“Home 461” sounds like it could be the name of a restaurant, especially in hipster city where restaurant names don’t have to be that creative. Propaganda, ooh, catchy! “Home 461” would work perfectly in this neighborhood, for instance. With their $70 succulents and $300 pairs of jeans and white women locking their car doors when I come out the front door.
It feels like 4th St. in Berkeley and not anywhere in Oakland. Sometimes I forget I’m in Oakland at all because I don’t see any Black faces other than my brother’s. Like the time he came into my room, seething after a fucked up experience at the bank. He seethed and seethed and I could see the steam rising from his body. I felt mostly sad for him with a twinge of anger (which I know is the same emotion).
But anyway, no Black faces on this street, or in hipster alley, but it doesn’t take long. If I turn right and head up to Walgreens, a brother will ask for some change for the Street Spirit and I’ll give it to him even though I already have this week’s issue. If I walk further down over to the Peets I’ll stumble upon a beautiful group of Ethiopian older folks, and find some comfort in them staring at me questionably, pondering. And if I turn to the left from my block, passing arts and thrifts stores whose prices are still too high for what they’re selling, I’ll see some more Black faces, asking to hold a dollar or slowly riding past me on too-small bicycles giving a head nod.
The 45-minute walk from my cushy block over to West Oakland bordering Emeryville is like entering and exiting multiple worlds. I walk past the art galleries and Church’s chicken and boarded up Black businesses and hideous new condos (…or are they business offices?) on 40th St… what the fuck are they doing?! I thought gentrification was supposed to be appealing but this shit is an eye sore. Are they supposed to be trendy? Looks like someone took mismatch scrap metal and pasted it to the side of a barn with a market rate of $3,500/month or whatever.
I don’t care for the scenery so I choose to walk down MLK, then W. MacArthur, instead. Black folks grumble a “how you doin?” or not and all feels both right and wrong in the world. Because they stand in front of run down houses or tents. The ugly new shit ain’t for the veterans of Oakland it’s for people who ain’t even here yet. What the fuck am I supposed to do to help? Cuz to be honest I have a Master’s degree and grew up in Albany and Albany is worlds away from here even though it’s just a few BART stops away. The realization that I could be one of them people posted up in them new ugly-ass apartments bubbles up a white-guilt type a feeling in the pit of my light-skint middle class stomach.
They know I’m an outsider but ask me how I’m doin anyway.
When I’m not sad taking this walk I’m really just bewildered. What the fuck is really going on? It looks like a thrown-together mismatch neighborhood over here. See a condo posted up for to $700k next to where Black bodies sleep on the cement in tents or mattresses. The tent city is a small (growing) community with all sorts of furniture, parked cars, multi-colored tents and one has a tapestry of Pac hanging on the outside.
Happy oblivious shoppers pull out of the Nordstrom rack parking lot and the freeway overpass shocks them - blocks away from their upscale stores and restaurants is a community of so-called criminals and drug addicts and bums! But soon it all becomes a blur and they’re able to turn onto 35th without a trouble in the world. Lock the car doors and head for their new apartments.
There’s bulk food items and a Starbucks in the Black N’ Save now.
And the familiar sounds of the glass crashing at 7:00am from the recycling center across the street has been stunted by an eerie silence and the cries of those who had no other way to make money or eat. But! These are the sacrifices that have to be made for those newborn to Oakland, or those who are just tired of the bullshit.
And I can’t be like the BMWs who speed off, letting to tents blur into the foreground. Instead of getting more and more oblivious I feel the increase of rage and hopelessness. It’s fucking hopeless. I can give folks some dollars and some meals and some love but I can’t stop the fucking mayor from doing her job. I can’t shift the whole system, at least not alone. I’ve lived in that useless, heavy guilt for a long time - the one feeling that keeps me stuck in inaction. Because I know absolutely nothing about the plight, because I live in fucking hipster-city, because because because. But I can’t watch this horror film anymore.
I don’t even want to live on this block. But I don’t know, it’s a blessing. I watch the hipsters in my own self-righteous disgust, yelling out the window telling their Barbie voices to shut the fuck up, almost forgetting that this ain’t mine, neither.
So I try to respect it. This land of Indigenous people, this land where poor Black workers moved in search of hope and jobs and an escape to Jim Crow. I try to do right by my grandparents and parents too, in spite of the keg parties and the white punks blasting “Dead Kennedys” and the $3500 scrap metal apartments.
And I pray for the day the Ohlone burial grounds swallow up the ugly ass condos and hipster alleys and beer gardens until we remember.