A few weeks ago I rode my bike down to Lake Merritt to experience a black business utopia. A few days later I discovered while watching the news that the whole thing would be drastically scaled back. The news spoke of neighbors complaining and the proper business permits not being held by vendors, and it all felt very typical of my city. In the early to mid 1990’s we had an annual event called “Festival at the Lake” in which hundreds of black vendors would come together to celebrate righteous blackness at Lake Merritt which is undoubtedly the crown jewel of our city. Then one year young people rioted. If I’m not mistaken they broke out the window to a Foot Locker and a few other storefronts. I don’t know why. I do know that Oakland was consistently one of the most homicidal cities in the country at this time. This to my knowledge, though I was just a young boy at the time, didn’t seem to concern the power structure in the way that one would think that it should. However, when corporate businesses were attacked on Lakeshore Avenue the footage was shown on every local news station for several days and within a few years there was no more festival at the lake.
In the early 2000’s we had something called Carijama at Mosswood Park. It lasted for only a few years until it met a similar fate. Young people once again were getting rowdy. Neighbors once again complained. The news once again played its part to see to it that the festival was shut down. I remember thinking as a very young adult who looked forward to the memorial day festival as an indicator that the summer was officially here, that my city seemed to be very proud of failing black people. Instead of ironing out the edges and considering ways to make celebrations safe, Oakland would much rather shut down all things black. This brings me back to the black business utopia that I experienced a few weeks ago.
I met a black man who was selling organic honey that he along with his son and nephew had procured as beekeepers. He, like myself, is an allergy sufferer and he began making honey because it is a natural remedy for allergies. I saw a black woman selling tacos. I bought a refrigerator magnet from a sister who does custom made engraving. I bought sage from another sister. I bought an Oakanda shirt (the fictional homeland of Black Panther and Oakland combined) from a brother with a kind disposition and an entrepreneurial spirit. And everything felt so dope. It was just so righteous and so black that I knew that it wouldn’t last– at least not in Oakland. In a place like Atlanta for example they would institutionalize this vending. Maybe they would make vendors pay a fee and regulate the products more, but their first inclination would not be to scale it down to nothing. But alas, this is not Georgia this is California. A place where integration has come to mean every nationality can profit off of black people except black people. A place where residents replace actual black people with black lives matter signs. A place where the children of black southern migrants flee as soon as they graduate high school because, ironically enough, the American South is less racist. Can you imagine that? California with all of her liberal ideology is actually more hostile to black business owners than Georgia, Tennessee, or Texas. And Oakland is proving this to be true once again. Last weekend when I went to Lake Merritt there were less than a third of the businesses that were there the previous weekend. The Fire Department was there regulating parking and interrogating vendors and it was far less vibrant. It was clear that the utopia was dying. Or to be more concise–it was being killed. It was very disheartening to know that my city would rather create laws to keep black people in their respective corners of the city than to let us make legal money in the city that so many of us shed blood for. I rode my bike back to the Eastside in a somber mood with no merchandise, knowing that my beloved city had let my people down once again.
I can’t imagine what being white must feel like. It’s baffling when I think about all of the ways in which white skin distorts the mind. Let us make a brief foray into the brain of one Henry Sintay. Henry Sintay is a white man who was born in Idaho (it doesn’t get any whiter than that). Apparently, he got into some trouble in Lake County, CA and was busted for cultivating marijuana with intent to distribute. He did over two years in prison for that offense and got out November 27th of 2017. Mr. Sintay is currently in the process of going viral for throwing a homeless man’s items—the homeless man is black—into Lake Merritt and in a nearby trash can while said homeless person was not even there. Some people, including the people who videotaped the incident and tried to intervene, are upset with Sintay while others are applauding him for restoring the beauty of the Lake. I am of the opinion that not only was Mr. Sintay wrong but he definitely needs his ass beat.
The homeless situation in Oakland is far beyond a crisis. There are encampments on major thoroughfares, under freeway overpasses, in parks, in residential districts and all around Lake Merritt. One cannot go anywhere in the city of Oakland without seeing our unsheltered brothers and sisters. It is extremely disheartening. It has inspired me to host a panel discussion. I have participated in several “Feed the Hood” events put on by the East Oakland Collective. I try to give back to the homeless whenever I can. I’ve had multiple conversations with people both online and in person about what is causing this problem. It is clear to everyone who is actually from Oakland that homelessness now is worse than it has ever been before. At no point in all of my interactions with those who live on the streets have I ever had the urge to pick up a homeless person’s belongings and throw them in the trash. At no point, have I ever held animosity towards those who live on the streets in deplorable conditions and have to beg for food.
Everyone knows that the skyrocketing homeless population in Oakland is directly related to the skyrocketing rent. It’s also very clear that while most of the homeless population is black, most of the newer Oakland residents are white. It wouldn’t be a leap for one to come to the conclusion that these new white residents shoulder at least some of the blame for so many people living on the streets. This truth is what makes the acts committed by Henry Sintay absolutely repugnant.
He’s upset at a situation that he helped to create. He is in effect raging at a man who cannot be doing any worse. A man who is sleeping on the concrete and must endure the daily trauma of living in squalor and uncertainty. And even worse he did this at a time when the man was not even there to defend himself. I will never understand how delusional one must be to do two years in prison, live in a town for six months, point to the homeless and say to himself “These people are the problem. I’m going to do something about this.” This is the very same Wyatt Earp, George Zimmerman, self-deputized, colonizer-cowboy mentality that America is built on. This is the aggressive form of outward racism that Californians like to pretend only exists in places like Mississippi and South Carolina. A lot of “good natured, liberal minded” people won’t see hatred in Henry Sintay because he isn’t an Oklahoma trucker with a Make America Great Again hat on his head. But he is a manifestation of the devil and we all need to internalize this fact. Even as an outsider and an ex-convict he knows that his white skin gives him the power to pillage and plunder. He is reclaiming the lake for his people, but unlike BBQ Becky he took things into his own hands.
I can’t fathom what it would be like to possess the blinding privilege of whiteness. I also have no clue as to what it takes to combat such idiocy. It would be nice to beat Henry Sintay’s ass though. To land a few straight rights to his nose. A left uppercut to the solar plexus. Maybe if someone made him bleed then he would realize that he is only human and not the great white god that he’s been conditioned by society to believe that he is. Perhaps the sight of his own blood on his fingertips after he wiped it from his broken nose would cause him to be humble. Probably not, albeit the fantasy is a gorgeous one. Picture a colonizer with blood on his hands, but not the blood of the natives, this time it is his own blood. Because this time there are repercussions. This time his sense of dominance is questioned. This time he losses. Can you imagine that? Can you envision the downfall of white supremacy?
I’m an avid runner. On average I run about 5-6 times a week. I hit trails, run around Lake Merritt, or spend about an hour on the treadmill. Running is so second nature to me that it wasn’t until very recently that I began to ask myself what exactly am I running from. I mean of course I’m trying to stay in shape and speed up my metabolism a little, which at the age of 30 seems to want to stand still. But I feel like it’s deeper than that.
For example I write to express feelings that are impossible for me to verbalize and I box to blow off steam, however, my reasons for running 5-8 miles a day is something that I don’t have a complete answer to. Perhaps it’s a mixture of both. After all I do blow of a lot of steam when my feet are rhythmically pounding the pavement and I am outwardly expressing my desire to reach the finish line, but really why am I so compelled to run. I’m not training for a marathon and I’m not a slave.
Often times I’ll tell myself that I’m going to spend a whole day writing and the next thing I know I’m on some trail deep in the hills hoping local coyotes don’t smell my sweat and decide to attack me. I don’t know. It’s kind of bizarre. It’s like when I’m running with my I-pod blasting I feel like I’m floating through my own self-contrived galaxy. It’s definitely a form of escapism; yet I wonder why I need to escape so often. Like this one story I’m working on. It’s very personal but instead of sitting down and cranking it out as soon as I look at it I put on my sweat pants and my sneakers and head out. Lately I’ve been feeling like a shot fighter who sees his opponent’s mistakes but can’t capitalize on them by letting his hands go and throwing a punch. I fear that I’ve become too guarded to be an effective writer. Instead of molding my issues into art I just want them to go away. It’s like I really want peace but I’m no longer willing to fight for it, or in my case I’m no longer willing to write for it. So I run.
When I was a boy I was led to believe that only the most cowardly of men publicly display their emotions. Now that I am a man I feel like a coward for not being able to express what makes me human.