Pilar Reyes has a message for new wealth moving to Oakland

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 sh– 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 Oaklan, 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 f–k, 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, anti-community 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 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.


Note: Oakland Local, in partnership with The Bold Italic, is running a series of first-person essays on that most sensitive of topics, gentrification in Oakland.  If you would like to share your views in a first-person 400-600 word essay, please get in touch or send your writing to editor @oaklandlocal.com.

See the first story in the series here: If I’m a “Gentrifier,” You Probably Are Too | Oakland Local http://bit.ly/XRaEZE

One Response

  1. Misspent

    it’s a shame all the comments didn’t make the migration to the new site… the discussion was very illuminating!!

    is there a way they can be linked to or restored?


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