Hipster-gentrifiers defend their illusions of ‘innocence’ in Oakland’s homeless crisis

by Kheven LaGrone

On Oct. 13, 2017, San Francisco Bay View posted my essay “Hipsters de-Blacken Oakland, cause the encampments they abhor.” In the essay, I argued that Oakland leaders helped displace mainly native African American Oaklanders in order to make room for the hipsters and gentrifiers.

Northgate-Ave-homeless-camp-resident-moves-sign-for-cleanup-052517-by-Jane-Tyska-Bay-Area-News-Group-300x201, Hipster-gentrifiers defend their illusions of ‘innocence’ in Oakland’s homeless crisis, Local News & Views
Camp resident and homeless activist Shawn Moses moves a “Homeless Lives Matter” sign as Oakland Public Works Department employees clean a homeless camp on Northgate Avenue in Oakland. Homeless people are constantly told to move their few belongings – or lose them. – Photo: Jane Tyska, Bay Area News Group

Thus, the hipsters and gentrifiers have a duty to help solve the homeless crisis. However, several commenters to my essay showed ignorance or denial in defending their “innocence.”

One commenter sarcastically wrote, “I really miss all the murders that would happen around my block before the hipsters came.” He stereotyped all displaced people as murderers. By dehumanizing and vilifying the displaced human beings – even if it’s a lie – he justified hurting them. Oakland must not be a part of this.

Another commenter wrote, “Since when do people have the right to set up tent cities on public sidewalks?” In my essay, I explained how the people in the homeless camps were victims of Oakland’s gentrification. Yet, this commenter made the homeless into brazen lawbreakers. Thus, he justified their removal.

Another commenter laughably wrote: “Oh, your gonna blame ‘white’ hipsters now. Get a grip asshole. We are all being squeezed. Just more divide and conquer rhetoric.”

This commenter obviously did not want to hear facts that went against his beliefs. He used name-calling to try to shut down the conversation. From his position of privilege, he trivialized and dismissed the situation of the people in the encampments by writing, “We are all being squeezed.”

Oakland-hipsters-at-Art-Murmur-First-Fridays-2012-by-Wikimedia-web-300x225, Hipster-gentrifiers defend their illusions of ‘innocence’ in Oakland’s homeless crisis, Local News & Views
These Oakland hipsters at First Fridays Art Murmur are hanging out on the sidewalk too, but their relative wealth makes them welcome.

All this commenter had to do was open his eyes and he would plainly see that the fashionably dressed hipster buying expensive food and drinks at a trendy bar is not suffering like a homeless person in an encampment.

Did he really believe that we were ever united when he didn’t even want to hear us?

Seeing so many African Americans living in encampments and white hipsters at expensive bars and restaurants, how could one not think of race? Yet, one commenter wrote that it was lazy people who had been displaced:

“It seems that all you see is race. You know what I see? I see people who want to live in a demanding market, with a drive to be successful in it. And no, you don’t have to be a ‘white hipster’ to accomplish this. It’s supply and demand. The job market all throughout the Bay Area (not just Oakland) demands for more jobs, so people are here to supply it, and you can be any race.”

As he read in my essay, Oakland displaced African Americans in order to create that “new” Oakland that this commenter sees now. The commenter didn’t mention why so many African Americans were displaced or living in encampments. He simply dismissed any discussion of race.

This commenter may soon see how reality determines one’s fate. East Bay Times published “Bay Area hammered by monthly loss of 4,700 jobs” on Oct. 20, 2017. This was in addition to the 2,400 jobs losses reported by the EDD for August 2017. Thousands of people are losing jobs – whether or not they work hard and have the drive for success.

If Oakland is to address its homeless issue honestly, it must not allow such commenters to remain ignorant of their roles in creating those encampments. Ignorance is bliss. It allowed these commenters to have guilt-free fun even as they passed the encampments.

But Oakland must stop coddling these commenters and privileging them to be ignorant. Oakland must not make decisions that privilege such ignorance. These commenters should not just be “listened to”; they need to be “lectured to.” Hopefully, with more reality, they will eagerly support those less privileged than they are.

Kheven LaGrone, activist, writer, artist and curator, can be reached at kheven@aol.com.