Every now and then, we get an all-too-brief glimmer of what life would like in a truly post-racial America. Director Spike Lee’s imbecilic and hypocritical rant on the discriminatory unfairness of gentrification has precipitated one of those moments. It is not Lee’s words — which were uncivil, obscene, and wrong-headed — that were the balm. It was the reaction to them.
On Wednesday, the day after New York magazine published an article celebrating what it blithely called Lee’s “amazing” rant, Daily News writer Errol Louis penned a refreshing column that took Lee to task for talking the talk without walking the walk. “This is a man who has made epic contributions to the phenomenon he finds so troubling,” wrote Louis, who is black.
Before leaving Brooklyn, Lee did more did more than his share when it came to goosing the changes to Fort Greene he now laments. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lee bought a townhouse on Washington Park for $650,000 in 1990, around the time he was soaring to stardom, cranking out films like “Malcolm X” and “Clockers.” In 1999, he sold the place to a couple (a banker married to an attorney) for about $1 million and moved to the Upper East Side.
A decade later, the house was back on the market with a $2.75 million asking price, more than quadruple what Lee paid in 1990. And why not? Fort Greene started sizzling in the 1990s and never stopped, thanks in no small part to the area’s international reputation as a mini-bohemia, home to a colony of talented, ambitious black artists.
On Friday, the second installment of Spike Lee’s re-education occurred in a message delivered to his old address. Unfortunately, it came in the form of vandalism. The mocking words “Do the right thing” were spray-painted on the façade of the home next to the one Lee used to live in, now occupied by his father. Police are now looking for the culprit, who quite obviously did the wrong thing.
But this foolish act prompted Lee’s half-brother, Arnold, to tell CBS New York:
I think Spike needs to stop with whatever situation he was talking about over here ’cause he doesn’t live here and he’s not involved in it, you know.
Lee’s family apologized to the owner of the defaced property, Dianne Mackenzie, who said it will cost thousands of dollars to repair the damage. Maybe Spike Lee, who has an estimated net worth of $40 million, will cover the costs of making the house whole. It’s a familiar refrain for the director: Inflict hurt and then throw money at the injured party. That’s what he did in 2013, settling with an elderly Florida couple named Zimmerman who were terrorized after Lee tweeted their address to his 240,000 followers. Lee mistakenly assumed he was sending a flash mob to the home of George Zimmerman. That would have been wrong, too.
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