Who Even Cares if You’re From Brooklyn?

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It’s true: if you were raised in Brooklyn, you almost certainly call Manhattan “The City.” This is No. 3 on a Buzzfeed list published yesterday called “19 Signs You Are From Brooklyn,” which immediately went viral among my native-New Yorker Facebook friends. The subhed is: “County of Kings. Hipsters, go home.” Yeah! Because hipsters don’t call Manhattan “The City”! How could they possible have discovered that secret? And they don’t go to Coney Island or enjoy the Kentile Floors sign! Only those whose parent(s) or guardian(s) had moved to Brooklyn before they were born and then stayed here to raise them would know about those things.

Other indicators that you’re from Brooklyn: “You’ve grown up seeing people from all walks of life.” Yeah, unlike those people from Queens. “You spend summer nights at the [Brooklyn Heights] Promenade.” Sure, every summer night me and my friends pay $2.50 to get on the subway and take it for half an hour to Brooklyn Heights so we can sit on top of a highway and breathe exhaust fumes while we stare at Manhattan—because “The City” is such a wonder!

The “sign” that irked me the most was No. 15: “When the Nets came to Brooklyn, you obviously showed them love.” Oh, obviously! I’ll let a Buzzfeed commenter take the lead on this one: “anyone from brooklyn who actually ‘showed love’ to the nets is full of shit and wasn’t paying attention for the years real brooklyn tried to prevent that shitty stadium from being built. if you truly love brooklyn, you’ll boycott it until they actually turn that monstrosity into a spot for small businesses and people from the community to enjoy (without paying a zillion dollars to see a NEW JERSEY team).”

The Buzzfeed article says people from Brooklyn know they’re better than everyone else, and if anyone asks them what’s so great about Brooklyn, they say, “everything.” This is intentionally vague because a lot of people probably don’t know what’s great about Brooklyn, other than that it’s been repeated to them ad nauseum throughout their lives, from infancy to adulthood. (It’s certainly not “Sneakers hanging from power lines is your version of installation art.” Who wrote this fucking list?! A hipster?) I’d like to stop here for a second to establish my Brooklyn credibility. Yes, I’m from Brooklyn: I was born in Brookdale Hospital; I was educated in the public-school system; I attended Brooklyn College; I’ve never lived anywhere but Brooklyn; I’m third generation Brooklyn and went to the same high school my grandmother (and my parents and aunts and uncles) went to; my father helped rebuild the Coney Island Boardwalk during a major overhaul in the 70s; my immediate family all works for Brooklyn institutions both public and private with “Brooklyn” in the name. Ok? I’m fucking from here.

And I love it here: that’s why I never left, and why every day I read and write about Brooklyn and share those things with you. I love Brooklyn because it’s a part of New York City, the greatest city in the world, but a part that still has respect for neighborhoods and visible skies and attracts the city’s best and brightest while historically still maintaining a place for the working class—a place where artists and letter carriers and students and stockbrokers (ok, well, maybe not stockbrokers!) and the mayor can meet and mingle in the same neighborhood bars or supermarkets or greasy spoons or other places where people congregate. Brooklyn’s unique in New York in that it does this particularly well: it has long been a place of strong and desirable communities, and many parts of its are close to Manhattan’s centers of power, making it an attractive locale to commuters (more so than, say, Staten Island).

But that’s the thing: Brooklyn isn’t unique in the world for being a place where people come together to try to make a better place to live for themselves, their families, their friends and loved ones. There are lots of places you can go for that. In fact, in recent years it’s been even harder to do it here, as rents and cost-of-living expenses rise and long-time Brooklynites are squeezed out. It’s easy to pin the blame for this on “hipsters,” a mythical group of well-financed outsiders who conspired to tear down our homes and live above us in gilded towers, making it impossible to buy groceries because all the markets have been replaced with artisanal shops.

But this is a simplified-if-not-false version of contemporary history. What’s happened to Brooklyn (just like Manhattan) is that real estate developers, in cahoots with the Bloomberg administration that loved them, conspired to rezone and rebuild your neighborhoods so they’d be more attractive to wealthy investors. And guess what happened?! Beloved old spots like Freddy’s were torn down so we could build an arena to host the MTV Music Awards. Downtown Brooklyn was gutted so the small businesses could be replaced with high-end chains to appeal to the residents of newly constructed luxury condo towers. Cool, right? Tres Brooklyn!

A classic tactic of the ruling class throughout history has been to turn those below them against each other based on arbitrary criteria: skin color, religion, or now the place of your birth. The truth is, yeah, some people move here with trust funds and they’re ignorant and unpleasant and don’t contribute to the world and it’s too bad they’ve become welcome in our city. Also, some people are born here and they’re ignorant and unpleasant and don’t contribute to the world. Being from Brooklyn doesn’t make you great. Working to make Brooklyn a better place makes you great, and anyone can do that regardless of where they started: helping children, fighting for seniors, picking up litter, protecting parks, sharing art, feeding people, caring for animals, or any one of a million other things you could do. So it’s like everything else on Facebook. You want to prove that you’re Brooklyn? Stop sharing Buzzfeed links and go do something!

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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