From Temescal to Uptown

at 11:35 PM

On a chilly night last year, my partner and I were mugged at gunpoint in North Oakland by a serial mugger. He allegedly went on to hold up and shoot two men, one of whom did not survive.

The mugger was black and my partner and I are white. Almost without fail, well-meaning East Bay citizens have responded with something like: "I'm glad you're not making this an issue of race."

The thing is, they're wrong. I have made it an issue of race. Just not in the way they mean.

I have lived in Oakland for over six years and watched it gentrify at a breakneck pace. From Temescal to "Uptown" to West Oakland, again and again, historically African-American neighborhoods are claimed as "urban" enough for the well-heeled looking for a gritty bargain.

My partner and I live on the edge of Piedmont and Oakland in a residential and unhip area. We picked the location -- a mixed-class combination of apartment buildings and houses -- because we could afford the rent on our nonprofit salaries while avoiding surrounding neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.

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The night we were mugged, we made our usual walk home from BART -- a mile and a half journey made on foot because we couldn't afford a car. The street in Temescal where I found myself on my knees, execution-style, sports new condos and cute houses. The police later said it's likely we were cased at BART and mistaken for new Temescal residents: hip, young and white. In other words, easy marks.

Since then, I have thought a lot about race in Oakland. I have reconsidered, yet again, if I can disengage from an economy that exploits its poorest residents. I have thought about the developers who have created meccas for San Francisco's East Bay flight, pushing long-term residents further and further east.

Obviously, the man who mugged us is responsible for his actions. But the problem in Oakland is a crisis and the effect of gentrification on the Oakland landscape and the discontent it breeds belongs to us all. Until we claim responsibility as a community, I am afraid that easy marks on both sides of the issue will continue to be targeted, whether by developers or by criminal opportunists.

With a Perspective, I'm Page McBee.

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