It’s one of the first questions I get when meeting someone new. It’s an obvious fact of life I can’t hide from.
Yes, that is in fact an accent you detect. No, I’m not from this country, and yes, I do live in Oakland.I’m A Brit.
I say bloody hell as opposed to hella. Chips you say? I call them crisps. The staple Adidas classics Run DMC debuted in equally classic Run–D.M.C? Those are trainers, my friends. My family is divided on Liverpool F.C and Chelsea F.C, the British equivalent to Battle of the Bay. We can go on, but you get the gist.
I live in Oakland. My kids go to school in Oakland. I created my business in Oakland. Over the past 2 1/2 years that I have called Oakland home, it has been an integral part of my existence and growth. It’s of no surprise that some of the realest and creative people I have met on this planet were born in a hub of cultural creativity just 10 miles outside of SF.
In the time I have moved here, I have seen a lot of changes in Oakland, particularly downtown. Everyday, I see a new notice of a license to sell alcohol on the window of a dusty vacated building. I see affordable restaurants with a longstanding history in their community close down due to rent hikes, only to re-open with new management as a hipster dive bar serving spring water with artisanal ice cubes (yes, that is a thing). And beards. Everywhere.
For some time, I felt it wasn’t my place to say anything, being a gentrifier myself. I felt that I didn’t have anything conducive to add to the conversation, or that my opinion was invalid. However, after much careful thought, I realize I do have something to say. For some of us, being a gentrifier is another fact we cannot hide from. We clearly are, but that doesn’t give us a pass to behave like one. For my gentrifiers, here’s my list of 14 ways not to act like a gentrfier (as told by one).
1. Support the Local Economy
Shop local. This is at the top of the list because if we want a thriving Oakland, we need to have a thriving local economy. Support your local businessperson. By investing in the local economy, you’re investing in your city. This is fact.
2. Keep your business in Oakland!
If you are a business owner such as myself, put your business and taxes into the city you live in. Be a job creator for your local community, and make sell goods and services that are affordable to those of various incomes.
3. Be an advocate for affordable housing
Just because you can afford that lovely new loft on Broadway doesn’t mean everyone else can. If you know the history of gentrification in Oakland, I’m sure you know about the 10k plan to entice wealthy San Franciscans to move downtown. I’m also sure you know that meant displacing the homes of people who resided here before you did. That said, be an advocate and ally in the fight for affordable housing. On that note…
4. Don’t take up necessary space
Last year, during the height of protests after the murder of Mike Brown, I noticed something unsettling. I noticed people, referring to themselves as white allies, taking over, directing and co-opting the Millions March (an organized and peaceful protest, the work of various community organizers), redirecting the march with their own political agendas (while being white doesn’t make you a gentrifier, both are afforded certain levels of privileges). That is not an ally. You are taking up space that doesn’t belong to you, using your privilege to perpetuate the cycle of silencing others by overstepping your boundaries.
5. Respect the existing community
Learn the history of the community you are now residing in. Get to know your neighbors, smile when you cross paths on the sidewalk. We all saw the video that went viral of residents new to SF’s Mission District attempting to interrupt a local game of footy (Brit slang for soccer) because they wanted to play on the space they rented out, rather than sharing space and respecting local field rules. Don’t be a poor sport, respect the community that was there before you. And say hello every once in a while, for fucks sake!
6. Support our local artists! They’re the reason we’re here!
Support local artists. You don’t need to wait on your favorite band coming to town. Support the ones that live and breathe Oakland. In fact, some of my favorite artists are from The Town, like The Seshen, MADlines and Zakiya Harris, to name a few. And yes, I will totally scoff at you and judge your ass if I see generic Ikea wall art in your living room. Oakland is HUB of artists! Being an artist is hard anywhere, but it’s especially hard when you’re living in a city where rents are the second fastest rising in the entire U.S.
7. Fight for a living wage
In March, Oakland raised the minimum wage in the city to $12.25 per hour, thanks in part Lift Up Oakland, and Oakland voters who voted yes on measure FF. This is definitely a win, but it isn’t enough. Regardless of your income, we all need to be fighting for a decent living wage that doesn’t require working 80 hour work weeks at three different jobs.
8. Understand your privilege
So many people take it as a personal attack when the topic of gentrification comes up. I’m sure those who have lost their homes, were forced to relocate, or lost their jobs to gentrification take things personally too. Do not try to defend your place, rather, listen and understand the real and valid concerns of those around you.
9. Do not describe parts of Oakland you’re unfamiliar with as ‘sketchtown’.
Because you have not taken the time to familiarize yourself with certain neighborhoods doesn’t make it ‘sketchy’. And stop referring to an area as “the bad part of town” because you can’t find anyone wearing a flannel button up and Ray-Bans within a 1/2 mile radius. Never use words like this to describe Oakland. These phrases are not only inaccurate, they are problematic and steeped in racism.
10. Give thanks to those who put care into Oakland
Give thanks to all the service workers who work tirelessly day in and out to maintain the beauty of Oakland, those who do the jobs the rest of us aren’t willing to do. Appreciate and value their existence and all that they do.
11. Understand Systematic Racism
The system is not perfect-far from (and if this Brit has some input, it is quite backwards). Let’s stop using phrases like “If people would just pull themselves up by their bootstrap” or “the American dream is attainable” or “If only people would quit complaining and stop being so lazy”.” First off, fuck you. Secondly, understand that a system that favors certain groups over others makes for an inequitable society. And yes, while ultimately we must depend on ourselves to rise above, one shouldn’t have to jump through loops for a decent education, a safe and environmentally sound place to live, healthcare and access to food that doesn’t kill you. Things that others take granted.
12. Don’t support the police state
Quit calling the police over every little thing! We live in a police state that does not value Black, Brown, Trans and women’s lives. Do no support-and be a part of- state sanctioned killings.
13. Get Invloved
Oakland residents have long been involved in activism work. Align with some local causes, organizations and community leaders that resonate with you. Like Urban Habitat, The Justice Collective, Causa Justa:: Just Cause and Hack The Hood, to name a few.
14 Love Oakland
Last, but not least…Bloody—Hella love Oakland and all the amazing people that make Oakland, Oakland!
Here’s some more pieces that are definitely worth reading on the topic of gentrification:
At Wear Your Voice:
20 Ways Not To Be A Gentrifier In Oakland-via Oakland Local
Who Is a Gentrifier, and What Should They Do?-via rooflines.org
There’s Basically No Way Not to Be a Gentrifier-Via citylab
Ravneet Vohra is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Wear Your Voice Magazine, an Oakland based publication redefining the way women are represented in the media. She’s a mum, motivational speaker and writer based out of Oakland, CA. Her favorite food is her mum’s homecooked curry, and if you were wondering, Ravneet is team Chelsea FC. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.