Notes on The Fire at 73rd and Macarthur

EAST OAKLAND FIRE AFTERMATH

I sat in Eastmont Barbershop for hours as a young boy. Looking out of the window while waiting on the best fade in town. I stared out onto 73rd and Macarthur Boulevard at all of the Cougars and Mustangs, Chevelles, Novas, and Cutlasses that were coming from the carwash on 90th and Mac and gearing up to hit the Foothill strip. They would rev their engines up until the 73rd light finally changed then they’d peel out down the block. This was back in the 90’s when the Foothill Strip was two lanes and everyone who had access to a car from all parts of the town would ride it every weekend all the way to Lake Merritt. It started right there on 73rd and Mac. 73rd and Macarthur is the gateway to Deep East Oakland going one way and the start of the Foothill strip going in the opposite direction. It lay right in the center of the largest black community in Northern California. It’s a major thoroughfare. It’s important. And now as of yesterday morning the whole block has been burned to the ground.

 

As I look at the changing demographics in the area right above Macarthur Boulevard and to a lesser extent below it I suspect, no I know, that it’s a blatant case of insurance fraud. A few blocks down on 77th and Macarthur there were also a few businesses that were burned under mysterious circumstances. Someone is reaping the money from this destruction while local children must endure a neighborhood that looks like present day Damascus. These building will remain burned out until enough white people move into the neighborhood. Then they will buy it and then this community will go the way of West Oakland, the way of Brooklyn, the way of Brixton, and the way of D.C. And all things poor and black will be shipped off to a suburb 50 miles away.

 

To love a ghetto as much as I love mine may seem oxymoronical to an outsider. I love the way we struggle. I love the bluntness and the humility of hood life. I love the pride of the people even though it is far too often misplaced in street corners and cars and gang signs. I love the blackness. Much more significant and perhaps much more telling, however, is this fact: I love my hood because my hood is all that I know. I’ve gotten degrees and come back here. I’ve gone around the world and come back here. I’ve taken a chance with a woman or two but always I’ve come back here. And now as I look at 73rd and Macarthur the only thing I see is my childhood all aflame and my heart in ashes. The invaders have made their move and indeed they have left their mark.

 

-YB

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