An Article about Gentrification in Oakland That Isn’t Going to Make You Feel Good about Yourself
Editor's Note: The following story was published in partnership with Oakland Local, an independent, non-profit news resource featuring voices from across Oakland. For another side to the story, make sure to read "If I'm a 'Gentrifier,' You Probably Are Too," another first-person piece from a contributor from Oakland Local, which ran yesterday.
Everybody knows that San Francisco is experiencing yet another tech boom and that this means a new era of prosperity for the city. As an observer from the other side of the bay, I can say that it kinda seems like money is just raining from the sky, and that those of you who happen to be in the right place at the right time are cashing in. That’s all great, but it’s easy to forget that this boom isn’t a universal Bay Area phenomenon. For the rest of us, the economic crash of ’08 is still palpable, and while the current job market has insulated some people from bumps in the road, people in Oakland, which has always been poorer than San Francisco, remain just that: poorer than San Franciscans and prospering less directly.
And that sucks,
because heaven knows we’d love to have some of that
money too. You can try to tout the trickle-down theory as many of you
barge your way into houses in West Oakland and over by Lake Merritt.
As new businesses open to accommodate your desire for $12 sandwiches
and designer coffee, sure, that money is coming into Oakland in a very
visible way. But the problem with a bunch of people with money showing
up on our doorstep and pushing us out of our homes is distinctly a class
issue. Whereas before locals could comfortably afford to rent or buy housing,
all of a sudden they’re too poor to live in the neighborhoods they’ve lived
in for their whole lives. The housing market in the Bay Area is far ahead of
the curve in terms of rising median house prices and rental rates, and in
Oakland this is symptomatic of prosperity from across the bay.
People try to act like gentrification isn’t a problem and that we locals should just get over it. But I’d like to let you know that you’re wrong. It is
a problem, and we’re not just going to get over it. In fact, what we’re going to do is get very, very angry at you for coming to Oakland. Probably in a way that makes you uncomfortable and is inconvenient for your image of yourself as an intelligent, worldly, open-minded, community-oriented individual. And an angry Oaklander might not be the first person you’d want to meet when you’re here. Sure, Oakland is a diverse place, and we want to welcome people to enjoy our fair – if, at times dicey – city. But when people with money flood into Oakland and eradicate the current community and replace decades-old culture with a new, arbitrary culture of money – a culture of “We can price out the problem!” – then you’re going to run into a few problems. “Take all the land! Kick out the locals!” is the mentality upon which America was founded, so it’s no wonder that people feel fully content and morally justified in moving to a place with more land, more resources, and an easily marginalized native population.
And now let’s talk
about two things that everybody tries to ignore: racism
and classism. Yes, I said it. It’s easy to transplant yourself from across the
bay and bring with you a mentality of economic superiority and a latent, at
times unconscious, racist attitude. Oakland is an incredibly diverse city; and,
believe it or not, as open-minded and socially forward and liberal as I know
many of you try to be, I still hear people say racist things that stereotype and
marginalize people of color; and I still see people behave in racist ways that
exclude, ostracize, and avoid people of color; and I still see people harbor and
accept a mentality that perpetuates these kinds of race and class divisions.
This type of behavior is typical of people who haven’t encountered true
intra-class ethnic diversity before, and we don’t stand to tolerate this kind of
prejudice. For example, it never ceases to amaze me when out-of-towners
move to Oakland, open up a business, and hire in such a way that the majority
of their front-of-house staff is ethnically homogenous, as though the large
Asian, Mexican, and African American populations that inhabit Oakland can’t
be representatives of an Oakland business.
The other thing that we need to talk about is crime. Yes, crime happens
in Oakland, and it’s common knowledge that the cops don’t do shit out here. When out-of-towners move here, though – my God, they cannot
stop complaining about it!
And I want to let you know that, first of all, that’s really annoying, because we’re all well aware of the crime rate in Oakland, and nobody else really cares that your phone or car or wallet got stolen. It’s not news in Oakland. Second, why do out-of-towners always call the cops? Just so everybody’s clear: DO NOT CALL THE COPS.
On the one hand, the cops probably aren’t going to give a fuck, and on the other hand, the Oakland Police Department is an inherently corrupt and racist organization that focuses on abusive, violent tactics to deal with problems. Sure, calling the cops when your stuff gets stolen might be a temporary fix for your problem, but it’s a divisive action that moves the problem from one neighborhood to another rather than actually solving it, which might be convenient for you because now you don’t have to look at it. But for the people in the community, it’s an ostracizing, anticommunity problem-solving method. If there’s one piece of advice I can give to
out-of-towners, it’s to not call the cops, because in Oakland there’s a long-standing culture of All Cops Are Bastards, and snitches get stitches.
If you move to a new
neighborhood and it becomes known that you
are a snitch who calls the cops, things are not going to work out for you.
You’ve been warned! (If you’re bothered by crime in Oakland, rather
than complaining and calling the cops, do something effective and
positive for the community, such as helping improve the quality of
education for Oakland youths or helping at-risk Oaklanders get jobs
or other volunteering opportunities.)
I know that this is
an uncomfortable topic. People don’t want to talk
about this because they want to be liked and welcomed. No one wants
to be a villain. No one wants to be guilty of oppressing other people,
which is why people don’t talk about it and just let it happen. But I want
to let you know: people are angry at you, and they have a really good reason.