I ask again, am I racist?

Karla Torres,
Oakland, CA

Am I racist?

This is something I’ve been asking myself recently as I’ve encountered new neighbors living on my street. This neighborhood has always been predominantly black and Latino and while there have been issues between the neighbors, things have never gotten to this level of uncomfortableness. All the homes here have been inhabited by the same long term tenants but now people just buy homes and rent them out to anyone for easy money. I’ve lost my sense of safety and I am angry that I no longer feel safe in my home. That I can no longer walk out of my house without feeling like someone is watching me.

These neighbors embody all the stereotypes you see of black people in the media. They engage in illegal activities that while not rare in Oakland are rare for this small community. They play loud music after hours. They fight with each other. And when neighbors approach them to talk about their concerns, they immediately turn combative and want to turn everything into an altercation. So how do I approach them?

How do I tell them when I have issues? I’m scared and my fear is making me lose empathy for the plight of black residents in Oakland. I’ve always debated people on the issue of gentrification because I’ve always felt that it is unfair for black and Latinos to be pushed out just when the city is revitalizing but now I feel like gentrification can’t happen fast enough so that I can feel safe once again. They trash the neighborhood with condom and swisher wrappers.

Of course I know that they do not represent all black people since I’ve met many in college and in my personal life that have other goals and aspirations. However my fear is overtaking me and it’s pushing those few who meet these stereotypes to the forefront. Now when I think of black people I think of my new neighbors. I find myself wishing for stronger policing to deter crime because that’s a faster solution than using education or the redistribution of wealth. I felt bad for black youth who ended up incarcerated but now I ask myself if they maybe led lives that drove them to that end. How much can we blame on institutional racism? How much can be attributed to the individual’s own choices? Are we too quick to blame institutional racism? It’s not right but that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. And I wonder what’s the solution? What can we do as a society? I know poverty is a never ending cycle but even poor people have manners and education. I am by no means privileged. I also come from a disadvantaged community but for me criminality was not the solution. But I will acknowledge my privilege in that I was raised by both of my parents who were hard-working and provided for me. This house was what they bought with their savings. Now I don’t feel safe in my parents home where I pay the mortgage. I don’t want to feel like this because I have two nephews who are half black and I don’t want someone to judge them before meeting them. I don’t want someone to be scared of them when they seem them and yet I am doing the same. What can I do? How can I approach them? How can I hold on to the last shreds of empathy I feel towards the plight of the black community in Oakland?

So I ask again, am I racist?


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