Space is the Place: Tales of Gentrification in Oakland

Last night The Corner Collective, the radical black art collective I am a part of with my homies Crunch and Tracy, decided to go out to the bottoms after we heard that it was reggae night at Revolution Cafe. I was excited to hear that the cafe, which is the only coffeeshop and one of the few businesses in West Oakland, was staying open later and hosting events in the neighborhood. There aren’t a lot of spaces for the residents of west Oakland to go to and hang out at. There aren’t even a lot of schools anymore, due to the budget cuts closing them down or turning them into a police station like they did to Cole Middle school. The budget cuts are disproportionately effecting youth of color in Oakland and the k-12 sector.  Schools and after school programs are closing down, while Oakland Police continue to gain more power through their continual funding and the gang injunctions, which allow them to target and profile brown and black youth in North Oakland and the Fruitvale. There aren’t a lot of safe spaces for youth and people of color to hang out at, where the threat and hassle of the police isn’t an issue. Again, this is why I was excited to learn that Revolution Cafe in West Oakland, a historically working-class black neighborhood and home to the Black Panthers, was staying open later and having free reggae nights for the people in the community. And this is why The Corner Collective decided to go and get our puff and sway on to the rhythm. We are interested in building more artistic and social spaces for the people of Oakland, especially people of color, and we are interested in being a part of cultural spaces that already exist and are doing that work.

This is why we were shocked when we pulled up  to the cafe and were greeted by a crowd of white punk rock kids and hipsters dancing to ska music. This wasn’t our version of a ‘reggae’ night in West Oakland. I understand that West Oakland is changing. It’s been changing for years now. For a long time it was largely black and then working-class latino families living in the neighborhood. But the recent years have been met with a large influx of white professionals and punk/traveler kids in the neighborhood, who have been quick to carve up a lot of space without really understanding what that means to the working-class black and brown residents in the neighborhood or even Oakland as a historical city. Revolution Cafe has been in existence for years now and owned by a long time resident of Oakland. The Panthers used to hang out there. It has always been a community space, but the community is changing and that was obvious last night. James Baldwin once said ‘urban renewal means negro removal.’ And I can’t help but look around West Oakland and wonder where did all the black people go?

When we entered the place we immediately retreated to the back patio to sip on some libations and mentally prepare ourselves to go back inside. The back patio wasn’t much nicer. We were met with cold stares by kids with denim studded vests. It reeked of bad beer and there was broken glass all on the ground. I had never seen the patio so dirty. We begin to get our smoke on when this white man walked up to us, and asked if he could ‘get a hit off of that.’ I looked up at him like ‘are you out of your damn mind’. There was no, ‘excuse me guys I don’t mean to interrupt but could I please get a hit off of your piece’. No manners…nothing even close. Just give me. I was like man you bold you already have taken over our spaces now you demanding trees too without even a please. We were the only brown faces in that patio, and the first thing you do when you approach us is to ask for something. There was no hello. No introduction. I was disgusted. A few seconds went by where I just looked at him then I replied clearly ‘no’. And he had the audacity to scoff at me ‘really no’ and walk away angry like I was the rude one. I couldn’t believe it. We laughed about it amongst ourselves, but there was something really disturbing to me about the way this man felt he could treat us, and make us feel in this space. We stayed for a few minutes more, but the largely white male punk rock folks who we were sharing the back patio space with, begin to play fight resulting in more broken glass and bodies being shoved in our direction. The overall energy felt aggressive and particularly hostile towards us so we left with feelings of marginalization. I felt angry that we, as radical young black people, were being pushed out of this historical space in West Oakland. And I felt angry that there aren’t more underground spaces for young people of color to hang out in, and feel comfortable in; where the vibrant cultural and political history of Oakland can be celebrated and continued. And I am left wondering  if the punk rock kids, who were drinking their PBR’s in the front of the cafe, are aware of this rich political and cultural Oakland history.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not trying to race bait these young white people and overly simplify the situation that these are just some privilege white kids moving into our neighborhood and I don’t like it. The situation of gentrification and the redevelopment of Oakland is more complicated than that. I am also not saying that they shouldn’t be there, but it was difficult for me to wrap my head around why they were the only ones there in this space. And why myself and my two friends, Tracy who is born and raised in East Oakland, had to feel marginalized in this space and forced to leave, because we didn’t feel safe by their hostile attitude towards us. We also prefer to not kick it and relate to each other by slapping each other in the back of each others heads and breaking beer bottles inside a cafe in our community. Maybe these are just cultural differences, but I felt like it was so difficult to co-exist in that space and feel safe and welcomed. I understand that a lot of these punk kids, who are moving into West Oakland, aren’t just trust fund kids who like slumming it in the ghetto. Some are. But a lot are also working-class, and West Oakland is still a more affordable neighborhood than others. I understand that.  That said, the economic capital they are missing is made up for with all the cultural capital and freedom they access through their racial privilege. They are not as vulnerable to the police like the youth of color hanging out on the block, because there are no spaces for them to be at. They are able to more freely move in and out of space. When we were leaving last night I was amazed at the masses of young white people hanging out on 7th street with their dogs drinking beer with no worries about cop harassment.  Meanwhile, we had a cop follow my car for a few blocks giving me a tremendous amount of anxiety.  The street has changed so much. A former partner of mine used to live off of 7th street. We would often hang out on the block people watching, and talking to the neighbors. It looked much different even two years ago.

I found myself thinking of brilliant and controversial jazz musician Sun Ra’s classic space age film and commentary on race Space is the Place. The plot is centered around Sun Ra trying to organize black people to leave the United States and settle on a new planet. Garveyite message aside, there were moments last night where I asked myself and my friends ‘where are our public spaces?’ Do we need to get a space ship and move to another planet, where the hipsters might not invade like they are doing in Oakland and Brooklyn. I am not for removing myself, and I am not trying to counteract the hostility and privilege of these white youth with more hostility. However, I don’t want to allow myself to feel marginalized in spaces that I feel like I have a right to be in. I think its important that we intervene in these existing spaces and make them more open to everyone in the community again. And we can do this in a positive way that isn’t just trying to marginalize others. But it is important that white youth also understand the history of Oakland and the new spaces they are occupying. It is important that their comfort in living in the hood doesn’t result in them approaching my friends and I, and demanding things from us in disrespectful ways. But what is more important, and which was made clear to me last night, is that we need to start building and making new spaces for all of the communities we are a part of. Spaces that are safe and reflect our political and cultural perspectives. This was something the Panthers were good at; creating spaces for the community to be in through their survival programs. There are political critiques of it now, because the Panther work degenerated into solely providing social services, which are needed, but is not the sole task of the revolution. Today the revolutionary fire of the Black Panther Party is out and has devolved into the liberalism of non profits. We need that revolutionary fire again, and a part of that work is building relationships with people in our community through spaces we share. And if there is a lack of these spaces then we must build them. This is no easy task, but one we must do to sustain ourselves, our communities, and all of our important political and artistic work. And despite all the discomfort we felt last night, I feel excited by the inspiring brilliant radical artists around me to build with. <3


38 Comments on “Space is the Place: Tales of Gentrification in Oakland”

  1. Ooh, I like this piece. I think a series on gentrification is in order…

    • k says:

      before i offer a little context… i am not trying to respond to the larger issues in this piece, which i agree with the previous comment, i would like to see explored!

      but i do think you should know that whoever represented this to you as the revolution cafe’s reggae night was very, very misinformed. here is the facebook invite to the party and the flyer:
      http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=198511653494349

      also, the party was put on by a person who does do some interesting work in the social/party production sphere trying to straddle some of the cultural divides you are talking about in this piece. this party was not an example of that, it was clearly targeted towards a punk (generally white) demographic.

    • I have to say I feel that the foundation of this articles lies in misinformation. This was not billed as a reggae night, i understand that you didn’t realize that before you wrote this but that is a pretty big thing(the event itself) to overlook before writing a critique. Although i think that a dialogue on gentrification is definitely important it should be noted that 2 of the djs were chicano and the other was black, also being one of the chicano djs and the event’s organizer I feel I should also mention I was actually born in Oakland unlike many of the people who feel the need to speak up against events like this. On another note ,if you look at my website you will see that I have collaborated with a lot of west oakland locals and also Eddie Gale and India Cooke of SUN RA’s Orchestra!!! with whom I played at an event commemorating Sun Ra. I also organized a very successful fundraiser for the non profit bikes for life(next door to rev cafe). I applaud the fact you are speaking out against gentrification, I am sorry that you felt uncomfortable at the event. However, i do believe you did this event an injustice by writing about it prematurely and failing to acknowledge its diversity.

      • chakaZ says:

        I applaud the work you have done, and the interesting people you have collaborated with. I have 2 questions though. You critique me for “failing to acknowledge its diversity”…which might be true, but I didn’t see much diversity. I attended the event, where I saw little to no other people of color in the room, including yourself Miguel. Were you there? I came a little later so I might have missed you. So how am I failing to acknowledge its diversity when I didn’t see any? And, how I am premature? Since I didn’t see you there I don’t know how you can tell me that I failed to acknowledge something that I don’t believe I saw.

        I went to the event, and felt marginalized in the space, because of the lack of diversity, and the way I was treated by the white men in the space. I have agency to write and speak about that. I didn’t paint a totalizing picture that the entire cafe is evil and everyone that associates itself with it, like yourself, is bad or white. I actually speak to the importance of working and collaborating, with folks like yourself, who are trying to build in Oakland and unify communities. I speak to that within the piece and within my comments in this discussion. Like here,

        “I am not for removing myself, and I am not trying to counteract the hostility and privilege of these white youth with more hostility. However, I don’t want to allow myself to feel marginalized in spaces that I feel like I have a right to be in. I think its important that we intervene in these existing spaces and make them more open to everyone in the community again. And we can do this in a positive way that isn’t just trying to marginalize others.”

        The only way to build safe and diverse spaces for many communities within Oakland is to reflect and learn from the ways that hasn’t happened in these spaces. Like my experience last weekend. I want to process that experience and understand why I felt upset or marginalized in the space and what we can do to make sure that doesn’t continue to happen to other women of color and people of color, and queer people of color, who want to come out to these events. I think that is a much better approach then to just be angry and completely reject the place. I am interested in building radical cultural spaces here in Oakland, and a part of that is reflecting on the positive and negatives of existing spaces and racial/class tensions within communities around them.

    • Ash V says:

      It makes me sad that this has to happen. I’ve lived in Brooklyn now for the past 3 years and while I still can never call NYC my home, I have seen such an intense and inconsiderate inhabitation of all the places that make this borough what it is. It started with Williamsburg, which is now a haven for white folks that, sadly, are mostly privileged (or at least act like it) and have taken over what was a dying Italian and Polish community. I understand how this could happen to a neighborhood that was mostly populated by an older generation that were actually hoping for the chance to be able to make a buck.

      Now I live in Crown Heights, somewhere like Oakland that you “wouldn’t think” to live because it has always been a home for people who had a voice about just that. I hate that I now feel like I’m mixed up in this gentrification argument just because I want to live somewhere where I might get a better job or better opportunities. I hate to feel like I’m pushing people out, especially in NY where it’s a shark-fest of realtors that don’t give a shit about anyone, but I don’t really know how else to approach situations when it’s everyone of every color that are getting screwed.

      How do we break that “race” line when we’re all trying to get somewhere but we don’t have a “middle-class”. We ARE the middle class. We’re white, brown, asian, black, gay, and whatever else we want to define ourselves as but we ALL are trying to catch a break.

      We waste too much time trying to blame someone (and I know we have people we CAN blame) but we don’t stand up to the real evil –the realtors, the business men, the stock holders–who try to tell us where we should live and how much we should pay. It’s bullshit and I’d like to see some people get together and stop blaming the people and start blaming the man. We failed to “Occupy” because of just this. We need to stand united, instead of always feeling divided.

  2. chakaZ says:

    Ahh…Thank you K for putting things into context a bit for me!

    This was the second dance party Ive been to at the Revolution Cafe this month. I went to the funk dance party at the beginning of the month. And I had more fun then, but I was still disappointed by the demographics of the space. Besides myself and my friends there were very few people of color there. I would like to see that space, which I do love, become a more diverse space that isn’t alienating to people in the community around it, as well as people of color in Oakland in general.

    • k says:

      yeah, i hear that, i think it does have a long way to go. one thing i noticed, although ive only ever been there a few times, so i might be wrong, is that the cafe seems to have only white folks working there.

      also, a lot of events there seem to be produced by other people. the ones ive been to were put on by bikes4life and hoodstock, so the owner does seem amenable to lending it out. so maybe the space has potential: it might be interesting to consider using it to put on events…

      • angela says:

        my name is angela and i work at revolution cafe and i am not “white” and do not ever call me “white”. thank you.

      • chakaZ says:

        Hello Angela,

        Thank you for participating in the discussion. I don’t believe I called you ‘white’ but I will definitely make sure not to do so in the future as well. I also don’t remember calling anyone ‘white’ who works at revolution cafe. My piece was identifying the other customers and people in the space, who were majority white. I make this point, because I am picking up on an aggressive tone to your comment. Not trying to assume though. Just wanted to clarify.

        Thank you!

      • k says:

        sure thing, angela. since you work there, perhaps you know the racial identity of the other workers too, since the assumption wasn’t about you as an individual?

    • well in response to the first question I find it hard to believe you didn’t see people of color there. I definitely could understand someone feeling marginalized anywhere but I saw a lot of different people of different races, religions, ages and economic backgrounds there.

      In response to the second part of your first question I was probably spinning records if you didn’t see me, but I was there from 9pm to 4am.

      In response to your second question I called your critique premature because you were critiquing a reggae night, when in fact it was not a reggae night. You didn’t even really know what you were criticizing.

      for those who were not there…
      here are some pictures from the event.

  3. chakaZ says:

    I have noticed that as well that there seems to be only white people working there. I know that Mandela foods down the street offers employment opportunities for folks in the neighborhood. Would be nice to see that at Rev. Not that the white people working there aren’t living in the neighborhood. But it would be nice to see more support for the black and brown youth living in West Oakland.

    And I agree with you. It seems like the owner is open to offering the space for people to use to host events. I think it has a lot of potential and I would love to see if there were a way for us to use it for a political/art event. We will see!

    • sabot says:

      My opinions aside on this piece… since the author is “interested in building radical cultural spaces here in Oakland,” I would like to invite the author of this piece for a dialogue about being involve with folks who are attempting to do just that. We (some bred and spread in the east bay, and some not) have noticed a severe lack of event spaces in the Bay that are both large, radically friendly and affordable (hence good folks working with questionable people like Mr. Fields and his “revolution” cafe). Give a hollar if you would like to talk about such things… floatingshoe@gmail.com

  4. [...] a couple slices from the wonderfully warm folks there.  Having just read my friend ChakaZ’s thoughtful, incisive piece touching on gentrification in Oakland (a process that often leads to the overthrow of pie queens, and the replacement of barbecue shacks [...]

  5. AoT says:

    I live in Oakland and I’m a white punk and I see the dynamic you’re talking about all the time. I think there are a few things going on. First, I want to address them walking up to you and asking you for a hit. For me, that’s them trying to connect to you. Coming from a scene where virtually everyone has smoke all the time and considers smoking together a bonding experience of sorts, it’s kind of a way to befriend people. Not that I’m going to defend their reaction, but if you think that everyone should share their pot as a show of solidarity, or whatever, then it can be taken as an insult. There’s an assumption that anyone who smokes in public has enough to share.

    Another import thing to remember, and I haven’t been to the revolution cafe but I’ve met people who work there, is that it’s owned by a white republican, which is probably why there are only white people working there. As I’ve said, I’ve never been there so I don’t want to talk to much shit, but really, the owner is, from what I’ve heard, a white republican asshole, so I wouldn’t expect too much from the space.

    I live in a punkish warehouse on the edge of West Oakland, out of monetary necessity, and I see the exact same dynamic you’re talking about all the time. It isn’t that the people involved don’t know the history of Oakland, they often do and sometimes have moved here specifically because of the authenticity that said history imparts on them living in Oakland.

    I don’t want to be too hard on the folks you’re talking about because in theory they’re totally down with making connections between different groups. Unfortunately, in practice they rarely make the effort. I’m not really sure how to bridge that gap, but I’ve been trying to educate some parts of that crowd.

    I’d really like to bring these parts of Oakland together, because if they don’t come together the it’s going to be just another case of gentrification, but I’m not exactly sure how to.

    Thanks for this great piece of writing.

    • chakaZ says:

      Thank you Aot for your writing and thoughts on these sensitive and very real matters. I think it is really wonderful that you are thinking about the racial and class divides within your neighborhood and trying to bridge gaps and have real unity with each other. I agree that it is not an easy task, but ultimately one we must try to do. And we must try to do that together while have healthy autonomy and safe spaces.

      I apologize if my piece has a severe tone at times. I was conscious of it, but ultimately wanted to make a point. However, I welcome this dialogue and hope to nuance my points a little bit. When I write about the ‘white punk’ community within the west oakland community I don’t intend to speak of them as a monolithic community. My experiences are wide and diverse just like the many existing communities that make up Oakland. I have been at punk parties and have interacted with white punk traveler kids, who are awesome and skilled, and who widen my universe. I have also been exposed to rude and ignorant people, like the ones I was around over the weekend, that don’t widen my universe; who actually pollute it at times. So when you speak of the communities you have been around and the way they relate to trees for instance I don’t think they were the same types of folks I was exposed to over the weekend.

      I also am totally fine with and enjoy sharing with strangers. I don’t think that is just a ‘white punk’ cultural thing. Many communities and cultures have communal values especially when it comes to resources, food, libations and other earthly treats. The many different spaces and communities I am a part of also see communal smoking as a bonding thing so I hear you and appreciate your explanation. Unfortunately the man who spoke to me on saturday night was not like the people you describe above. He was disrespectful and felt entitled to demand trees from us. I think weed smoking should be a bonding experience, and therefore an experience you share with others; it is not about you demanding something from someone else. I think this kind of experience should be treated with respect and warmth for each other. However, this person had no respect or warmth; he didn’t even say hello he just walked up to us and said ‘can I hit that’. That’s not cool to me wherever you come from. It’s just down right rude. And I think if you are going to be a white man and approach three black people (the only nonwhite people in the place) and ask for something from then the least you can do is say hello and smile.

      Those are just my thoughts. I don’t wish to paint all white people or white punk people in this light. But I do think we need to be mindful of these situations and dialogue with each other if we are ever going to achieve real unity with each other and clarity on every ones lived experiences. This is why I appreciate your comment Aot, and the time you have taken to respectfully dialogue with me. I always learn from my exchanges with others. Your comment gave me new perspectives and challenged me to go back over my own positions. Righteous!

      • AoT says:

        You are so far from being harsh in your explanation of the interactions between white punks in Oakland and radical people of color in Oakland that I’m amazed you feel the need to make even the slightest apologies. Seriously.

        Beyond that, I’d like to hear your thoughts on what happened after the Oscar Grant murder and how you think that impacted interactions between “my” community and “your” community. I put those in quotes because I imagine that we have at least one friend or band in common.

        Most of all, I’d like to start working to bring all us different sorts of folks together on a social level to resist the gentrification that I see happening right now. I know that that people in my scene oppose gentrification, in theory at the very least, and I really see it starting in Oakland and would love to start working against it.

  6. chakaZ says:

    Ha…nice quotes. I am sure that we know similar people; especially if we have radical politics.

    When you ask me about my thoughts about ‘what happened’ after the Oscar Grant murder I am not exactly sure what you are asking specifically, but I will do my best to answer how I saw racial and class dynamics play out. All of the rebellions that happened after Oscar Grant’s murder (Jan 7th & 14th ’09, July 8th & Nov 5th ’10) were righteous, multiracial uprisings with people from many different political backgrounds or none at all. I saw working-class black and brown youth playing a leading role in the street expressing their anger towards a racist capitalist system that keeps all of us poor and racially targets them. I defend these rebellions as an expression of the consciousness of the oppressed reacting against their oppressive conditions. I don’t think rioting is an end in and of itself, but its something to work with, and to build organization out of so we can continue to radicalize our consciousness and build more sustainable struggle.

    I think the liberals and more conservative elements within the movement, who were largely the people of color non-profits and allies of them, played a opportunistic role through assuming leadership over the movement and race-baiting the anarchists. I thought it was disgusting that they attempted to blame the anarchists for the riots and call them outside agitators. The only outside agitators are OPD, who have a history of being particularly terrible and largely not from Oakland. I reject all police and the ruling class in general, but OPD have a history that stems from the days of reconstruction and the KKK. These are the outside agitators and it saddens me that these ngo types put more energy into creating panic around white anarchists, rather than the cops that continually harass and murder the working-class of Oakland, particularly the black and brown working-class.

    I am not an anarchist; I am an autonomous marxist feminist. But I think there are aspects of anarchism that are useful and well intentioned. I am a marxist, because we need a method…a vehicle to translate our ideas and consciousness into material change. We can say we are revolutionary and against the bourgeois state but what are the ways in which we actually overthrow it. Rebellion after rebellion will not do that work. If we believe in revolution then we must have a strategy on how to make it realized. This is the role of revolutionary theory, and the method is the means in which we apply that theory. IF we are not applying that theory in practice then we are just pontificating and that is not revolutionary…maybe academic. This is what I have taken from marxism, and why I feel comfortable with that title. I also understand that the people will move when they are ready to move, and I think there is something valuable that we can learn from spontaneity. When I say we need a strategy I don’t mean we need to plan everything out beforehand in this mechanical way. However, we do need a strategy and a vision to work towards. And this is what we must do as revolutionary minded people.

    I think uniting our communities in Oakland, and fighting gentrification and not allowing ourselves to be pitted against each other in the ways the media and liberals tried to do is what will be key when the people decide to move again. This is why I agree that we do need to fight this and am interested in working with other radicals in doing so. SO thank you again for your comments and questions.

  7. eicratam says:

    In the original post Chaka wrote that “Revolution Cafe has been in existence for years now and owned by a long time resident of Oakland.”

    If you ask him, the owner of revcafe is not only a longtime resident, he’s from Oakland. Or instead of asking him you can visit his campaign webpage – http://www.fields4change.org/ – where he notes his Oakland nativity as he (amidst a torrent of exclamation points) pitches you to vote him into the mayor’s office.

    Why should you vote for Arnie Fields? Because he’s for “school reform,” and “public safety”–most often used to mean privatization (or school reshuffling, or more serious testing standards, or more accountability for teachers etc.) and pigs.

    Because he’s an “entrepreneur”. Because he’s “self-made”. because he has been “investing” in Oakland his entire life. Because “Arnold has been creating jobs and affordable housing through his affordable housing redevelopment business in Oakland for the last 25 years.”

    These are all quotes from his own campaign, which also notes how Arnold helped bring the community together by opening Revolution Cafe in “one of the worst neighborhoods in Oakland…boosting morale,” in West Oakland.

    All this is just to say that the surface of things can be misleading. For all the criticisms of white punks in this post, the owner of the establishment received something at least ambiguous enough to be confusable with endorsement. I’m sure Arnie Fields is a nice guy, and it’s a shame I have to lambast him to get a point across.

    But it’s a point worth making: We shouldn’t be more critical of largely poor white kids than we are of a member of the owning class. What are the dynamics behind these new faces at revcafe? I say the owner (hidden in plain sight, behind the surface of immediate commodity relations) is at least as responsible for the new environment as the crusty punks who waste their coffee shop tips on overpriced red stripes.

    I don’t know whether revcafe’s owner is a douche or a nice guy. (Plenty of events focused on Justice4OscarGrant have been hosted at revcafe. But that could mean almost anything.) Either way, he obviously 1) has terrible bourgeois politics and 2) is a member of the owning class (as owners of establishments are by definition). I don’t know who these new kids are on the block, hefting their privilege about, reeking of entitlement, drenched in ignorance, unaware of their surroundings and their own presence. I don’t know where they’re from or where they live. I couldn’t explain the underlying system and the specific mechanism by which it brought them to the revcafe. It seems actually rather complicated, more complicated than their abhorrent social mores, and maybe even more complicated than can be encapsulated by the term ‘gentrification’ (popular as it’s been since the late 90s–especially in colleges and the like).

    Behind all the cultural capital and freedom of the punk kids (with their unfortunate
    proclivity for ska music) and behind the economic capital they are missing, is the economic capital owned and controlled, invested and managed by the purveyor of revcafe, the owner of the cafe in question–an invisible hand-type in this narrative of the changing dynamics of capitalist cultural geography and the vicissitudes of space, race and privilege.

    I just think that if we’re criticizing white people for their style and unchecked privilege, it would be perhaps a bit misleading to leave out the only person directly profiting from this unfortunate social situation.

    • chakaZ says:

      I absolutely agree with you Eicratam, and I believe that that was an error in my own research. From my previous understanding the Revolution Cafe was owned by a black family or couple originally. But I believe now that the ownership has changed. I am in no way endorsing or supporting the petty bourgeois, who by far play a more integral role in maintaining the current division of labor; was not trying to keep that fetishized. More of an error in the research of my arguments, but I don’t think it takes away or negate the many different elements of gentrification, which do include privilege and hipsters cultural capital within neighborhoods occupied by the pigs.

      But I am no ethnocrat that loves to talk about gentrification being a sole matter of ‘unchecked privilege.’ I agree with you when you bring up that we should be talking about the owner of the property and the business if we are going to be criticizing the clientele. And I try to say that within my piece here,

      “Now don’t get me wrong I am not trying to race bait these young white people and overly simplify the situation that these are just some privilege white kids moving into our neighborhood and I don’t like it. The situation of gentrification and the redevelopment of Oakland is more complicated than that. I am also not saying that they shouldn’t be there, but it was difficult for me to wrap my head around why they were the only ones there in this space”

      I understand that my critiques of their racial privilege comes off stronger in the piece, and I somewhat neglect the other social relations. Partly that is because I was not aware of this Arnie dude and his ventures in bourgeois politics. And partly because this isn’t a serious theoretical analysis of gentrification in Oakland. I think that is a piece that needs to be written, but this isn’t it. This is a narrative of my lived experience that has political analysis in it, because I am a political person whose politics are shaped by my lived experiences. In the quote above I say that gentrification is more complicated then just a bunch of white hipsters moving into the hood, but it still is shocking for me to see neighborhoods change so rapidly and my experiences change in spaces so rapidly. I think it is unfortunate that West Oakland has been desolate for years now, with schools closing down, and little spaces for youth of color who grew up in these neighborhoods to kick it in. Yet working-class white people from different cities can come into the neighborhood and carve out public space so quickly and easily. I need to be able to process that, and process the racially charged exchanges and experiences I have in these rapidly changing processes. And this is what I am trying to do in this piece.

      No position paper on gentrification in Oakland just yet, but I appreciate your comments and information nonetheless. Helps shape my theoretical exploration of the issue. Radical!

    • k says:

      E: “Behind all the cultural capital and freedom of the punk kids (with their unfortunate proclivity for ska music)…”

      That’s quite harsh there, and I found it a bit offensive to me, personally, given that my early experiences as a punk led me to both my present politics and my appreciation of ska. How unfortunate for you, I suppose?

      Anyway, I’m doubtful that you aware of the musical and subcultural history of punk rock and ska. If you were, I would think that you would be a bit more appreciative of the ska-liking proclivities of the punk rock scene, because you would understand the conflicts and explicitly anti-racist choices that it comes out of (does 2 tone ring a bell?).

      At this point in history, I don’t ascribe special revolutionary potential to (punk) subculture, but I see plenty of limitations in other contemporary (youth) subcultures as well. If one wants to level critiques at punk, or anarchism, or any of the “subcultures”, I think it behooves them to learn the history and understand some of the dynamics within it. And that’s not a request for an exemption from criticism, its a request for criticism that hits the mark.

      There are plenty of people (in west oakland and elsewhere) who are punks or came up in that subculture, who have been living in their neighborhoods for a long time, are quite conscious. Some of them you might even (and probably do) consider political allies. I’m sure they would be more than willing to help you understand the punk scene, and help you hone these criticize, but perhaps more importantly, help you brainstorm different interventions. The blog author knows some of these people, and I would be happy to (re)connect any of you if there is energy for that.

      Until then, I hope we don’t disagree that a comfortable ignorance affords one the distance to make an easy diagnosis:

      “I don’t know who these new kids are on the block, hefting their privilege about, reeking of entitlement, drenched in ignorance, unaware of their surroundings and their own presence. I don’t know where they’re from or where they live. I couldn’t explain the underlying system and the specific mechanism by which it brought them to the revcafe. It seems actually rather complicated, more complicated than their abhorrent social mores, and maybe even more complicated than can be encapsulated by the term ‘gentrification’”

      PS: I can’t resist noting that the “new kids on the block” aren’t exactly new, while many of the _new_ kids spotted on the block aren’t from the block. Have fun parsing that :)

      • Lonz says:

        bullshit and fuck the punkscene.where were all you hipsters at when west oakland looked grimmy as fuck??? if i catch one of yall taggin up one of our areas with that horrible graffitii (yall come late at night when nobody is outside) ima knock yall smooth out. strait up.

  8. Frida says:

    this blog entry was too TL;DR

    I went to Is This England? event at the Rev and had a blast. There was plenty of diversity at Miguel’s party, so hush. Open your myopic perspective, set aside your prejudice and take note that folks are getting together to create a radical awesome space. I’ve thrown events at the Rev last summer all in favour of my community, I suggest you ought to follow suit and take some positive action or, you can blog about injustices of hipsterolgy. Grow a pair.

    signed Bay Area Raised Chubby Mexican person concerned about double standard racism

    • chakaZ says:

      I don’t like censorship, which is why I welcome your comment, but your tone is hostile and disrespectful and ultimately unnecessary. I was not referring to Miguels party. Did you read my piece? And I asked Miguel this in response to his comment and I will ask this to you as well, did your ‘chubby mexican’ self attend last saturdays event at Rev Cafe? If you were there I would love to hear your experience, because mine was uncomfortable and marginalizing, and I have agency to write about that experience. This isn’t journalism; this isn’t some official report. This is the narrative of my lived experience, and my lived experience was met with hostility and tension between myself and my friends and a whole room full of white people.

      It is a pretty serious thing to say that I am being racist, as you passively aggressively accuse me of being with your concerns against double standard racism so I would like to understand what about my piece was racist? I think it is immature to throw out accusations like that and not back them up with actual evidence (aka citing of my text) to illustrate or expose the ways I am being racist. I am a very serious, political and artistic person, which is why I AM building radical spaces, and am interested in working with others on making existing spaces, like the revolution cafe, more awesome. I say this explicitly in my piece that i don’t wish to fight hostility with hostility. I want to understand the ways we can deal with difference within our communities. As a queer, working-class, black womyn I don’t think all ‘radical awesome’ spaces are welcoming or safe for me and others in my communities, even if they seem like they should be. Sometimes I leave these spaces wondering why I feel so marginalized; or why I am having trouble existing in them even though they seem culturally like a place i should ‘fit in’ at. This was my experience last saturday, and my experience is a part of my objective reality. Maybe your reality is different and you felt great last saturday, if you were indeed at rev cafe, but that doesn’t make my experience less real. These are the contradictions that make up society and if we are able to understand these contradictions and make sense of our different experiences then we must engage in difficult dialogue about those different experiences. And we should do it in a way that isn’t trying to silence or or be hostile, by name calling and accusing other people of color of being racist with no evidence to back up such severe accusations.

      Frida, I would rather you engage with me and your concerns in a real dialogue, where you are drawing from my piece and the parts that have lead you to have such an aggressive tone in your comment on my blog. Your language is so hostile; whats up with the ‘grow a pair’ comment. You are operating on a lot of assumptions about me and what I am doing when you have no idea who I am. I am making strong points at times, which you most likely disagree with, but I also try to be mindful of not race baiting or rejecting people and I articulate this in the piece. I am more interested in understanding what it is about my piece that has generated such a strong reaction from you rather then reading your insults. It’s just too easy and boring.

  9. b. says:

    Having followed this blog – without previously commenting or participated in discussion – I want to start by thanking Chaka for the thought and effort you put into this. I think you’re particularly sharp and lyrical in bridging analysis and everyday experience, and it’s been really helpful for me in parsing out some things I’ve been considering lately.

    As another note, I’m a white punk and a worker who lives in a community that is both affordable and desirable in terms of access to culture and resources that sustain me, and this is often in tension with gentrification as a process.

    Chaka raises some points that I think should be central to our consideration about how we live in, relate to, and take up space in our communities and I think it’s unfortunate that defensiveness about one’s role in gentrification often steers these discussions just far enough off the mark to avoid discussing this process as historical, as both personal and collective lived experience outside of one’s subculture, and often leaving the most pernicious agents and affects unexamined.

    I think it’s really careless for folks to throw around accusations of double standard (or “reverse”) racism. But I do think, in our attempt to identify with and defend the gains of communities whose historic labor incoming residents and predatory investors benefit from, undervalue and dismantle, we can end up practicing some strange forms of ethnic chauvinism and forgetting, and playing oppression olympics over ownership of space – even more embarrassing is when self-identified “down” antiracist white folks practice this. This all gets messier when you consider legacies of settler-colonialism and genocide as a condition for us occupying this land in the first place.

    I think a lot of us have lost what it means to be good neighbors in the way our cultures have raised us. Especially those white folks who grew up in suburbs, with home security systems and separate yards for each family to play or garden in. Part of being a good neighbor is developing real relationships and familiarity with folks, before you expect generosity on their part – and that’s where I especially feel Chaka on this. Where the person that approached you may have meant to promote “sharing” as a means of introduction, that they just happen to benefit from, I think we need to militantly expand our notions of ‘neighborly’ relations beyond lifestylism and start radically challenging more entrenched and violent forms of property relations that place our neighbors in situations where they may not be well-positioned to offer generously to strangers. This is where these kinds of discussions can lead further toward abstraction and theory, but in recent years I’ve seen provisional yet fertile models that offer a glimpse of the kind of work that we need to do collectively if we want to build and defend communities where antagonism between residents is mitigated and concentrated more forcefully toward the police that occupy our streets and harass our neighbors, predatory real estate speculators and politicians that leverage eminent domain to seize land, slumlords and businesses that exploit the precarity of our circumstances. Some examples include the Safe Outside the System Collective of the Audre Lorde Project in Central Brooklyn and the recent crops of solidarity unions like SeaSol and others.

    I definitely feel Chaka on the need to create and defend spaces where people of color, women, queers and gender nonconforming folks, and working people feel comfortable to create, share resources and inspiration and build community – be it Rev Cafe or elsewhere – and I don’t want to sidestep the very real alienation folks feel in favor of privileging “more serious matters”. But I think we might be able to avoid some of these short circuiting conversations if we’re more conscientious about creating room in these discussions for plotting strategies and building multiracial and multigenerational collective frameworks that principled people can plug into as an alternative to the helplessness that often sustains the cynicism and defensiveness involved with discussing gentrification.

    I look forward to hearing more thoughts about this from Chaka or other folks.

    • chakaZ says:

      b. thank you so much for your sharp and incisive comment, and participation in this discussion. I really appreciated your analysis, and agree with much of what you were saying. I think it was a more nuanced perspective that raised the correct points and questions of method to building the type of collective that I want to build and which you describe excellently here,

      “I’ve seen provisional yet fertile models that offer a glimpse of the kind of work that we need to do collectively if we want to build and defend communities where antagonism between residents is mitigated and concentrated more forcefully toward the police that occupy our streets and harass our neighbors, predatory real estate speculators and politicians that leverage eminent domain to seize land, slumlords and businesses that exploit the precarity of our circumstances.”

      Ultimately that is my goal and I don’t want to fall victim to oppression olympics that further our alienation from each other. I think you are right on when you say, “we can end up practicing some strange forms of ethnic chauvinism and forgetting, and playing oppression olympics over ownership of space.” This is very true, and it ends up keeping us more alienated from each other, which ultimately benefits the ruling class. Unfortunately, I think I did some of that within this piece; and I definitely was conscious of the post being more polarizing. I decided to keep it as was though to see what discussion could be generated from it. I have really enjoyed dialoguing with folks about these issues, because I feel like I have learned a lot from the discussion.

      I want to develop a method and strategy for how to have these discussions within our communities. The working-class is diverse and divided from each other along a lot of different lines: race, gender, age, politics, nationality. It can be very hard to talk about these differences with out defensiveness and chavinism over space. I really liked the way you framed it here,

      “But I think we might be able to avoid some of these short circuiting conversations if we’re more conscientious about creating room in these discussions for plotting strategies and building multiracial and multigenerational collective frameworks that principled people can plug into as an alternative to the helplessness that often sustains the cynicism and defensiveness involved with discussing gentrification. ”

      This is so true! If we are really committed to building diverse spaces that represent all layers of the oppressed then we must be intentional about it. That means having a method to do it in a safe and healthy way. I look forward to dialoguing more about how to make this materialize.

  10. Jake says:

    These issues are always the ones that lead to me race baiting as an initial emotional response.

    Gentrification is so complex, and right now I do not have time to post my overwhelming thoughts on it, but I will say one thing that is troubling with these type of straight white male “punk” dominated events.

    I grew up in the punk scene in southern California and there was a large latino influence, but as soon as I started playing in bands and going on tours I realized even further how white male dominated it really was.

    Events like this “reggae night” at radical spaces also lead to the idea that everybody who is punk or into punk has radical ideals and is ready to do radical work. With this, a lot of radical spaces get turned into show/party spaces without any real political background what-so-ever. Since punk lends itself to being supremely individualistic, these spaces often get dominated by people who have CULTURALLY never had to have a strong race/gender/class critique, so it often leads to what I call the “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” conservative backlash (that guy unapologetically asking for a group of people of color to get him high without understanding what he was doing or the machismos breaking bottles in a what I’m sure is underfunded and understaffed space with a radical history).

    Since punk doesn’t have a single definition, and politics often times get overlooked, these conservative values get even further amplified in a time where it seems people are getting more and more insensitive, as well as amplifies the amount of lifestyle anarchists. I could delve further how even people who started out as having revolutionary ideals in punk have grown to be “post-left” and bait people on their concept of reality and playing into the systems in which they now deny and how having a strong critique of race/gender/class allows such institutions to exist, but this is turning into somewhat of a rant, so I’ll just leave it at what I’ve put.

  11. Hilary Moore says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your ideas and the risks you’ve taken to put them up here. I’ve been having conversations just like these with people both inside and out of the punk “community” in Oakland. I’d really like to continue them, and with more people. If there is interest in meeting in person, I’d like to participate.

    These are really important discussions and there are a lot of projects already working on housing rights that explore these ideas.

    All the best,
    Hilary

  12. This is an interesting conversation!! I was born and raised in Oakland-btwn the flats of Dimond park and the hills of Skyline blvd. I identify as a person of color, I come from many backgrounds. I had privileges such as my own room growing up, but still felt disrespected or stared at because of how i look.

    Recently I lived in an apt 5 min from that cafe. I also lived across the US and saw similar things happening in Brooklyn, NY where a mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhood like “Williamsburg” was completely changed/gentrified by European Americans and European’s from other places in the world. The phenomenom is happpening all over the US. Now im living in American Canyon w/parents-in a largely working class European American/ African American/ Asian/Philippino neighborhood.

    I want to give props to you ChakaZ for expressing how you feel. I sometimes feel that way when I’m in a part of Oakland that used to look, sound, and smell hella different. A lot of things come up in my mind such as race, class, privilege, accessibility as reasons why things have changed. Better for some, worse for ohers.

    I think one of the most important things I took from reading everyone’s comments and your feelings is the need for “action”. We have these feelings and we can act on them. I mean POC and white folks. We as people in this country are subjected to a lot of brain washing, brain trash, seperating, and ignorance about each other. Just look at the fact that outside of the US, nearly 70% of people speak more than one language, while that number is something like 7-10% here in the states. Its no mistake, its by design, and there are individuals who make the conditions that cause the misunderstanding of customs and the mystery of migration. Some people are guarded, praised, applauded, protected, while others are policed, watched, and imprisoned-that is a huge point made here to me.

    Theres a lot that needs to happen before there can be justice, peace between folks, respect, and overstanding. But I think talking about it amongst folks and better yet, educating each other about who we are in Oakland, where we’ve been, and what we’ve done is super important!You’re doing that in an honest way. I dont have a big solution, or an ah ha moment
    for you, im just acknowledging your feeling and letting you know there’s other folks who’ve felt that and that convo btwn poc and whites needs to improve. I guess my question would be, how do we as poc tell “our story”? Because we cant depend on European Americans to tell it, thats not a judgement its just an observation of the past 500 years. How do we take this feeling and translate it to a step that can build a staircase to where we want to be identity and community wise? Keep on! the power of positive thinking is “limitless”!
    -Rob/Tres
    TYS Collective

  13. Amy says:

    Wow. Thanks so much for this great analysis. This is something that needs to be talked about, no matter how uncomfortable it makes people. One thing that really irritates me about the Bay Area in general is radical/alternative/activist white folks who have this general racial air of superiority, as though they are the enlightened white people. I feel like this is really hypocritical, and its something i’ve encountered a lot since I moved here from the South. And, when you try to raise issues of privilege, power, access, and the role that these privileged people play in disenfranchising communities of color, people act like they don’t have any responsibility at all.

    I also feel like the argument that the white traveler kids/burners/artists who live in the hood do so cause they can’t afford to live elsewhere is kinda bullshit. Yeah, they are part of a counterculture that might make them finding employement in the business world difficult, but that is a choice that they are making. They can shave off the dreads, take out the plugs, put on a suit and look just great in that interview. They will always have a choice in limiting their access to institutions of power, something that the black/brown folks of West Oakland don’t have.

    • chakaZ says:

      Thank you all for the last few comments. They have left me with a lot of positivity and inspiration. It is difficult to process some of these thoughts without fear of alienating or offending people. At the same time, I have felt offended and alienated so I am trying to navigate how to deal with those feelings as a radical, who is committed to NOT reproducing them with others. So thank you Hillary for acknowledging the riskiness of expressing these strong feelings and dialoguing with others. I am interested in more discussion. I will send you an email.

      @ RObert, thank you for sharing your experience as an Oakland native. It was very helpful to read your own feelings with the structural and cultural changes in your communities. I am feeling you when you talk about the importance of communication and understanding. We must do this, and develop ways to do that so we can be united. So we can actually put these ideas and feelings into tangible action like you say here,

      “How do we take this feeling and translate it to a step that can build a staircase to where we want to be identity and community wise? Keep on! the power of positive thinking is “limitless”!

      Definitely feeling these points. This is the role of dialogue and theory…to be applied in practice. I don’t have all the solutions either, but I am certain that building with other folks like yourself is a part of. Thank you for checking out the piece and participating in the discussion.

      @Amy, thank you for the comment and the passion behind it. I agree that we have to have these conversations in order to have clarity on these issues. I think we are all exploited by capitalism, but some communities are oppressed in particular ways on top of this exploitation, and do not have access to certain spaces like others do. This difference and privilege must be unpacked to truly understand all the inequalities within this system, and how to fight it together.

  14. elokin says:

    hey, there is so much to say in response, but really i just want to let you know i super appreciated your writing about this. i didn’t get through all of the comments yet, but so far it’s been sad to me to see the bigger issue seems like it’s getting lost- that your piece is about much more than one night, or even the revolution cafe.

    to me, your piece is about gentrification, and nobody can deny it’s happening. and folks like me, who have privilege and aren’t from Oakland, we gotta look at our part in gentrification, and what we’re doing to respond. there’s no time for defensiveness…

    i also read your piece as being about looking for and building folks of color spaces in Oakland. would love to collaborate if you would be interested- i’m a light skinned, half-white half-asian person of color and work with a few poc and majority poc collectives/spaces that center youth leadership & involvement. i feel inspired and humble that there are so many strong political poc spaces and groups here that have been organizing for a long time, and hope we all connect more and build community as the need for a strong community response to everything from gang injunctions to “secure communities” comes our way.

    thanks again for writing.

  15. cocacolachola says:

    Thanks for writing and sharing your opinion about your experience at Revolution Cafe. There are a few things I just want to touch on briefly. For one, I am not sure what the range is in people that are from Oakland, have lived in Oakland for a long time etc. etc. but Oakland has been a destination for punks for over twenty years. In the early 90′s this was already established. If someone had more information and could lend to that oral history from a standpoint of critically being a part of such that would be of interest to me. I bring this up because it seems more apparent to me to bring up right now than it has in the past. I get the feeling that a lot of punx of color and not of color seem to think that being a punk somehow means you are not a gentrifier or not a part of gentrification as a whole. Obviously not true. I noticed there were also various attempts here to quantify that this were true. First, the idea by claiming as I noticed several people did ie “i am brown and i was there” or showing us pictures as if that would somehow illuminate that it was not a club with a bunch of hipsters of color in it. I know it could offend but if you are really holding on to that, then you need to get over it now. Nothing good will ever come from not acknowledging that you are a part of this.

    I also want to thank the person that posted more info about Arnie. Problematic doesn’t cover all the issues here to begin with Revolution Cafe/Arnie etc.

    It seems clear that some people want action as they have said and this seems to be an overall trend lately. What is action? Is action dialogue or dialoguing even with each other? Is it possible that it could just be leaving or listening or letting longtime Oakland residents that are disappearing do the deciding? Is there even a choice at this point? I would be curious to know what people want from this. I would hope it’s not another blog post where some people get pissed that they were called out and then go back to business as usual.

    For those that regularly go to Revolution Cafe, get used to hearing this. Shit is uncomfortable and unwelcoming. It has been. What will you do to change it is the real question of action.

    Signing off,
    queer/brown/grew up as a punk/not from oakland/gentrifier

  16. cocacolachola says:

    one last thing! i wanted to include an article that my friend wrote for a zine I used to work on with friends.

    article is on joaquin’s blog but the writer is michelle zenarosa.

    http://joaquincienfuegos.blogspot.com/2009/03/punx-is-gentrifiers.html

  17. Why viewers still use to read news papers when in this technological world the whole thing is presented on net?

  18. […] in the heart of the rapidly gentrifying Mission District. The entire story of modern San Francisco, as well as the entire Bay, is intimately bound up with the continual influx of the predominantly white and professional LGBT […]

  19. chakaZ says:

    Hello Savannah!

    Thank you for reading the piece and participating in the discussion and offering your own resources. Your comment made me feel warm and happy!

    I would love to send you some pictures with some of our pieces. I think it could be a really good fit. I also don’t mind you linking my piece. Im actually excited by it as well as flattered that you would want to include my writing. That’s love!


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