In recent weeks, Oakland's Lake Merritt has been the scene of a racially tinged dispute between drummers and their supporters and neighbors complaining about noise. (Sandhya Dirks/KQED)
Vincent Ray moved to San Francisco right after finishing medical school. He was excited to start his residency in a place like the Bay Area, where he believed everyone is accepted.
He says that all changed when he moved into an apartment building in the city's upscale Nob Hill neighborhood. Ray, who is black, recalls a woman holding the elevator for him when his hands were full one day.
They both said hi, and then started chatting.
Ray recounts: "She said, 'Do you live here?' and I said yes, I live here. And she said, 'Hmm, that's odd. I could have swore that the tenants and the management, we had a discussion that we weren't going to be allowing black people to live in this building.' She said it very matter-of-factly. And she said afterwards, 'Well, I guess that's progress for you.' "
Ray was stunned.
"At the time, I think I probably looked like a deer in the headlights, because really I was not expecting it at all," he says.
Later on, when he told cab drivers his address, they would be surprised.
"No black people live up here on Jones and Clay," they would say, implying that his neighborhood was a white space, where an overwhelming number of white people congregate.
People of color are usually absent from white space altogether. When they are in white spaces, they're often not expected or they're marginalized. One classic example of a traditional white space is the country club.
Racism Is a Regular Part of the Black Experience Because of the 'Iconic Ghetto'
Black spaces are the neighborhoods and places where black people congregate. Elijah Anderson, a Yale professor and leading urban ethnographer, refers to black spaces as the "iconic ghetto."
"Blackness is associated with the ghetto. Not just the ghetto as a place, but a ghetto as something that can be carried on the bodies of black people," explains Jones.
Many listeners called in to share their experiences of being white and not feeling welcome in black spaces.
One online commenter, who identified himself as white, says he feels unwelcome and unsafe in neighborhoods like Hunters Point and East Oakland.
"It seems the situation is much worse for white people in black spaces than black people in white spaces. I have been physically attacked for being white in a black neighborhood; few blacks are ever attacked for being black in a white neighborhood," wrote DeBlo.
Another caller shared a story about being white and feeling unwelcome in a black church.
People shouldn't be unjustly targeted or attacked for being different, but imagine feeling like this on a regular basis, says Jones.
"If you are a black person, it's very hard to live in the world without having to go into white space. If you are a white person of a particular class position, you can make a choice about whether or not you go into black space," Jones says.
Bell agrees, saying a story about how "this happened to me one time" is not the same as "this happens to me all the time."
"When a black person tells you a story about racism, they're telling you the greatest hits," Bell says. "They're not revealing that [the same thing] happened all day long, every day."
More Cosmopolitan Canopies
Our world isn't limited to these unique spaces fraught with tension. There are some places where people of different ethnicities, social groups and races coexist in comfort. Anderson calls them "cosmopolitan canopies."
One listener pointed to the Downtown Oakland YMCA as a space of rich racial harmony.
"I was in a class and we were stretched out with our feet behind us, and in front of me, in the row in front of me, there was a black woman, an Asian woman, a Latino woman and a white woman," said caller Betsy Franklin. "And I was staring just at the bottoms of their feet, that's all I could see of them. And I noticed that they were all the same color. If you had to guess what race each person was, you absolutely could not. Because they were all the same color. It just brought it home to me that all we are is different skin colors adapting to different environments, and that's how we evolved."
Many people choose to live in the Bay Area to be part of a more tolerant and open-minded society where we can celebrate our similarities and our differences. So how can we create more of these canopies here?