Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 9, 2019

Guest Yes on A blog: Rasheed Shabazz

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:10 am

Alameda, the City of Beaches and Homes. “Everyone Belongs Here,” (‘unless you are “homeless.’)

Alameda has a long, long history of policies which have excluded, quarantined, and expelled poor people and people of color–especially Black people. Racially restrictive covenants, redlining, and exclusionary zoning at the ballot box are collective manifestations of residents stating who belongs and who does not.

While Alamedans have produced and reproduced racist ideas to advance their interests, others have consumed those ideas–even when it conflicted with their economic interests or contradicted some of their more righteous beliefs.

Examining some of the campaign strategies of the Friends of Crab Cove and the potential impact if Measure B passes shines light on the underlying racism at work and what’s at stake.

“I have a Black friend (of Crab Cove)”

In order to to prevent accusations of Measure B being labeled racist, the Friends of Crab Cove misused the name of an iconic civil rights organization. The first person listed as signing the argument in favor of Measure B is “Marva Lyons, former president, Alameda NAACP (chapter currently inactive).” The Alameda NAACP branch has been inactive for over 15 years. Mrs. Lyons was president of the NAACP 25 years ago.

Why use the name of an inactive organization and a decades old title? It’s the ‘I have a Black friend’ fallacy.

Since the NAACP is dedicated to eliminating racial prejudice, implying the Alameda NAACP supports Measure B attempts to neutralize accusations that the Friends of the crabs are racist. By misrepresenting the Alameda NAACP brand, the FOCC uses a single individual of a disproportionately impacted demographic to erase the impacts of racism in housing and health. ‘We’re can’t be racist. We have a Black friend. An NAACP leader!’

Although the local branch is still inactive, the Alameda NAACP Organizing Committee working to reorganize the branch issued a statement that they have “not taken a position on the matter, although racial justice, housing, and health have been important matters to the NAACP.”

“Homeless is not a noun”

Alameda’s public discourse around housing has long been full of coded classist and racist rhetoric, like “dregs of society.” My last guest blog detailed many of these dog whistles used to signify who belongs and who does not. These codes appeal to implicit biases, unconscious biases people develop. Measure B proponents portray homeless people as criminals who will threaten Alameda’s “SAFE Family-Friendly Parks” and “our children’s future”.

Considering the documented implicit association between Black people and crime, the connection between homelessness and institutional racism, and how Black people are often the face of homelessness in news stories and fundraising pitches, it leads me to wonder: who do FOCC proponents evoke and who do readers imagine when seeing, “This County Facility will bring 1,000’s of HOMELESS to Alameda EVERY YEAR”.

By the way, “Homeless” is not a noun. It’s an adjective. FOCC repeated reference to people experiencing homelessness as “homeless” and not “homeless people” shows the pervasiveness of the dehumanization taking place in this campaign..

“My neighborhood does not end at the estuary.”

Black people in Alameda disproportionately experience homelessness. According to a 2017 count, 49 percent of Alameda County’s homeless population is African American. The percentage of Alameda’s Black population is less than half of the County percentage. Perhaps implied in the fear of “others” coming to Alameda is a fear of “others” coming to the island. This is the othering or “us vs. them” Lily Conable wrote about.

The xenophobic fear is on display in the recent mailer from FOCC which claims that “95% of the homeless will be from outside of Alameda.”

One might translate the contents of mailer as stating: ‘Those people do not belong here in our Alameda. Our police will be helpless protect and remove the disease-infested encampments full of “needles, feces, trash” from our safe, family friendly island.’

When I said, “My neighborhood does not end at the Estuary,” I was affirming that being human does not require an Alameda address, our circle of concern should include people beyond the island, and the need for Alameda to finally provide its “fair share.”

“Alameda as the exclusive province of middle- and upper-income homeowners”

In 1989, an Alameda County judge ruled that the City’s policies discriminated against poor people. In order to save the prized exclusionary zoning policy, the City settled a lawsuit led by two Black residents.

In filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney, Mike Rawson, said “By filing the suit, (Clayton) Guyton and (Modessa) Henderson hope to eliminate all city policies that severely limit the ability of the city to fulfill its obligation to provide housing for low-income families.” He added, “They also hope to educate and go at least part of the way toward changing the attitudes of some city residents who would see Alameda as the exclusive province of middle- and upper-income homeowners,” said Mike Rawson.

Interestingly enough, Barbara Thomas, an attorney for FOCC was on the City Council apparently opposed the settling the Guyton-Henderson lawsuit.

Thus need to change attitudes (and actions) in Alameda continues.

The effort to stop the wellness center is explicitly exclusionary and implicitly racist. FOCC attempted to use a Black woman in anticipation of concern that their actions would have racist impact. This special election echoes a long history, going back to 1964’s Proposition 14, in which producers of racist ideas and policies have attempted to use the ballot box to exclude people and convince the electorate to vote again their best selves. Voting for Measure B does not make you a racist, but using your power to oppose a wellness center for unhoused people reinforces institutional racism.

Vote Yes on A, Vote No on B.

Rasheed Shabazz is an Alameda historian.

3 Comments »

  1. Well said, and thank you for saying it. Racism has been as much a part of Alameda’s makeup as beaches and homes.

    Comment by Eyeroll — April 9, 2019 @ 8:38 am

  2. Thank you, Rasheed Shabazz!

    The racist and classist bias against people of color, renters, and the poor held by many Alamedans — including one “crabby” former mayor who claims to be “one of them” — seems almost as strong today as it was when Linda and I bought a home here in 1997. (We matched the “desirables” profile when we arrived: we were homeowners, married, heterosexual, and Caucasian.)

    Although half of Alameda residents are renters, it has become clear to us since we joined that “underclass” in 2009 (we are still straight, white, and married, but nbow we rent) that the dividing lines of class, color, and income are firmly entrenched: the Measure B propaganda — much of it misleading or false, as shown above in the (not really) “NAACP endorsement” — only confirms the existence of the classist/racist divide in Alameda — which, sadly, exists throughout our beloved nation.

    Time to go vote YES on A and NO on B.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — April 9, 2019 @ 9:17 am

  3. The zoning used to keep Alameda as “the exclusive province of middle- and upper-income homeowners” is now keeping the children of those homeowners out of their hometown as well. With time, exclusionary housing policies increase in scope and impact. With it’s current housing policies, the state of California is moving towards becoming a society of lords (housing owners) and peasants (renters) with impacts on all races, but especially those races with lower incomes.

    Comment by William (Bill) Smith — April 9, 2019 @ 4:57 pm


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