Am I A Black Oakland Gentrifier? Or 60 Years Too Late?
Close friends will tell you I remind people every 5 minutes that I’m from Louisiana.
“What?! Fried chicken for $20? In Louisiana this would be $6, max.”
“I hate it when men don’t give up their seat on Bart. Chivalry is alive in Louisiana.”
“Yeah, maybe they were racist. In Louisiana white people will just tell you to your face if they hate blacks.”
I’m sometimes guilty of missing the overt racism of the South. It’s nostalgic to me like the bittersweet memory of the high-school teacher everyone hated. Some of my earliest memories involved racism. Like being told I couldn’t go to a sleep-over because “My mom is afraid you and Tanesha* will get our sheets dirty”, or a history teacher claiming “slavery wasn’t that bad”. As a young adult, I experienced being called a Nigger (hard r’ all the way people) on occasion. We don’t have time to rehash all the madness, but I’m happy to write Luna’s Experiences of Racism if you like War and Peace length literature.
Growing up, I always had a crush on Oakland. The birthplace of the Black Panthers provided a fantasy of the hub of African American pride and consciousness. I imagined Kwanzaa, 365! I pictured dudes that look like Common greeting me on the street with a nod and ‘hello my Nubian Queen’. The draw of Black Unity called me here, much like sirens call unlucky sailors to their deaths on the rocky shores. The allure is way more romantic than the reality.
Like Blacks of 80–30 years ago, the hopes of escaping the tangible grip of racism, being surrounded by like minded people, and making a better life for myself appealed to me. And I’ve tried to live out that teenage fantasy in my North Oakland neighborhood. I know my neighbors, mentor youth, shop local, etc. But despite all this and my non-profit salary, my Ivy League degree and outsider-ness dictates by some, that black as I am, I am also as gentrifying as they come. The occasional $10 bagel and record collection says they might be right.
For now, I’m able to sit with the complexities of gentrification as I attempt to integrate myself to the existing community, combating the realities of poverty, drug addiction and violence as I live attempt to live out my grown up version of It’s a Different World fantasies. And I still haven’t heard ‘Hey Queen’ on the street.
I do occasionally get ‘You fine. I got $45 dollars!’ such an insulting lowball for solicitation.
Luna Malbroux is the producer and host of Live Sex, a monthly talk show that explores sex, relationships and comedy in the Bay Area. Learn more about the show at ThisisLs.org and follow Luna at LunaisFunny.com