An insightful exploration of the impact of urban change on Black culture, identity, and language
Across the United States, cities are changing. Gentrification is transforming urban landscapes, often pushing local Black populations to the margins. As a result, communities with rich histories and strong identities grapple with essential questions. What does it mean to be from a place in flux? What does it mean to be a specific kind of person from that place? What does gentrification mean for the fabric of a community?
In The Black Side of the River, sociolinguist Jessi Grieser draws on ten years of interviews with dozens of residents of Anacostia, a historically Black neighborhood in Washington, DC, to explore these ideas through the lens of language use. Grieser finds that residents use certain speech features to create connections among racial, place, and class identities; reject negative characterizations of place from those outside the community; and negotiate ideas of belonging. In a neighborhood undergoing substantial class gentrification while remaining decisively Black, Grieser finds that Anacostians use language to assert a positive, hopeful place identity that is inextricably intertwined with their racial one.
Grieser’s work is a call to center Black lived experiences in urban research, confront the racial effects of urban change, and preserve the rich culture and community in historic Black neighborhoods, in Washington, DC, and beyond.