Fourth of July and Gentification: All indications that Colonization is alive and well

Womyn of the Cuban revolution

What does Fourth of July mean to me, a working-class queer mixed Black revolutionary indigenous communist womyn? Not a whole lot. More bourgeois lies manifested into rituals of blind worship of this system. They inoculate us with patriotism so that we do not question or rebel. These types of celebrations distract people from the truth.

What does come to mind when I think of this bourgeois holiday is land. That’s what it is all about, historically and presently. The stealing of it to develop a foreign system that harms, that waste, that is unnecessary. Land. And the coming struggles to reclaim it and ourselves. Malcolm X very directly and eloquently breaks this down in his important speech Message to the Grassroots given October 10, 1963. Within the speech he attempts to define what revolution is and what it would take to achieve it and full  liberation for black people. By defining the basis and purpose of revolution he then critiques the black struggle for failing to represent these revolutionary politics. Reformist politics versus revolutionary politics; negro revolution versus black revolution. He draws from many historical examples of revolutionary struggles around the world, and places them all within the context of land,

“Look at the American Revolution in 1776. That revolution was for what? For land. Why did they want land? Independence. How was it carried out? Bloodshed. Number one, it was based on land, the basis of independence. And the only way they could get it was bloodshed. The French Revolution —— what was it based on? The land—less against the landlord. What was it for? Land. How did they get it? Bloodshed. Was no love lost; was no compromise; was no negotiation. I’m telling you, you don’t know what a revolution is. ’Cause when you find out what it is, you’ll get back in the alley; you’ll get out of the way. The Russian Revolution —— what was it based on? Land. The land—less against the landlord. How did they bring it about? Bloodshed. You haven’t got a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed… Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.”

Malcolm in Egypt

Land is freedom. Under the current system only those with economic privilege have access to it, and therefore the freedom to move around. Capitalism, and its exploitative system of private property, was developed through European conquest of land, and the violent removal of people from it. Indigenous people everywhere were turned into slaves, while European peasants were proletarianized. A racialized and gendered caste system within the division of labor was created so that the people would remain divided from each other, thus weakening any potential rebellion to Europe’s colonial plans. I am always disturbed by the violent and oppressive history of Europe. Indigenous/non-European people, historically, have not treated each other with the same type of harm. I am not saying that everything was a peaceful utopia. Local tribes in the America’s and Africa were very protective over resources and land, and confronted other tribes if they became a threat to their territory. However, these actions were fueled out of the reproduction and preservation of their communities, not at the expense of them. Africans were not going around and completely annihilating other civilizations, in the manner that Europe did to the world. Their capital and technological innovations (fire power) gave them freedom and power in their movement to access the world, and rebuild it in their own selfish image so that it may support a ‘white’ patriarchal global power. This was no easy task though. The people rebelled. There have been revolutions, as Malcolm X points out above. But the global tyranny of Capital is still in place, although slowly crumbling, due to the conscious actions of the people.

As the world transitioned into the new historical epoch of capitalism, the terrain and way of living also dramatically shifted. Concrete paved over earth. Factories are built to produce commodities that the people are manipulated into consuming. New housing is constructed around factories to support the workers, who produce products they do not own for the profit of the owners. No longer are we to live peacefully with the land. People are violently removed from it and then crowded into urban centers to support this new industrialized way of living. The new cities reflect the divisions of power and privilege within society. People of color, who historically have been enslaved and then proletarianized, are lower within the division of labor and therefore are paid less and live within the poorest conditions.  The poorest conditions are also heavily policed, because the pigs are here to protect the rich and their property. This brings us back again to the root of our oppression and exploitation: the fundamentally unequal system of private property.

The first people of these lands!

This legacy of European conquest has given white people, people of European descent, centuries of privilege and more total power within society. They are represented strongly within the global ruling class, because they have had more access to capital historically. Even among the working-class they are the highest paid and always prioritized for work. Their quality of life, even amongst the exploited is better. They have more material privilege to move and access space, due to this legacy of privilege. Oakland is a prime example of this legacy of colonization. The Ohlone people originally inhabited the land until the Spanish violently displaced them in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was the beginning of the process of industrialization, which transformed Oakland into a booming port city and trade hub. During World War II working-class people in general, and black people in particular, migrated out of the rural south looking for employment in the new urban centers. Many settled in Oakland, due to the concentration of industries. After the war many factories closed down and jobs became scarce, but the new black residents decided to make Oakland home. This caused the racist and affluent whites to leave the city relocating to Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito in the North and San Leandro, Hayward, Castro Valley and Fremont in the East. All areas that still carry racial and economic privilege and divisions. This was called ‘white flight’ and it was a part of a nationwide trend, where white people had, and continue to have, fear and anxiety about living among poor black and brown people, due to their racist conditioning. They flee to the suburbs, because they have the material privilege to do so. Oakland transformed into a ‘black’ city, and with this transformation came the escalation of police force within the city. Starting in the late 1940’s the Oakland Police Department began to recruit fascist officers from the south to come and occupy neighborhoods and discipline the rising black population. The southern KKK was an excellent model for OPD, and I see and feel these origins when I think of Alan Blueford, Raheim Brown, Oscar Grant, all black, all unarmed, all murdered by OPD fascists with no response from the local government.

Youth at a Oscar Grant protest a few years ago

The continual violence and exploitation of working black and brown people within Oakland exists alongside rapid efforts by the local bourgeoisie to gentrify the city to compete with the opulence and privilege of SF. I am reminded of this when I look at the changing faces and spaces of Oakland and the harm, materially and spiritually, that gentrification is causing. Rising unemployment and the violent closing of schools, day cares, free health clinics, and social services in general, are disproportionately effecting working people and families of color, while there is steady flow of privileged white people moving into the space with such ease and access. I feel the weight of history and colonization resting on my shoulders, when I observe the changes within the city I live in. Oakland has been deemed the ‘cool’ place to visit by bourgeois travel sources and alternative press. This combined with the cheaper prices, in comparison to SF, has resulted in droves of white people moving into the city. All kinds of white people. Affluent white people looking to make money and start families as well as working class whites and artist, who cannot afford the gentrifying prices of SF anymore. This, of course, is driving up the prices within Oakland, which is effectively pushing people of color out or deeper into the hood. The new white residents and their pocketbooks are welcomed into the city with new spaces to take up, and no awareness of the land they are on and the history of colonization and racial tension within the city. For white people, affluent whites in particular, the world is their playground and they can come and go as they please, without any understanding of the consequences of their movement and actions. Privilege truly blinds.

The Oakland first Friday Art Murmur reflects the racialized class tension within the city as a result of gentrification. The murmur consists of a free art walk, where the public can check out local artists at the many exhibitions occurring at galleries around downtown Oakland. According the Murmur website,

“The mission of the Oakland Art Murmur is to support art and cultural venues that are dedicated to increasing popular awareness of and participation in the arts of Oakland.”

In theory it is an excellent event featured in a city that carries important cultural and political history. As an artist I was excited to learn about the Murmur upon moving to Oakland. It reminded me of a similar event in Sacramento called Second Saturday Art Walk, where I had my first gallery show featuring paintings and drawings at the tender age of 19. However, when I first attended the Art Murmur I was immediately disappointed with what I saw, which was a whole bunch of drunken white people stumbling around the street in front of police cars with pigs doing nothing. If black and brown people were running around in the streets with bottles in hands, the cops would call it a gang and guns and handcuffs would be drawn. My students in East Oakland can barely walk through their neighborhoods without pigs hassling their movement. This is the freedom that comes with privilege. The galleries were also full of largely white artists, white aesthetics and white rituals. I felt alienated and angered. Art Murmur had become an event to help support and facilitate the new white population moving into Oakland. It also reminded me of the importance of creating our own spaces and taking space back. This is a struggle always.

Gentrification has many layers that support the racial and class privilege within our society. Working-class white kids moving into the hood are a part of the tension, because of the privilege given to them due to their skin, but they are not at the root of the problem. In the words of Malcolm, land is the source; private property. It is the property owners, capitalists and landlords, who are at the root of gentrification. They are able to control the housing that sits on this stolen land, and therefore get to regulate the populations within the neighborhoods. White people are prioritized as tenants, just like in jobs, because they have more material privilege, and the world is not conditioned to fear them in the same manner as black people. Even within working class black neighborhoods. I witnessed this when I was waiting to look at an apartment a year ago in downtown/west Oakland. The apartment owner was an older white womyn. When I got to the apartment I saw she was in the middle of showing it to some other people so I looked around by myself while waiting. After a few minutes a young black couple came in to look at the place. As soon as the landlord saw them she told them the place had already been rented. After they walked out she turned to the women she was showing the place to and said ‘oh no they are the bad kind. Baggy jeans and white shirts that’s how you know.’ I walked out disgusted by her and the jim crow system still in full effect.

What is happening in Oakland and cities all across the world are new forms of colonization. It is Capitalism’s nature to continually look for new ways to expand and exploit all in the sake of profit. Primitive accumulation of capital is an ongoing process, where people of color historically and presently have been on the colonized side of the equation, while white people have used their privilege and power to colonize and own all the wealth within the world for themselves. This power is maintained through stripping us of ours; forcing us to live and work in poverty. Creating a stratified working-class, where we are pitted against each other for survival.

So what does fourth of July mean to me? Bloodshed and centuries of colonization that have disconnected us from ourselves and each other beginning with the stealing of land and the removal of the people indigenous to it. History that is ongoing with the gentrification of our cities. I am also reminded of the struggles, historically and presently, that have been waged to resist colonization. The worldwide revolutions that Malcolm speaks so boldly of. Today I will engage in rituals that keep that history alive in our consciousness so that we may be inspired to direct it through conscious actions for freedom.

Fuck fourth of July. All power to the people!


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