Downtown Oakland, Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Cathedral of Christ the Light in the foreground
Many American cities that have historically had a disproportionately large African American population are maligned and dissed by many of those who live in or in immediate proximity to the city. They are often maligned by those throughout the entire state in which the city is located. They are often dissed throughout the entire country as well. Among other things, this is one of the less than subtle ways racism and internalized racism reveal themselves as continuing elements of the American ethos and landscape.
Oakland, California is such a city.
When I first told friends, back in late 1999 that I was going to be moving to Oakland, the response I received from most was swift and filled with angst and hyperbole,"O God no. You're going to be killed if you move there!" Now admittedly, I have no idea how death will eventually kiss me and take me beyond the beyond this mortal coil. Perhaps I will end up being murdered in Oakland. At this juncture however, I have lived 10 of my 51 years in Oakland and have lived to talk about it. I have never even be mugged in Oakland. Not once.
My journey to Oakland is a long and somewhat convoluted one with many quite interesting twists and turns of fate along the way. If you want that story, if you haven't already heard it, you'll likely have to wait until my book comes out. In the book the convoluted, twisty turning story reveals itself as playing an important role in both the book and my life as well. For now, suffice it to say I moved to Oakland in order to join a then recently birthed residential meditation community in The Grand Lake district, which is in fact the truth. However, it is nowhere near the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There's a whole lot of back story behind that basic truth.
I love Oakland. I truly do. I deeply appreciate its history, its neighborhoods, its diversity, its large and active lesbian community, its shrinking yet still significant, vibrant and relevant African American community, its extremely progressive religious and spiritual institutions and its artistic, anarchistic-political, in your face, fuck San Francisco vibe. But it wasn't always so for me. I know, crazy, I know. I have since however, seen the light. Literally. Hallelujah.
When I first moved to Oakland and for several years afterward, I was somewhat ashamed of and embarrassed by Oakland. I realize I must have believed at least some of the crazy stories I had heard about Oakland. I must have also internalized the very racism that underpins much of local, regional and national conversation around Oakland. Additionally, I had succumbed to the intoxicating yet somewhat artificial glitter of the famed "jewel in the crown" of The San Francisco Bay Area--San Francisco. I quickly fell under its haunting, alluring and over-the-top gay male-Castro Street Fair-Folsom Street Fair-Dore Alley-Lone Star Saloon, here dick, there dick, everywhere a dick dick absolutely orgasmic, oh yeah and it's got good restaurants too--hypnotic spell.
And it continued.
When I joined facebook in 2008 I didn't hesitate to join "the San Francisco network." I didn't even consider joining the Oakland network or some other network. I must have wanted people to believe I lived in the jewel in the crown. I must have wanted to be connected to "the crown and all its jewels." I immediately received friend requests from sexy men and others from all over the world saying they just couldn't have enough friends from the f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s city by the Bay-- San Francisco. I eventually told many of these people I really lived in Oakland and I'm not lying, several responded by saying, "where's Oakland?"
Lord have Mercy.
That's one of the first clues I had that let me know I needed to do some serious Oakland attitude adjusting. So I joined a few Oakland-based activist groups. I started taking self directed walking and motorcycle tours all over the city. I met a lot of good people and got to know the city quite well. At the time I was living in East Oakland, Fruitvale specifically. This is one of the various parts of the city that gets a bad rap. It's the part of the city where Oscar Grant was murdered, just a few blocks from where I lived, at the Fruitvale BART station. I however have learned throughout my life that most bad raps, where cities are concerned, are overwhelmingly undeserved. Bad rap cities always need a deeper investigative exploration. I later moved to the Temescal neighborhood. I continued my walking tours. I continued to grow in my love of and for Oakland.
I am currently living in Tucson, Arizona. I like Tucson and have several close friends here and a history here as well. Oakland however, as I have discovered in the eighteen months I've lived away from it, (I spent my last three months in California, before moving to Tucson, living in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco) is my home. I regret it taking me being a thousand miles away from Oaktown to finally realize just how deeply the city runs in my veins and in my heart. I am excited however, about moving back which I believe, universe wiling, will occur before the end of the year. I consider Oakland to be my hometown even though I was not born there. Sometimes, for some of us, where we were born and what our hometown is are not the same things. I am one of those people and Lexington, Kentucky and Oakland, California are part of that reality for me.
UPDATE 5/22/12: My partner John and I moved back to Oakland on January 3, 2012 and are committed to making a life for ourselves here for as many years as we are given.