This statement was made to the Berkeley Planning Commission’s special meeting on the Adeline Corridor Plan on Sept. 16, 2020, represented as a “long-range…blueprint for the future,” which many “black” Berkeleyans are suspicious of.
Since Mr. Lee believes that the dangerous mythology of “race,” which has no basis in science, is the root of the even more dangerous reality of racism, he has enclosed all “racial” terms in quotes so as not to legitimize either.
Malcolm X said: If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress — because it won’t heal the wound that the blow made.
I’m not only speaking for myself, but I’m also presuming to speak for my fellow native “Black” Berkeleyans who aren’t joining this meeting because they don’t have the proper technology; because they’re intelligent enough to have lost faith in Berkeley’s pro-developer, gentrifier-friendly city government; or because, like most of us, they’ve been displaced and exiled against their will to Godforsaken cultural wastelands like Antioch and Pittsburg.
White Power and Us
The presence of “Black” and other non-“white” people in Berkeley had everything to do with the machinations of White Power and nothing whatever to do with the wishes of those of us who were herded into South and West Berkeley by redlining and restricted to these districts by the Berkeley Police Dept.
Likewise, the progressive disappearance of “Black” and other non-“white” people from Berkeley is mostly due to the insidiousness of White Power and has very little to do with our preferences.
Thus, our existence in this city is defined by our being pushed around by White Power, which obligates me to do my best to speak truth to this power.
The Lasting Wound
Despite the best efforts of “Black” community leaders to avoid our community being ravaged like majority-“Black” districts in Oakland were when BART was built in Berkeley in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Ashby Station drove right through the vital beating heart of the city’s northern non-“white” commercial and cultural district, which was known as South Berkeley Square
It ran down Grove Street, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, from Woolsey to Ashby.
This was tantamount to slicing thru our jugular vein. “Black” and other non-“white” businesses bled out to Sacramento Street and to East Oakland.
“Black” Berkeley, in particular, never recovered from the destruction wrought by creating a convenience for “white” people at the expense of a non-“white” district.
Berkeley Community Flea Market
Ironically, the Berkeley Community Flea Market occupies the very spot of this devastating economic, cultural and social violation.
Quite appropriately, the market faithfully mirrors and sustains the rich ethnic diversity, innovative entrepreneurial spirit and strong sense of community kinship that made historic non-“white” Berkeley such a unique and beloved home for people like myself, which managed to thrive in the face of the historic racism of the rest of this supposedly “progressive” city, which fought tooth and nail to integrate its schools and didn’t do so until 1969.
Who Deserves Help?
When I was in high school, I taught beginners’ swimming to elementary school students. Whenever I had to choose between extending a helping hand to a child with a flotation device and one without one, I naturally reached for the latter.
That’s what “white” privilege in Berkeley and throughout the country does for “white” people — it sustains them and keeps their heads above water.
Not only do “Black” people lack this protection, but they’re also pulled to the bottom by the weight of the ongoing operations and legacy of “white” supremacy, which is currently experiencing a resurgence, including in Berkeley, where outsiders and newcomers presume to dictate to its historic “Black” residents, even though, relatively speaking, most of them arrived here only yesterday afternoon.
So it adds insult to injury that we have to come before this body to ask for — no, to demand — the simple justice of the right of return for exiled “Black” Berkeleyans and the re-establishment of non-white,” and particularly “Black,” businesses and cultural institutions, including the protection and promotion of the flea market.
The city and BART must understand that those of us who are exiled from our home remain vitally interested in and committed to it. We not only want to come home, but we deserve to.
However, as the Portland, Ore., plan proved, the right of return is meaningless if people are offered homes that they can’t afford.
Therefore, any housing built at the Ashby BART station — which, I should emphasize, is not what the “Black” community wants — must be 100% affordable for those of us who were forced out of our community because of the harm that was inflicted by BART and the city.
Similarly, the flea market must not be shunted off to the side, where it will eventually die a quiet, unceremonious death. Instead, just as it’s the beating heart of what’s left of non-“white” Berkeley, it should also be the seed of this special community’s economic and cultural rebirth.
If the Adeline Corridor Plan does not do these two things, it’s not worth the paper that it’s printed on.
Indeed, it will be read by “Black” and other non-“white” Berkeleyans, both those who’ve managed to remain and those who were forced out, as yet another in a long train of racist subterfuges — merely sealing the destruction, displacement and disempowerment that began with the building of the Ashby BART station.
Moreover, failing to do these two things would also confirm our worse experiences of and fears about Berkeley’s endemic, systemic racism and make us question if we have a future in a city that’s mostly led by politicians who say all the right things and do all the wrong things and, through their actions, are consigning us to the fate of the Ohlone, whose land this truly is.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Paul Lee, Exiled South Berkeleyan