentrification is quite universal when one puts it into perspective. An area that was crime ridden and broken gets renovated, new people come in, drive out the old people that were associated with the problems, and the neighborhood is reinvented. Shaw and U Street follows this example, as does the Edgewood neighborhood in D.C., Harlem in New York, the south side of Chicago, and even in Austin, Texas. When one ponders about it, Professor Hyra’s book is a message not only for our nation’s capital, but for many towns across America that gentrification is happening in. That is why I considered his book to be so special, in addition to the fact that I have developed a personal passion for this topic.
I grew up in a small suburban town in New Jersey. When deciding where I wanted to go to college, I decided based on one major aspect; what was the best school for my major that was in a city? I knew I wanted a school in a city because city life attracts me, and I wanted a change from what I had grown up with. The constant activity of a city is right up my alley, and it is why I feel that this topic in the city that I have fallen in love with over the past year has made a mark on me. When sitting at the panel listening to Professor Hyra, I thought about all I had done, all I had seen, and all I will be doing over my next 3 years here at American. I bought Professor Hyra’s book at the event, and it is my intention to read it over the summer. To be honest, I can hardly wait to start.