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The 99% and Housing and Displacement and all that…

December 12, 2011
Recently, there has been an ongoing thread on a listserve I subscribe to about gentrification in the Bayview, 
Some thoughts:
As a person who does not feel hopeful that I would ever be able to afford a bay area home (regardless of neighborhood), I struggle to understand what that experience would even be like.  But, I have been the only or first white resident on several streets I’ve lived in throughout my life, so on that front I can identify with one aspect of being a gentrifier.  On another front, being a person who is watching her mother (a woman who has worked like a dog for disenfranchised communities) stuck in an upside-down loan on a condo outside Detroit that is eating through her retirement and causing her to work when she really shouldn’t any more along with tremendous anxiety; I am pissed about what is happening around housing and displacement in our country.  And in S.F., displacement has been rampant since long before I was a young homosexual living in the Mission and the Bayview in the early 90s.
In many ways I feel that it is not the inevitable cycle of urban neighborhoods that is the real issue (although that is not to minimize the tragedy of it) but rather the fact that poor people and people of color always have to live where nobody else wants to.  Once that was the Mission and the Bayview, now it’s far East Oakland or San Lorenzo or Fresno, or all the tents in the middle of downtown Berkeley.  It’s such a fuck-you to be told to get up and give up your seat, over and over and over.  Especially when there are so many other fuck you’s happening constantly.
I commute from the East Bay to teach H.S. at a charter in the Excelsior where my student base is 98% kids of color.  Right now, I have two students, one a 9th grader and one a 12th grader who are losing their home due to eviction.  It really sucks.  There are tears and anxiety and a disabled mother with two teenage sons who may have to move into a shelter if things keep going the way they already are for her and her family (and yes, I have put her in touch with as many resources as I could shake up).  Displacement is a real and graphic tragedy that tears apart people’s lives.
The thing that is so important and so powerful is the conversation and being open to it.  For me, the stance I take in both interacting with and in serving marginalized communities that I do not belong to is that I need to listen and to be honest.  It is not my job to define the experience of my friends, students or neighbors.  I cannot say that because I try to be a good neighbor, teacher or friend that that makes me less culpable as a white or more “down” with the experience of others.  It is an understandable impulse to want to understand what others are going through, but for me, it is a necessary part of being an ally to admit that I don’t really understand and that what I need to do is just listen.  To take out my own need to be helpful and good and right and open up to the idea that people talking about oppression and displacement and pain isn’t actually about me.  It’s about oppression and displacement and pain.
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