The Theatre, the Wall, and Shaw

 

In Ruben Castaneda‘s S Street Rising, Shaw is described as “a vibrant cultural center” (50). I wanted to explore what Castaneda meant by this, so I set out into Washington to research the area myself. He was right. It is a cultural center and it is quite vibrant. But I feel there’s more to that.

For the first portion of my project, I look at the Howard Theatre and the general history of Shaw. I look at the past and the present. My research had no clear goals in the beginning because I wanted to see where this journey would take me. It took me on a path that explored how Shaw changed over time and whether these changes were as good or as bad as people of the community said they were. The Howard Theatre became my commonplace and it was my entry point into Shaw.

I soon discovered that the image of Shaw was gilded and presented as an up and coming neighborhood. I think there’s some truth to that, but I began to give commentary on the consequences of Shaw as well. I began to give commentary on the plight of older residents and what can be abstractly defined as a “violent” takeover. Ultimately, this shifted my perspective of Shaw and led me on another path to explore how gentrification affected the people of Shaw.

As I delved deeper into my project, I realized the importance of moving out of my entry place and exploring the environment around it. This led me to a quaint little cafe called Uprising Muffin outside of the Shaw-Howard U Metro Station. Well, to be truthful, my friend did because she wanted a smoothie. Upon entering Uprising Muffin, I had some sort of epiphany. I saw a mural that I felt best condensed what I came to learn about Shaw.

This website is the home of all of my findings for my research, and then some. I have attached links below that will make it easier to navigate this site and understand the factors at play in Shaw.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, but You Can See it on the Wall

When I step out of the Shaw-Howard U Metro Station in Washington, D.C., I come across a cafe called Uprising Muffin. At first, I chose to ignore the cafe embedded inside a tall glass building. I wanted to understand the culture of Shaw that I felt was being overrun due to gentrification. I believed it was smart for me to explore the surrounding areas and pay special attention to the run-down buildings only utilized by the older residents of Shaw whose most defining characteristics were “low-income” and “black.” As I started to learn more of Shaw’s history, I felt that the narrow approach I took did not allow me to understand the complexities of the changing community. The friend that I was with one time wanted to buy smoothie, so we walked into Uprising Muffin, where we found a beautiful mural. The mural was filled with quotes like, “Feet don’t fail me now,” and “The revolution will not be televised.” I believe the mural best represents Shaw, and this single genre has different effects on the owners of Uprising Muffin, the older residents of Shaw, the newer residents of Shaw, and college-aged students.

For the owners of Uprising Muffin, the mural helps the cafe embed itself into the history, culture, and political atmosphere of Shaw. Shaw used to be a primarily black neighborhood, and over time, it has witnessed the coming and passing of activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, J.r., and artists like Duke Ellington. Furthermore, Shaw is known for its various murals that are sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. I believe the owners of Uprising Muffin intentionally placed a mural inside the cafe to make local customers feel more welcome. Additionally, the cafe was installed inside of a new building that was the result of a development project. To pay respects to the area, and make residents feel that their lifestyle isn’t overrun, the owners have installed this mural.

To older resident the mural’s purpose is to recognize and voice the struggles they have faced as a result of the changing political atmosphere and gentrification. In recent years, Shaw has been subject to many intense projects aimed at bettering the community through development projects. New buildings, new businesses, and new people have begun to pour into Shaw, ultimately changing it. As a result, older residents of Shaw feel that they are being evicted from their communities because of rising costs in the area. These residents often live in high rises and depend on their low or fixed income to sustain themselves. With the arrival of new residents, older residents may feel threatened because they simply cannot afford to live in Shaw any longer. Gentrification is an inherently violent process to them. The quotes on this mural, however, may serve as source of inspiration. If older residents find themselves in Uprising Muffin, quotes like “‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me,” and “Keep Ya Head Up” communicate inspiration.

In contrast, newer residents may view the mural as a window to the culture and history of Shaw. People moving into Shaw tend to be white people who are comfortably middle class and are young. The new residents are occupying a space which they know nothing about, unless they avidly research the history and culture of Shaw. This is where I believe Uprising Muffin comes in as a catalyst to integrate these new residents into the community. The cafe’s mural can be considered a window into the character of Shaw. When new residents visit Uprising Muffin and see “We’re a winner, and never let anybody say boy you can’t make it cuz an evil mind is in your way,” they understand the community cares a lot about activism and social justice. Although I don’t believe that the mural is responsible for changing perspectives of new residents, I do believe that it helps them understand their area a little better.

Lastly, it’s important to recognize that the cafe is near Howard University, so other rhetors may include Howard’s students. The students of Howard may feel that the cafe is honoring their history and the history of Howard, a historically black university. Washington, and the United States as a whole, is constantly facing intense racial conflict. Students from all over Washington and all over the United States come to study at Howard University to pursue their passion and infuse it with social justice and racial equality. Uprising Muffin recognizes that and creates a very welcoming atmosphere. Students are always welcome to come and study in the cafe under this mural. As a result, to students, the cafe seems warm and welcoming. I think the owners would have wanted them to feel this way.

 

 

 

The Preface, The Idea

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In the preface of his City of Rhetoric, David Fleming outlines the course he will take in his book regarding the relationship between public discourse and built environments in the United States. I have noticed that Fleming structures his argument three parts. The first part of his argument in the preface is the rejection of implicit judgement of his topic. He establishes that his work is unique in this part. In the second part of his argument, Fleming introduces the perspectives he uses to come to his conclusions and gives historical examples, thereby convincing his audience to read further into his piece. The last part of the preface, however, indirectly makes the claim that if we can change the environment around us, we can change the politics it produces.

Fleming does make clear that he doesn’t wish to take a traditional work of view, but a commentary on existing built environments and how the influence public discourse. Fleming states that his book is a “verbal portrait of contemporary civic life in the United States” (xi). He emphasizes this because he feels it is important to communicate to his audience the uniqueness of his perspective. By offering this “verbal portrait,” he isn’t trying to explain deep historical trends rooted in sociological studies. Instead, Fleming reaffirms that he is offering commentary on existing trends of community development and political activity. Fleming states that, with his book, he will attempt to “crack open the visible world of our local lives and find within it a specifically political rationale” (xi). Once again, he is making clear to his audience what his purpose is and why his perspective is unique from other people who have contributed to similar conversations.

Subsequently, Fleming introduces the tools and techniques he wishes to explore the relationship between discourse and environments. In order to achieve his goal, Fleming says he will bring together  “three traditions of thought not usually linked: political philosophy, urban design, and rhetorical theory” (xii). The mixture of these three perspectives when trying to understand the effect place has on discourse contributes new material to existing conversations in each of the three traditions individually. Fleming then develops this part of the preface by offering historical examples regarding how actors like ancient Greeks, the founders of democracy, utilized principles of urban planning to promote democracy. With the various examples Fleming offers, he builds trust within his audience because readers will then start to trust there is indeed a relationship between space and discourse. This helps to draw attention to Fleming’s argument in the rest of his book.

As the preface comes to a close, Fleming suggests that if we can understand these relationships, we can actively reshape them to influence the politics of our environment. Fleming makes sure to emphasize the importance of studying the relationship between public discourse and the built environment. Fleming states, “if we continue to design our landscape so that we need not have contact with people who are different from us, we should not be surprised when the political life that results is impoverished” (xiv). By saying so, he is suggesting that the opposite approach will have an adverse affect. To elaborate, Fleming is hinting that if we design our landscape to have us in contact with people that may be different than us, we may see a revitalization in public discourse and a surge in political participation.