Tuesday, November 09, 2010


I've recently seen this graphic around the web, and heard a few people say that it's a great example of how Oakland is a "rainbow of diversity."  I wish I could insert the graphic here, but it won't work, so please take a minute to look at it.  The different colors represent different ethnicities.  If you don't recognize Oakland, it's on the right side of the bay and has a blue section (African-American) at the northwest end and a blue section at the southeast end.  Green and orange (Asian and Latino) are in the middle and red (Caucasian) in the hills.

I guess that it is a rainbow of diversity in that there are separate stripes of color.  But it's not integrated.  It's not diverse.  The city as a whole is diverse, but the neighborhoods are not.  It reminds me of a time that someone told me that one of the high schools was "really diverse."  Someone else looked at her strangely, and said "Um, all black isn't diverse.  It's all black."

It is really strange to see people outside the neighborhoods that they "belong" in.  When I was working in the black and Latino neighborhood, people would stop and stare.  They'd turn their heads as they were driving so that I'd worry they were going to crash.  I was such an anomaly.  If I took my Little Sister to the hills, she'd probably get the same kind of stares.  If she were any older (or especially if she was a teenage boy), people would probably hold their purses tighter and cross the street.  This city really doesn't have a black middle class.  You can tell what kind of area a school is in by the racial makeup: white = higher income, black and Latino = low income.  Asians are usually in the low income areas, but not always.

White people are more valued in this city.  Some may argue with me, but the kids know that if a white person gets killed, the police will find the killer and prosecute them.  The criminals must know this too, because they don't shoot white people.  Ever.  Schools with white kids have better facilities.  They also have the police respond much quicker than the school I worked at, where we waited 50 minutes for the police to show up for an attempted kidnapping (there's a police station nearby).

My point, I guess, is that by saying that this city is diverse and integrated, we are not telling the truth, and I really think things should be called what they are. There's no way to make things better when we're denying how bad they are.  I would imagine that it's a mix of wanting to believe everything is all right in the city you live in and some guilt over the fact that those in power are living in the safe areas and sending their kids to the good schools while other kids are actually watching their friends get killed. This kind of inequality - all in one smallish city  -  should not be acceptable and we should not be praising Oakland for being a rainbow of diversity, at least not yet.  The city has an incredible mix of  cultures, but they are so separated from each other and there is so much antagonism between them that I think we're missing out on all of the advantages of this kind of diversity.

Maybe I'm wrong - I'd love to hear thoughts on this.  But I can't help but believe that the Oscar Grant shooting was just a symptom of the racial inequality in this city.  A white man exhibiting the same behavior would probably not have been shot.  A police officer who killed an unarmed white man would probably have gotten a lot more than the minimum sentence for involuntary manslaughter.  If this city didn't have so much of a history of hurt and oppression based on race and class, these things may have been seen as a fluke.  Instead, I think it's just one more blow to a community that is already underprivileged, underrepresented, and suffering in ways that most white people around here just don't want to acknowledge.

By the way, these old links below are good ones, especially the top two:

Three years ago: Literally Unbelievable

Four years ago: The Gecko
                        The More Things Change...

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