Remember By Doing

Who’s the hipster?

Posted in Uncategorized by rememberbydoing on March 27, 2010

No one wants to a hipster.  But what is a hipster?  I only hear about them, and I have never seen one self identify themselves.  It is what I define myself as not when I am in a situation where I feel uncomfortable about the number of folks like me around, because folks like me (white, artsy, young, bikers, college, coffee) are usually in spaces that were poor, people of color places not so long ago and are now partying in.  It’s a label for a phenomenon that gives people some distance from the politics around it.

Hipsters and gentrification have an important intersection.  Hipsters (the blanket term describing mostly liberal white kids who reject some aspects of mainstream culture) are the hand of the gentrification zombie that is pushing itself through the door of the Bay Area.  I live in North Oakland, a neighborhood that’s seen a lot of change recently.  Once kids like me start moving into the neighborhood, it is invariable that they will attract a bunch more, and the developers come soon after.  Before becoming politicized, gentrification seemed to me to be an organic, unstoppable aspect of urban living.  In Oakland, however, the clarity and intentional nature of gentrification – aka removing poor/people of color – is being combined with a “Gang” Injunction which has been filed in North Oakland.  The gang injunction, which is filed by the City Attorney John Russo against a list of individuals they have deemed to be in a gang and therefore greatly limits their activities in a certain area, is the policing arm of a political move to “clean up ” Oakland – get out the poor black and brown folks and youth who are vulnerable to policing to make way for developers. 

In attending Oakland Police Department’s strategic plan meetings, it’s clear that the OPD is trying to use policing as a tactic of economic development/gentrification.  This “gang” injunction, filed against up to 70 community members, makes non-illegal activities suddenly illegal (having a tattoo, hanging out with friends or family, being out past 10 pm), and takes away the rights of those filed to public defense.  It is happening behind closed doors to the effect that folks in North Oakland have no idea what’s going on (it was already voted down by the City Council back in February).  There are community members pushing back.  Today we did outreach and I was able to meet one of the men listed on the injunction. A friendly 30 year old, this young man laid out some details of the police harassment he and his family and friends experience.  His father has lived in his house in North Oakland for over fifty years and has had his house shot at by nearby shootings and ripped up by rude police, and also spoke of the strength of his neighborhood.  No stranger to violence in Oakland, he is full of disbelief that gangs exist in North Oakland, and full of anger that his son is being targeted.  His friends spoke about the lack of activities for young folks and the recent shut-downs of schools, rec leagues, and other activities that keep young people busy and out of the way of cops.  The man listed on the injunction spoke of how his tattoos had been photographed and the ways that the cops had named him as a gang member: his NY Yankees hat.

I wear an Oakland A’s hat occasionally, have a tattoo, I’ve smoked pot, and have been pulled over by the cops maybe once or twice.  In my whole life.  I live 3 blocks from these guys, engage in similar activities, and yet live in a dual reality.  That is privilege.  If I didn’t have the political tools I’ve found in conversations, organizers, organizations, and books, I would be able to stay in a vague state of disapproval and anxiety, kept isolated from the people down the block facing harassment and displacement.  I would be a hipster without any reason or way to be properly pissed and be living in my life (I mean, ah! ah! ah!).  I would be able to see that the Austin guy who flew his plane into the IRS didn’t cause racial profiling of white balding country band players because of white privilege, but that story wouldn’t lock into my own reality as a white party kid living in a neighborhood slated for development.  I could get mad at the Teaparty terrorists harassing politicians in Washington DC and analyze that it’s privilege that’s keeping them and other people like them safe from police and military terrorism, but I wouldn’t be able to see how that privilege is an act of daily poison right on my own street.  My own privilege of being kept away from the police – while I behave – kept me away from associating with the black folks I keep being told are dangerous to me and this system that privileges me.  It keeps me away from my neighbors and from a version of what’s going down that gives me some places to dig in and stand up.

Well fuck that.  Today has made clear that they are if they take you at night they are coming for me in the morning and it is time to rise up together. So yeah, I’m a hipster, I guess. I am up to my neck in different kinds of privilege.  I’m a frickin’ artist.  I have chickens.  But no one can afford to be vague anymore.  Being awake takes work, pain and discomfort (and honestly, I’m not used to being uncomfortable) but being asleep will give you nightmares.  There is nothing unstoppable and once the surface is disturbed there’s some ugly shit lying under the rocks.

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