By Khevin LaGrone
Earlier this month, the media focused on another 10K program to lure new residents to Oakland. Why didn’t the announcement focus on current Oakland citizens? Later, as if an afterthought or response to political criticism, the media mentioned that a small percentage of the new units would be “affordable.” Affordable to whom? This politically correct term is evasive. If someone rents a unit, it is “affordable” to him no matter how high the rent. Yet, we are to assume that Oakland natives are part of the planning.
The 10K program is supposed to be part of making Oakland “better.” But better for whom? Making Oakland better means improving the opportunties of the many bright and creative African-American students who have been made to feel like they are Oakland’s problem–like blight to be removed. The academic achievers have been forgotten and overlooked. These students know that they have been stigmatized as ambitionless, baby criminals who don’t care about their education. They are aware that their schools are underprivileged and they don’t have many of the resources and opportunities of outside schools. They are sensitive to the obstacles to their successes.
If we want to make Oakland better, we can start by investing in what we already have and giving those students more attention. We can focus on improving the economic opporutnities of those students–so they will be able to compete to maintain their communities. As I’ve written earlier, schools can teach economic literacy. Promoting etiquette could help reduce retaliatory violence. Since Oakland is reaching out to new businesses, part of the pay back to the city could be internships for these students. This would help level the playing field with the newer, more privileged residents.
City officials seem to abandon these students and focus on Oakland’s “image.” In effect, they privilege the new residents over the natives. The officials tell us this new image is supposed to attract new businesses, new residents and make us proud to say we live in Oakland. Yet these new businesses bring in workers from outside who compete with housing. Then they call it a New Oakland–even rename old neighborhoods–to erase us and our past.
Simple acts like bringing dogs into restaurants and grocery stores, send the message that the new residents are above Oakland’s laws. If the new residents don’t have to respect the laws, why should the students? Since the city is handing out privileges, these students should get some as well.
Oakland’s African-American students should feel they are a part of, not to be displaced from, this new gentrified Oakland. By marginalizing/displacing rather than benefiting these students, the New Oakland failed them. Oakland should not measure the success of the New Oakland by its attractiveness to the already privileged. Oakland may be a more attractive place to people priced out of San Francisco. It may not be a better place for families being priced out.
We can measure the success of Oakland’s gentrification by the success of the students. Those kids don’t measure their success by how much a house in their neighborhood sold for. Most of those kids do not use overpriced coffee shops and upscale grocery stores.
We should ask these Oakland kids and their parents how we can make Oakland better for them. Oakland’s crime is a symptom of economic inequities. Preparing Oakland’s bright and creative African American students for their futures will make Oakland better for them. It will do more for them than just focusing on crime.
Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see oaklandlocal.com/guidelines. For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.