You Tell Us: The Oakland Diss

All of us know it. That pregnant pause after you tell someone you live in Oakland. “Nice weather over there, right?” You then have to tell them how long you’ve lived here and how little you’ve been shot at. “Yeah, I always hear about how dirty Oakland is, with crime and…” Depending on the person, this could either end right here or they could go into an anti-Oakland diatribe, excluding you from it because, you know, you are from the “nice part” of the town.

People in the Bay Area love to diss Oakland. It’s as much a pastime as is complaining about parking in the City, or getting your lunches from the Whole Foods buffet. The majority of the disses are fueled by the media. The news never talks about Oakland unless there’s a murder or a protest to report. Even my sister in Illinois calls me when they hear about the latest Occupy events. “Are you OK?!” “Yeah, just a couple dozen protesters for a few hours, no biggie.” “How many people died?!”

The rest of the disses come from people who don’t even know. They fear Oakland because that’s what you do in the Bay Area. It’s like we are the Boo Radley of the neighborhood, and nobody even dares to knock on our door because some guy one time told a friend that people in Oakland hate puppies and practice dark magic.

And you know what? I love this! People who don’t even want to get to know Oakland are making my rent cheaper and my neighborhoods cooler. Our diverse and delicious food will be appreciated only by the adventuresome; our beautiful lake and parks will be enjoyed only by the fun and free-spirited; and our festivals and celebrations will be genuine and organic.

You don’t like Oakland? Good, stay out, we don’t want you.

You obviously don’t have the appreciation for natural beauty that we cherish here. Oakland isn’t perfect (and even I, a local, know that International Boulevard past High Street makes me automatically become more religious), but that’s what makes Oakland great: because it’s flawed you fall in love with it harder than if it were Stepford. It takes time to know our town, but the rewards are priceless. It’s like you join a really select, but really cool and friendly club, and you don’t care what others are murmuring. Oaklanders are proud of Oakland because it’s real.

People are welcome to actually get to know Oakland, but honestly, if you are not curious, we are not gonna beg. It’s really not our style; maybe try Walnut Creek.

Jaime Zepeda is a proud Oaklander who doesn’t mind geese poop around the lake. He’s a project manager for a consulting firm in San Francisco, and writes random musings on his blog: jayrzee.wordpress.com. 

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You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to staff@oaklandnorth.net. We’d love to hear from you!

All essays reflect the opinions of their authors, and not of the Oakland North staff or the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Oakland North reserves the right to edit submissions for length, clarity and spelling/grammar. Oakland North does not pay for the the publication of opinion pieces. You Tell Us submissions must be written in civil and non-offensive language. We do not publish hate speech, libelous material, unsubstantiated allegations or rumors, or personal attacks on individuals or groups.

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16 Comments

  1. Nina

    This is great to read after the recently published very hateful article about Oakland in the NYT.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/magazine/oakland-occupy-movement.html?_r=2&WT.mc_id=NYT-E-I-NYT-E-MAG-0731-L1&nl=el&pagewanted=all#1

    • D

      you thought it was hateful? I thought it missed the point among otherthings, but was otherwise an interesting portraiture

  2. I know the Oakland diss all too well. Sure, the media plays into it, and for you, cheap rents are good. But blighted and crime infested neighborhoods lower property values, reduce the tax base, and keep us underfunded. This in turn means fewer services, including fewer police. To protect us from what? The imaginary, over-hyped crime? Hardly. Unfortunately, Oakland’s bad reputation for crime and inept government is all too deserved. This does not make Oakland cool or organic.

  3. bbb

    You do not love Oakland, you love parts of Oakland. You do not love the parts that result in a string of robberies over several weeks of established restaurants in nice neighborhoods. You do not love the parts that result in police shootings, and even the gunning down of four of Oakland’s finest. You do not love the parts that are unsafe even for children to walk down the street with their mother or father in broad daylight.

    There are two Oaklands. Unfortunately, we suffer locally and nationally for that which the city is unable to-and is out of-control.

    I love Oakland, but only parts of it.

  4. livegreen

    100+ people are getting murdered here every year. The City is a center for child prostitution. We have rampant gang problems that are oppressing neighborhoods and even some schools (keeping kids of color down).

    The police solve on average 10-20% less murders that other PD’s around the country, mostly because we don’t have enough Officers, including Investigators. & half of the Investigators we do have spend time on the Riders NSA, not on crime against Oakland citizens. & I haven’t even mentioned rapes, robberies, burglaries, etc. (which happen all over town regardless of neighborhood).

    I love Oakland, from it’s diversity, it’s schools (yes there are great schools!), it’s thriving art & restaurant scenes, it’s great cultural institutions (the zoo, Chabot, Fairy Land, the Paramount, Fox, Grand Lake etc Theaters, etc.).

    Yes most of the media doesn’t pay enough to the positive things we have going on (of course they do that on all topics).

    But we’ve still got 100+ people dead EACH YEAR, we’re still a center for child prostitution, for a rampant gang culture, etc. etc. etc.

    Until the City deals with this (& I mean really deals with it) we can’t blame the media and simply walk away from it, expecting it never to improve.

    & Oakland will only improve and deal with it’s crime problems (real & perceived) when it does what other great liberal cities like New York, L.A., San Jose, and even SF have done:

    –Hire enough police to deal with the problem;
    –Bring city salaries in line with the incomes of Oakland citizens (instead of matching NYC & SF then slashing services & increasing murders).

    As it is now instead we hover just above Stockton (with a little more income & by having slashed services to citizens) and our city leaders seem just fine with it.

    No tangible solutions are being offered. & tangible solutions are the true sign of leadership.

    • christopher biagas

      All I gotta say is, Oakland is not made for everybody to like it, we just have zero tolerance for bullshit, so don’t come playing

  5. Phyllis White-Ayanruoh

    I love Oakland but OMG the bird poop around Lake Merritt drives me absolutely up the wall.

  6. Kali

    author is living in the haze of those who haven’t had first-hand experience with the crime in oakland “yet”. then you won’t love oakland so much, you will move to another part of the bay, and you will join those who diss oakland. after living in oakland for 10 years as an upstanding and nonviolent citizen i’ve had a friend robbed at gunpoint, a friend carjacked and stabbed, i’ve been sexually assaulted.

    wake up, you aren’t living the dream. you are living in one of the most violent cities in the nation — where it isn’t safe to walk the streets alone at nite, the police force is so brutal/racist/ineffectual it may be overtaken by the feds, and prostitution and homelessness are rampant. if you want to justify it by saying its hip, more power to you.

    those of us who have been beaten, robbed, and raped will happily diss your city and leave it to you.

    • I’ve lived in Oakland all 35 years of my life. Oakland has many major problems but for every problem there is also something positive. There is a lot great things happening in Oakland and a lot of terrible things happening in Oakland. Not a lot of in between. And every person has their own individual situation. Some people are struggling and unhappy, some struggle but still find happiness. And there are people doing well but are unhappy. This is true all around the world. Oakland seems to have more passion than most places, both passion of love & hate. I have been robbed by gun point 3 times, twice in Oakland & once in San Francisco. So is SF a bad too? No. Even in East Oakland there are streets that are relatively safe to be on, and streets you should not be on unless you have business there. San Francisco & San Jose both have areas in which there are heavy drug trafficking and violets just like Oakland. Oakland has areas in which crime is low and most of the residents are wealthy ( Montclair, Rockridge, Piedmont Ave, Park Blv, Lakeshore, Skyline, and Sequoia Heights) just like SF & SJ. Oakland is a city with many issues, but it is also a beautiful city with more nature in cooperated in the city than most urban areas & Oakland has unparalleled culture( food, music, dance, sports, and activium)

  7. don

    “we just have zero tolerance for bullshit” is one of the funniest things I’ve read in months. This city employed Deborah Edgerly. It elected Ron Dellums. It spends what little money it scrapes together on grandiose idiocies like “Coliseum City” instead of what it needs: cops, street cleaners, and auditors. I’d say Oakland’s tolerance for bullshit is through the roof.

  8. Frank Snapp, Guerrilla Gardener, North Oakland

    Oakland is derided in the media for many reasons, most of which are inflated or simply wrong or for issues seen out of context, which context is amazingly beautiful setting, imperfections fixable, socially and ecologically growing more advanced with a sparklingly inventive citizenry that leans toward the humanitarian. The people of Oakland, as an example of our good qualities, “stick” better in the people skills, acquaintanceship sense more commonly seen outside of California and rarely seen in stuffy, smelly,peculiarly and gravely insular soon to be even more Giulianized, flakey pomposity island, aka San Francisco, for example. You can keep that little which hunting Hitler, corporate ass licker, Lee, for instance.

    Bottom line, the real fundamental reason for the nationally organized (yep, top-down) hate fest against Oakland is not due to its crime (it’s not the most crime filled and certainly nowhere near as bad as many dozens of other U.S. cities if broken down category by category); but is due to the fact that Oakland way back in 1946 got itself together to have something today unheard of, the General Strike, which sort of labor strike is responsible for all business revene that small businesses gather, for all benefits that we 99% who work had before the Reagan era started and now eroded no matter the marionette administration in DC, for the formation of the EPA, the weekend, for OSHA, for all of what little social safety net we have, for all that most of what little is left of and of whatever existed in the U.S. of a middle class ever had or counted as a pleasure. The richest bring nothing w/o self interest or horrible parasitic exploitation strings negating their grants and foundation “generosity”. The workers generated all that is good for the masses and Oakland, CA, was the very last city in the U.S. to have the balls to have a general strike. Funny, Oakland rawks even though we are treated to nearly unending negative propaganda in the national media and by casual reactionary snobbish regional genuflection by increasingly worthless know nothing yuppy nimby wealth worshippers. Worship the goddess nature and community values or get the hell out. Spoken by a resident of a proudly moon in Scorpio city.

    I bet the wealthy thought it was all over when after WWII Oakland brought it by General Strike in 1946. By then it was that most horrifying thing the wealthy could have imagined from labor, a culturally and racially diverse uprising in solidarity. Want to see another case, a national one, where the punishment by the rich in the media and practice (enforced by U.S. military) has gone on for centuries, study Haiti, the nation where ex-slaves through off France, a colonial power…the first in the Hemisphere to do so, unless you count the uprisings by some NM Pueblo nations, also significant.

  9. Frank Snapp, Guerrilla Gardener, North Oakland

    The way to fix problems, in disagreement with posters above, is to love it all, and everyone in it. if we turn to fascism and me firstism, we lose. that’s just the way it gbes for humans who have no choice but to share, to end exploitation of others.

  10. greg robb

    Oakland will tumble and burn to the ground when the Hayward fault cracks at 6.8-7.2M. That’s 32,000 times the energy shake of these little 4.0 quakes we have every few months.

    It would take an army of works to quake retrofit all the houses.

    When the giant kindling box Claremont Hotel burns, so will the rest of Oakland.

    To drastically slow crime, Oakland could install video for all streets.

  11. F.W. Lee

    As a former resident of Oakland (now in SoCal due to a promotion), Oakland has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, you have a city council that hampers opportunities (e.g. failing to pass rules on food truck zones, tech zones), inconsistent and vague rules and regulations, and the negative outsiders who trash Oakland only to go back to their city (e.g. Berkeley, Portland, SF). As an investor, Oakland would be the diamond in the rough and hidden jewel (e.g. road less than traveled) I would invest in a variety of entrepreneurial ventures (e.g. tech infrastructure, green tech, MBE-owned startups). Cities like SF and Palo Alto are roads constantly travelled by the usual suspects. But let us really get to real reason why Oakland gets a bad repute. Like Detroit, DC, Compton, ATL, and Inglewood, Oakland has a large Black and Hispanic community and there has always been stigma that if there too many Blacks and Hispanics, then the city is bad. Sorry, but that is the elephant in the room and the statement. Sad observation, but we still live in country where if perception trumps reality.

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