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Swagger-Jacking What we talk about when we talk about U Street

Have you been swagger-jacked? In hip-hop culture, it’s easy to tell. Someone’s wearing the same clothes you do, using the same words, acting like you. More generally, your swag has been stolen.

But in August, who had been swagger-jacked and who was doing the swagger-jacking got a lot murkier. In an article for the Washington Post’s Root D.C. blog, writer Stephen A. Crockett Jr. described “swagger-jacking” as a District phenomenon, noting the popularity of U Street NW restaurants and bars draped in black cultural signifiers, even though the actual residents who had lived that culture had been pushed out by rising property values.

“It feels like something is missing,” wrote Crockett. “It just doesn’t feel like home.” Crockett’s list of U Street swagger-jackers included the Brixton, Marvin, and Blackbyrd. Restaurateur Andy Shallal was knocked for his Busboys & Poets chain, with Crockett remarking that he didn’t know many busboys or poets who could afford to eat at the restaurant named after them.

That may be an exaggeration, but Crockett’s swagger-jacking argument did offer a new window into Washington’s changing demographics separate from the long-running, hopeless debate about gentrification. If you’re pushed out of somewhere because you have less money than someone else who wants to live where you do, well, those are practically the house rules of capitalism. But swagger-jacking is more about culture than geography, about attitude and art instead of comparative wealth, and that makes it both more deliberate and more insidious.

The article inspired the alleged swagger-jackers at Busboys to host a panel on the topic, but Crockett refused to attend. Instead, he went to one nearby at U Street’s Tabaq Bistro, where another panelist lamented that the neighborhood’s new residents made it look like it was being invaded.

But don’t sign up Crockett, who himself was pushed by rising rents into Maryland, for the gentrification war. He’s more interested in counting the casualties. “Gentrifiers, you got it, you won,” Crockett said.

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