Today, housing prices are soaring in West Oakland, and new construction peppers the neighborhood.
“Demographically, things are changing, and you can buy a million-dollar house in West Oakland, which never had happened before when it was predominantly African American,” Lazard said.
Mitchell Schwarzer, who wrote “Hella Town,” a book on the history of Oakland, said the city needs to preserve a large percentage of housing for residents who have lived in West Oakland for decades. But, he said, that means Oakland leaders must grapple with tough questions about prioritizing people of color who have been “subject to real egregious damage.”
“How do you make sure that those people don’t get screwed over a second time?” he said. “That’s really what we’re talking about.”
‘Let’s talk about reparations’
The racism that shaped the economic and community life of West Oakland persists, according to Brandi T. Summers, a UC Berkeley geography professor.
“It’s so present that we can’t ignore it,” she said. “We can’t believe that we can extract race from this conversation at all.”
The term “equity” has emerged as a dominant force for change at every policy level. Equity, however, isn’t a word Gordon uses to describe what’s needed for climate justice in West Oakland, because it’s not big enough.
“Don’t talk to me about equity anymore,” she said. “Let’s talk about reparations.”
A state task force on reparations is studying ways to repair the harm that emanates from enslavement and post-emancipation systemic racism. For Gordon, reparations recommendations should include cleaning up toxic sites, access to affordable housing, better health care, economic opportunities and power in planning decisions about climate resilience.
“We would have long-standing sustainability,” she said. “I would know there’s going to be housing for my children and grandchildren, so there’ll be a job for them.”
Reparations would also mean environmental justice, says Rev. Ken Chambers, a third-generation pastor currently leading the West Side Missionary Baptist Church in a small, tan rectangular building in the southwest corner of the neighborhood.
“A community with fresh breathing air, not consumed by diesel truck traffic, ship traffic, smog” could develop green-tech jobs that pay good wages and also help the environment, according to Chambers, who is Black.
Reparations that bolster the local economy, improve air quality and raise overall health could equal potential freedom from the tendrils of enslavement even as the climate emergency worsens, said Maya Carrasquillo, a UC Berkeley environmental engineering professor.
“The full freedom to say, ‘I can leave or I can stay,'” she said. “Or, ‘I have the freedom, the values and the finances to be able to make the future I want.'”
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