BOOK REVIEW: Sarah Schulman's "The Gentrification of the Mind"

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BOOK REVIEW: Sarah Schulman's "The Gentrification of the Mind"

Sarah Schulman is a prolific writer and activist. She is also co-coordinator and co-founder of the ACT UP Oral History Project along with Jim Hubbard (with whom she co-produced the documentary film about ACT UP called United in Anger); collaborator with Cheryl Dunye (on projects such as The Owls and the forthcoming slapstick porn, Mommy is Coming); and recently has established herself as a “participant citizen” on the pinkwashing debate and the emergent international “split in the gay world” discussion (which could be articulated one was as assimilationist vs. anti-assimilationist), which figures as the premise of her forthcoming book by Duke UP, Israel, Palestine and the Queer International.

When Schulman envisioned the type of reader who she wanted to shake-and-wake with her latest book, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (UCal Press 2012), I’m pretty sure that she pictured a reader kind of like me. Born in 1980 on the liminal cusp between Gen X and Gen Y (although tehnically Gen X, I-thank-you), I came into my gayness with an exuberant acceptance of my difference from the norm and of my refusal to be a member of the hetero-breed, while at the same time being blissfully unaware and unattached to gay histories that, in large part, enabled me to have such a "gay" existence. Save my time at Velvetpark, which has provided me a virtual community, I feel partially, and uncomfortably, detached from the LGBT community—I even, to be terribly honest, harbor a blatant disdain for all those rich gay men of Gay Inc. that turn up their noses at (financially destitute) lesbians like me. How could I, and why should I, for that matter, relate to those people?

My condition is symptomatic of a kind of “gentrified mind” that Schulman articulates in her book.

The "gentrified mind," as Schulman defines it, is a product of its culture; in NYC, it is a cultural product that has become commercial and overwhelmingly homogenized. In addition, it is a change in the way of thinking that values difference—hence the subtitle “the lost imagination.” It is a mind that lacks a queer collective consciousness; a mind that labors toward assimilation rather than accountability (for one’s actions and to one’s community). The gay gentrified mind, therefore, wants gay marriage and open acceptance into the military, which it perceives as society's most pressing issues. (Granted, perhaps not DADT anymore.) “Yet,” Schulman notes, “there is no nationwide antidiscrimination law,…[t]here is no integration of lesbians of all races or gay men of color’s perspectives into mainstream arts or entertainment.” That is, we want acceptance—but at what cost? Where are our legal rights and protections?

I particularly enjoy the subtle, vitriolic tone of the following paragraph, which is one of the most sustained passages in which Schulman defines the gentrified mind:

“There is something inherently stupid about gentrified thinking. It’s a dumbing down and smoothing over of what people are actually like. It’s a social position rooted in received wisdom, with aesthetics blindly selected from the presorted offerings of marketing and without information or awareness about the structures that create its own delusional sense of infallibility. Gentrified thinking is like the bourgeois version of Christian fundamentalism, a huge, unconscious conspiracy of homogeneous patterns with no awareness about its own freakishness. The gentrification mentality is rooted in the belief that obedience to consumer identity over recognition of lived experience is actually normal, neutral, and value free.”