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City of Oakland should make statement against racism

The City of Oakland, California's post-World War II history has been one of deep racial diversity and integration. Racist actions were few and far between but that's changing and it's happened in fits and starts over the last six years. This blogger has been in Oakland since 1974.

Never in less than a year (pay attention to that) have there been incidents like racist statements against Martin Luther King Day written on the bathroom walls of an establishment like Cafe Van Kleef in downtown Oakland, or even worse, a Swastika painted on the same Greek Orthodox Cathedral that serves as the home of the annual Greek Festival, an event I love to attend, or Yoshi's in Oakland making a jazz compilation of performers at the club without a single black jazz performer in it.

Something's going on. I personally think Oakland has been invaded by the "New Oaklander": the person who's only lived in Oakland as much as 10 years, from 2000 to 2010 at best, and does not know or really care about Oakland's proud racial history. This has produced an ugly pattern I was actually talking with a friend about who's very involved in local politics and is a business owner.

He observed that blacks and whites in North Oakland don't seem to mix. When he goes to a meeting on crime it's almost all white; when he' in the community he will see someone black. People who are active in North Oakland don't seem to have friends who are of color and by that he means black (and he's white). This is his observation. It's a view he shared as we were sitting down at Merritt Station Cafe next to Lake Merritt, and we both noticed the pattern and shared our views.

What covers this problem is the flip side and that's Oakland's open diversity. It's here and wonderfully out in the open, but so much so it masks a reality that blacks, whites, Asians, and Latinos don't mix as well as they did when the late Lionel Wilson was Mayor of Oakland.

Mayor Wilson set the tone: his was an interracial marriage. Mayor Wilson's wife Dorothy was white and had a wonderful zest for life such that she would dance in the Safeway Grocery Store on College Avenue at night. I know because I saw her do it. It was hilarious.

That Oakland was such that the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame was not just an African American event, it was for everyone. Todays Oakland is racially divided such that there are events like The Crucible which seems to be all white or events in The Fruitvale that are all Latino or restaurants like Flora that are mostly white where Pican on Broadway is mostly black.

(And one wonders why I'm such a fan of The Lake Chalet Restaurant. The owners are new to Oakland, but they do "get" Oakland.)

The point is that Oakland's quietly become racially divided. It didn't just happen. It started just over six years ago. And I wrote about the way patrons of color were treated at certain new bars that opened up. Bars that catered to a young white kind of punk and grunge crowd. But fortunately, the bar owners listened and the climate has improved greatly.

And that's the point. We're at the stage in our society where statements and policies against racism must be made. We can't go on with the idea that diversity and racial integration "just happen"; we have to make them happen.

Oakland's not for burning, but in the 21st Century Oaklanders must keep racial and ethnic intolerance from doing so. The City of Oakland should not just pass a resolution against racism but have a campaign to inform the world in an inexpensive way that racism is not tolerated.


City emails signatures and literature should have a simple statement that Oakland's a hate-free city. The City of Oakland's website should have a section page that lists fines and jail punishment for hate crimes. Finally, a video statement by not just the Mayor, but each Oakland councilmember and anyone else who wants to make one should be up at YouTube channel devoted just to this issue in Oakland. And Oakland should have a week that is devoted to "mixing" - people deliberately going to places and events produced by folks who don't look like them. Oakland bloggers should point to racist actions as a matter of course, to expose and report them.

Perhaps you have other ideas, but thinking of what can be done without spending money. We need to do something to stop racist acts like that done to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
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