The culture — or authenticity, depending on who you talk to — of some of the Bay’s great cities may be slipping away in favor of people who don’t really care about the places they’re moving to. This was made clear to me after reading a racist and tone-deaf essay in The Bold Italic titled “I Had To Hate Oakland Before I Could Learn To Love It,” in which a transplant from Texas spends about a thousand words boo-hooing about feeling lonely in the hills of Oakland and not living in San Francisco.

I, like many readers, did not feel bad for the author because it didn’t seem like she tried to integrate herself. There are plenty of places where people are not civically engaged, but if you’re planning on moving to Oakland or you already live here, you have a responsibility to be informed and get involved. Whether it’s taking up a cause, talking to your neighbors, or making friends with your local bartender, there are a zillion different ways to be active in your community — and not just an angry online commenter in an echo chamber of discontent.

San Francisco may be well on its way to favoring one population over another, and Oakland is hitting a tipping point. Industry is changing; the cost of living has risen sharply to make the Town one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the country last year and the seventh most expensive city for renters in 2013; and populations are ebbing and flowing. Census data from 2000 and 2010 show that Oakland’s white and Latino/Hispanic populations increased 3 percent while the African-American population decreased approximately 8 percent. The San Jose Mercury News reported that, despite accounting for 28 percent of its population, black people comprised 62 percent of police stops in Oakland in 2014.

Cities aren’t static and population changes have happened in Oakland for decades. North Oakland used to be a predominately Italian and Irish neighborhood in the 1940s before becoming home to the Black Panther Party and eventually the more mixed neighborhood of today. West Oakland has seen large Latino, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Filipino communities over the years, before WWII and shipyard jobs brought thousands of African-Americans to Oakland. Still, it’s difficult to compare past and present population movements — especially when many of the newcomers to Oakland back in the day were working-class folks.

Instead of responding to viral articles that pander to white transplants and fuel anger, we need to remember that Oakland is a diverse community and has been for a long, long time. There are people here with myriad backgrounds, incomes, jobs, dreams, and interests — I don’t claim to represent all these things. I am white, college-educated, unmarried and childless, doing well for myself and carry various associated privileges. I’ve lived in Oakland for almost 10 years and grew up in the East Bay, but there are not nearly enough native Oakland voices being heard in ongoing discussion on gentrification, class, and race. The group I’m proud to represent are those who are concerned with social issues, love our community, and want to see progress — not unmetered change.

That being said, it’s OK to move here, and it’s OK to feel out of place. It isn’t easy moving to a new city, even if the city has innumerable options to get involved. What isn’t OK is whining about how no one knows you when you’re not trying be known. There are so many ways to do so.

The easiest way to support your community is to go out and have fun! Oakland is next to the largest regional parks district in the U.S., has a nice lake at its heart, hosts farmers markets and free museum days, and is super bike friendly. It also has an amazing community of underground artists, performers and musicians who will expand your mind or just drop your jaw. Wander through a slew of galleries during Art Murmur, watch burlesque and sword-swallowing at Tourettes Without Regrets, see some amateur porn with 500 strangers at East Bay Express’ Briefs competition or listen to some underground hip hop. You will not see some of this stuff anywhere else, and the money you spend on a ticket not only helps performers continue their work, but supports the badass local venues willing to put on events others are too wary to host.

The Bold Italic author is likely a minority in a city with a long, progressive history and innumerable organizations actively stumping for civil rights. But it’s up to everyone who lives here to be the change they want to see. Pay attention to what’s going on, read the news, check in with what pisses you off and join the people who are doing something about it. At the most basic level, going out and meeting new people can be a fun challenge. That’s how you engage in community and ensure progress, not shiny change that sweeps real issues under the rug.

The issue of change disguised as progress should concern everyone living here, because Oakland still has a lot of problems in addition to gentrification: a high murder rate, not enough police, a city government that has long stagnated, and low teacher retention. It’s really easy to gloss over those issues when your standard for progress is more restaurants and bars with $12 cocktails. Yes, it’s great that otherwise vacant storefronts are being filled and those stores are bringing money to a beleaguered city. But if those new businesses are only serving a small fraction of the population (those with money or niche interests), we’re only further marginalizing people.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have artisan shops, specialty stores or fancy cocktails (I enjoy all these things). What I am saying is that we should be wary of a city government and culture that encourages a certain kind of business but doesn’t impose affordable housing requirements on private developers. This is a surefire way to kick existing residents out of a neighborhood that is changing. This is not progress.

Oakland, like any other major city, is built upon layers and layers of good and evil. That fact alone is what appeals to some residents. People in the Town have long had the burden of repping their home to outsiders who only knew its bad reputation and sports teams. Now that more people are seeing the light, we face the risk of having more people move here who don’t understand history or responsibility, or who continue to feed the dominate paradigm of Oakland being scary. I don’t have an answer to this quandary. Maybe someone should develop a pamphlet for new residents. Or maybe the new residents can exercise their basic technical skills and find a few dozen organizations headquartered in Oakland and could use some help. Here are a few to start you off, because it takes a village:

Creative Growth Art Center

Oakland Pride

Oakland Museum of California

Youth Uprising

Causa Justa::Just Cause

Homeless Action Center

Critical Resistance

13 Responses

  1. todd

    How easy it is to join a bandwagon. How simple it is to agree with everyone else by saying what everyone else is saying. Even when they are wrong. I mention this because I too saw the article in Bold Italic. And while the relationship that author developed with Oakland initially troubled me, I couldn’t help but laugh at the contention made by so many in the comment section of her article that her views were in some way racist. But then, I expect such an allegation from anonymous commentors. Not so much from professional journalists. Which makes your statement not so much laughable as troubling. Please Ms. Lipsky, either tell us what is racist about Ms. James’ essay or retract the statement. If your capable of individual thought.

    Reply
    • Jessica Lipsky

      Her article wasn’t so racist as it was tone-deaf and misguided in not mentioning issues of race – though perhaps, @Todd, you don’t find it necessary. I would say that the most racist part of that article was the title art, which made me think that the story would be about a pregnant white girl getting hollered at by men of color. It rubbed me the wrong way and didn’t fit the article.
      I should also point out (and did so in TBI’s comment section) that James’ piece wasn’t hating on Oakland so much as it was sad about not being written in San Francisco.

      Reply
    • OaklandNative

      Todd,

      Very few white people openly say racial statements. It’s implied and “understood.” I’ve been in all white settings, where someone forgot I was there. He or she started to say something then bit their tongues when they realized I was there. Also, I’ve been places where a white person got drunk or overly friendly with me and started talking about black people. Of course, they assume, I’m different. Yes, they’ve even said that to me.

      For one, I hate when our city officials don’t say openly “This is our home, love it or leave it.” This goes for all transplants who moved here because they couldn’t afford San Francisco.

      Reply
  2. Ben

    Isn’t it human nature to act crappy towards newcomers and then blame them for not integrating? This has the unusual twist of newcomers generally having more socioeconomic privilege, but it’s not like we haven’t seen this attitude towards immigrants before.

    Reply
    • OaklandNative

      Ben,

      That “socioeconomic twist” you mentioned is important to the discussion. Did immigrants come here and “crap” all over the people living here?

      Reply
  3. Talia

    Here’s another way to engage in your city: help support a civic engagement initiative that will assign residents aged 16 and older budget decision-making power! Community Democracy Project’s initiative is modeled after a participatory budget process that has helped Porto Alegre, Brazil drastically lower infant mortality rates and have clean drinking water for all. Check out our crowdfunding site for Oakland: http://communitydemocracyproject.mydagsite.com/the_story

    Reply
  4. OaklandNative

    Ben,

    That “socioeconomic twist” is significant in this discussion. So is race (which some would like to pretend isn’t there).

    Did any immigrants “crap” all over the United States?

    Reply
  5. lumpkin

    I’d take it easy on the bolditalics author. She seems like an introvert in any case, and becoming a mother then a mother of two shrinks your world. Any parent can understand this.
    She’s not better or worse than anyone else.

    One feeling I have about the whole gentrification discussion is that really, it’s irrelevant. Businesses and people are going to move here, the government will welcome their tax money with open arms.
    It doesn’t matter how many people write angry articles in the various papers, or spray graffiti under the BART trestles. It’s just a useless discussion.
    Instead get involved with how to direct this change to the benefit of our residents.

    Reply
    • OaklandNative

      I disagree that criticizing gentrification is irrelevant.

      As the writer of “I Had to Hate Oakland” shows, people move here ignorantly.

      They move here and find out that gentrification is a complex issue.

      Why not read about it before you move out here?

      Reply
      • A

        I disagree.

        Words are cheap when not back up by action. If you’re that passionate about gentrification talking about it ad nauseam isn’t as meaningful without getting involved.

        To that extent, I agree with lumpkin.

  6. OaklandNative

    Perhaps talking about it ad nauseam could be a waste of time if no one is listening. However, there are two points that both you and Lumpkin are missing.

    You may not be interested in the subject, evidently many others are. If you’ve noticed, many people have echoed what I’ve said. You and Lumpkin are not the only people in the world.

    Second, there has been a change in the way gentrification is talked about. Look at East Bay Express. Also, the fact that you and Lumpkin are tired of hearing about it, tells me that you’ve heard some of it–even if you don’t agree. Your discussion of it includes arguments about comments like mine. The fact that you two are tired of it (and I know others are as well) tells me that we are included in the discussion.

    Also, listen in the change in the way politicians talk about gentrification. They are concerned about pushing long-term people out.

    Reply
    • A

      A few points.
      1) My main point which I mentioned at the beginning is that talk is cheap. Talking about it or having repeated discussions to the same group of people is not as effective as action.

      What are you doing to support your stance? Going to townhall meetings? Speaking to developers? Organizing people to vote a certain way? Talking to your representative to push legislation through? There’s plenty more that you can do but merely discussing a gentrification repeatedly isn’t nowhere near as productive and comes off as whiny. That’s where people (including myself) get tired of hearing.

      If you’re actually doing something, why don’t you enlighten everyone on how they could help?

      2) You may believe this discussion is changing the way gentrification is being talked about but I would ask you what has it brought? People are still moving in Oakland. Rents/home prices are going up. Stores/restaurants are catering for the new residents. Natives/long standing residents are moving out.

      This leads me to my first point. What are you doing about it? Discussing some more?

      3) At no point did I mentioned I’m the only people in the world or that my opinion is indicative of everyone. I do know that my opinion is shared by several people though.

      I could say the same to you regarding your stance in that you’re not the only person in the world or infer that your opinion is not of the entire population in Oakland but why? We already know that.

      Reply
      • OaklandNative

        A,

        You and I have a different way of measuring the success of these discussions.

        (By the way, how do you know I’m doing nothing but talking about it?)

        You write that natives are moving out. Not like they were. African American homeowners in West Oakland say they will keep their homes. We talk about it all the time. Also, we take pride in our history in Oakland.

        Remember a while ago, Steven K. had written that letter bragging about his efforts to gentrify his neighborhood? Remember the firestorm? Even the Oakland Tribune interviewed him about the firestorm. Many gentrifiers were surprised that their assumptions had been incorrect (yes, we are proud of our homes).

        If you remember, Steven K. was the treasurer for one of the city council candidates. She did not win. More than a few of us opposed her for just that reason–even though she was African American.

        The point is not to keep people out of Oakland. The point is to make preserve our home. Oakland is not a blank canvas to be defined by outsiders. These discussions on gentrification have proven that.

        The conversation on a “New Oakland” has changed. Before, people were arguing for “doggy play parks” and “Latham Square” (aka Frank Ogawa Plaza East). Now, the conversation is about affordable housing and providing services to people not living downtown.

        Remember when the City was trying to find a restaurant for the Lake? At least one local African American restaurant applied for the location. The City turned them down because they wanted to make Oakland “upscale.” That was a controversy in the Oakland Tribune, I assume you remember. I bet that would not happen today.

        Perhaps people like you are getting tired of this debate on gentrification, but keep in mind, you’re keeping our debate going. You must not be too tired of it.

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