Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 15, 2020

Who tells your story

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:05 am

Remember when I said that nothing will change, even if we overhaul the entire way we do law enforcement in this city, if we do nothing about the systemic racial issues.  Well one of those major issues around race and implicit bias has to do with who we view as  authoritative voices on the history of Alameda.  In 2018 the Guardian ran a piece criticizing a Hoover Institute conference which featured only white people (and the majority of them men) and reflected on who we elevate as historians worthy of accepting as an authority figure, highlights:

While public history generally is strong and healthy, who is given a platform remains problematic. We are starting to see more women and historians of colour on television, but still too narrow a range of historians gets heard. Instead, a few “big names” dominate – often white, male voices.

As well as needing to hear from a wider range of voices, we need more diversity in the kinds of history that feature in public debate. The emphasis is usually on grand narratives of long-term change and continuity, yet often the detailed, rigorous research of a particular event or time period or analysis of ordinary people’s experiences can have the most impact. Hearing from a more diverse range of historians would help introduce a wider range of methods and perspectives to the public.

When the issue of renaming Jackson Park was brought before the Rec and Park Commission the first thing one of the commissioners did was to doubt the authority contained in the letter from Rasheed Shabazz, a longtime Alamedan and Black man.  Rather than accept the supporting arguments in the letter as factual, the letter was questioned:

“Someone gave us a letter, puts in facts in the letter but how do we figure out are these facts correct.  You know the history books I read as a schoolchild are different from the history books now. And there’s a lot of, you know, opinionated history that goes out there now so, it’s like, maybe we figure out, okay who is the historian or what is correct in history and we find out who is that author.”

And then elevates the Alameda Museum as a trusted reference source or forcing all information to be vetted by staff:

While some members of the commission fall all over themselves to declare themselves as not questioning of the facts and historical references he has provided (see Ruben Tilos above), they do just that by pivoting to suggest that the Alameda Museum should be the reference point for all things historic or that city staff must vet references provided by the public, even though commissioners could easily verify on their own what is sourced material and what is not.

And Rasheed Shabazz himself identified the unspoken bias that was implied by the commissioner:

“I do understand the concern about the validity of something done by particular sources, if it is done by someone associated with the Alameda Museum is seen as more legitimate; more valid.  Versus just Rasheed, I’m from Buena Vista, it may not be seen as — I don’t think ya’ll think that —  but it may not have that same sense of  validity. So I just want to question that idea of having to rely on the “authority” around the subject.”

I will say that if there is anyone in this city that has any standing to talk about Alameda and the historical Black experience it’s Rasheed Shabazz.  He is the only historian who ever discusses Black issues in Alameda.  If you look at the record of public lectures that have been held by the Alameda Museum, there was not one lecture focused on Black issues until 2017.  Since 2001 when the Alameda Museum started its list it look 16 years for there to be one lecture with a focus on Black Alamedans.  Rasheed Shabazz was invited back in 2018, but in 2019 he was not.  In fact Black history has been featured only three times in the Alameda Museum’s lecture history.  Glasswork has been featured the same number of times as Black history.

Even though all 2020 lectures are now cancelled, this was the first year that the lecture series was featuring anything having to do with Asian-Americans in Alameda.  Since 2001 there has not been one lecture specifically focused on any of the many Asian-American communities in Alameda.

If we don’t, as a community, view non-white people as historians or believe their stories are meaningful to share then we’ll continue to have conflicts over who has the authority to simply take up space in Alameda.  We can’t hold up only white people as the only legitimate keepers of Alameda’s history.  And we can’t keep telling the same sanitized history of Alameda of architecture over and over again when there are so many stories of the people of Alameda that have yet to be told.

7 Comments

  1. Attorney General, Bill Barr says that “History is written by the Winners”. Unfortunately, this thinking appears to be upheld in many of our institutions.

    African American history and Asian history is generally separated from the required history classes taught in many of our universities, and one is encouraged to take an elective class or “Ethnic Studies”, if we want to learn more.

    The separation of our history from the American story and required history classes taught in our universities, is a way to keep students ignorant from the truth, and a way to diminish the value and contributions people of color have made to this country.

    In my opinion, correcting this “separation” is an important path towards racial healing.

    Comment by Karen Bey — June 15, 2020 @ 8:27 am

    • Black Studies and Ethnic Studies only exists because Black youth and other “Third World” peoples challenged the University.
      The experiences of Black people are important enough to be courses or university departments.
      AND, the general curriculum needs to decenter Europe (aka white supremacy) and reflect the history of peoples of planet earth.

      Comment by Rasheed Shabazz — June 15, 2020 @ 5:41 pm

  2. Rasheed? You are the best! Who on the West End doesn’t know this dancing fool – thank you for bringing the love. Best wishes to your wife and may you have many children.

    Comment by Bart — June 15, 2020 @ 9:02 am

  3. So the boomers at Alameda Museum can’t put on a Zoom lecture series? Is the Alameda Museum a public or private entity? How many lectures on Native Americans?
    Ruben Tilos should be ashamed of himself for not listening to a member of the community who IS an expert. Plus, it really makes you question whether he does his due diligence in other matters. There is a wealth of information on Andrew Jackson on the internet. Then he gets elevated to the open government commission. This is how we get lackys as public representatives and we wonder how things get so screwed up.

    Comment by michonnekatana — June 15, 2020 @ 9:18 am

  4. Thank you for the kind words, Lauren.

    Ruben Tilos’ effort to undermine the conversation and renaming of Jackson Park is one example of how non-Black people of color participate in anti-Blackness.

    I had a similar experience when I informed the Alameda Architectural Society of their oversight of putting a plaque at the AMP Central Substation while not acknowledging the dispossession the Hackett family experienced.

    Also it is not reflected on their website, in 1992, Vickie Smith hosted a program with the Alameda Museum focused on African American history in Alameda.

    What happened during those 25 years in between her presentation and mine? Not much.

    Comment by Rasheed Shabazz — June 15, 2020 @ 5:47 pm


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