That, as best I can tell, is the purpose of the newly expanded Nuisance Eviction Ordinance in Oakland, CA. No one behind the ordinance will openly admit to such a thing, of course, but it’s there. Oakland’s political culture is exceptionally correct, in the popular Orwellian sense of the term, but there’s no fixing its race relations by pigeonholing discussions of race and class into a narrow window of acceptable terms. Overbroad ordinances insinuating the city government (and whatever corrupt private interests have captured the city government) into landlord-tenant relationships for the purpose of arbitrarily depriving disfavored tenants of equal protection under the law are probably a result of this culture of political correctness. The disparate racial effect that laws of this sort have on black tenants is inevitable, and it’s fairly clearly by design.
Oakland’s race relations are troubled, but they’re troubled in a different way than those in most American cities. Oakland is a chronically violent city, and as with most cities, its violence disproportionately arises in its black neighborhoods and disproportionately affects the same neighborhoods, but it also has some of the most stable and enduring black middle class communities in the country. This isn’t just a function of the latter communities being affluent, as some of them are dominated by people of quite modest means, and often enough by the downright poor. It’s much more a function of their members having fundamental middle-class values, like some sort of work ethic and future-time orientation and an ability to refrain from violence. In Angeleno terms, Oakland’s black neighborhoods are less South Central and more Leimert Park.
A major railroad and deepwater port city, Oakland has a long history of vigorous labor politics. Some rather daft downmarket-bougie left elements have been given extra seats at the table by their more sensible allies, but these noisy and foolish elements generally work on mutually agreeable enough terms with the descendants of steel-balled longshoremen, porters, yard hands, and engineers who took on the shipping and railroad trusts at times when the trusts had a proclivity for serious institutional violence. Bougie leftist wankers in other American cities wage wars of attrition on the labor-left old-timers, but few of their counterparts in Oakland seem interested in waiting for the last of the Mohicans to die so that they can finally impose their utopian progressivism on everyone else. In Oakland, the Mohicans abide, even if they’re actually Cherokee or Iroquois.
Such a vigorous civil society doesn’t emerge sui generis. Oakland has had some nasty municipal governments and police. In the mid-twentieth century, for example, its police department actively recruited lateral transfers from Mississippi. These lateral transfers were Klan bruisers from violent, lily-white, officially racist old-line Dixie police forces in cities and counties whose governments, hitherto in the vise grip of totalitarian white “citizens’ councils,” were a handful of years away from being integrated by federal decree. What the Oakland Police Department had in mind in recruiting Whitey from such a distance was community policing by and on behalf of two very different communities from the ones being policed.
Oakland’s tradition of racist government has lately reemerged in the guise of gentrification. If you’re wondering about racist government by black officials, Oakland probably has more of this than Sacramento, but there isn’t much of it to be found. (Kevin Johnson is super crooked, but he’s an equal-opportunity crook, one for whom all colors fade in the presence of green.) Screw Whitey is low on the agenda. Much higher on the agenda is keeping tacitly racist Johnny-come-lately whites and Asians from muscling long-established black families out of the city. Some of these newcomers would love for the Negro to make room for them in the Bay Area’s latest up-and-coming vibrant neighborhoods and kindly fuck off to Stockton. Most of them, of course, won’t put it so bluntly. Being so forward would harsh the local mellow, and not coincidentally it would stir up political opposition from the prospectively displaced. Raising the specter of ethnic cleansing isn’t really Godwinian when non-black newcomers do in fact seem to be scheming to drive third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation black Oaklanders out of town so that they can buy into a real estate bonanza on the cheap. It doesn’t help their defense if the same newcomers seem happy to import a Latin American peasantry to undercut wages and working conditions in the menial jobs that have provided so many black families with an all-too-tenuous living.
It’s nigh impossible to say whether the dot-com mountebanks, Tiger Mom Asians, and hipster wankers moving into Oakland are really worried about insulting people of other races or about showing their hand and provoking backsass from poors whose families have lived in the same neighborhood since 1935. And that’s what’s so pernicious about the Bay Area’s neoliberal bougies. They’re slippery. They’re more than a bit treacherous, in large part because they make such a show of being nothing of the sort. At least with old-line white ethnics in Philadelphia, one generally knows where the fuck one stands. Have you ever taken a look at the people who are taking over every business community they can lay hands on from San Jose to the Mission District? It’s impossible to squeeze a straight word out of these motherfuckers.
Paradoxically, some of these Johnnies-come-lately in Oakland seem to be discomfited by the very stability and rootedness of the city’s middle-class black communities. This is probably because they feel a certain guilt in their desire to trash communities that are alien to them and not their own but that they know in their hearts are worth preserving. They know that they aren’t barging into intractably dysfunctional ghettos like one finds in the Philadelphia Badlands or in Detroit or in South Central, which is now South Los Angeles because Rodney King or something. Again, they’re too devious and chickenshit to admit to such a thing, but they have a hard time hiding their true colors.
Hence the expanded Nuisance Eviction Ordinance. Because oh no, we don’t have anything against our African-American neighbors, and we never expected that a city ordinance forcing landlords to evict tenants accused of gambling or prostitution would have a disparate racial impact and be abused for ethnic cleansing. OMG we never imagined that city officials would use their unlimited authority to evict tenants accused of minor vice crimes to drive all the poor people out of trendy neighborhoods within walking distance of BART stations.
Again, I suspect that yuppie newcomers are the main political force behind this unconstitutional bullshit. There are plenty of old white and Asian families in Oakland, but if their scions don’t feel comfortable living around black people, they have plenty of opportunities to get out of Dodge. No amount of positive law can stop white flight when a cracker really feels the urge. In Oakland’s case, the white flight has reversed, and now foolish crackas be trippin’ about brothas who don’t act hella white. I’m serious. This is exactly the kind of privileged nonsense that spews out of the bougie abyss whenever it finds an opening, and there are politicians of all races who obligingly pander to it.
Oakland’s Nuisance Eviction Ordinance is a frontal assault on equal protection under the law. I pray that it gets struck down by the courts. In the meantime, keep an eye out for unusual numbers of cops from St. Louis County matriculating into the Oakland Police Academy. If Ray “Go fuck yourself” Albers gets the opportunity to holler his word under color of authority at Oaklanders, it will be by design. The most alabaster Mississippians who will have gone before him didn’t just come for the weather.