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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Oakland Ends Racism With New City Department

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge PETER LAWRENCE KANE
  • Peter Lawrence Kane

Oakland, Calif. – Until just days ago, Oakland suffered from the symptoms of systemic racial injustice common across the United States: higher mortality and foreclosure rates among black residents; higher unemployment among minorities, concentrated poverty an in unjust distribution of city services.

But since the Oakland City Council created a city department to hold other city departments accountable for creating plans to apply services equitably among constituents, those have become problems of the past.

“I can read now,” said third grader Crissy Bledsoe, who until Monday was functionally illiterate as a result of an inadequate and poorly staffed public school system. “And my lead poisoning feels much better.”

Such good news is common now in Oakland, where entrenched discrimination has proven no match for the plans filed with the new city department.

“My awareness has really been raised,” said Bob Shelding, Oakland’s Deputy Director of Public Works. “It turns out my department was perpetuating a system of injustice, which when you look at it closely was not only racist but patriarchal, and not only patriarchal but colonial, and not only colonial but full of micro-aggressions.”

Shelding shuddered. “Micro-aggressions,” he repeated. “Can you imagine? Well, no more: now that someone has brought racism to our attention, you can bet we ended it immediately. Frankly, I wish someone had mentioned racism to the city council sooner. It really should have come up.”

The new department’s success isn’t surprising, as no well-intentioned city plan has ever failed at any time, ever.

“Honestly I’m surprised it took us 60-odd years to think of this,” said sponsoring city councilwoman Desley Brooks. “But I’ve looked through cities across America, and apparently not one has ever established a department, commission, or committee to address racial disparities. You’d think there would be thousands and thousands of these kinds of things all across the country, but that’s crazy, because it would mean they’ve failed every time. Obviously, this is the right strategy.”

Still, Brooks wasn’t leaving anything to chance, and has made sure the new law has teeth.

“The new Department of Race and Equity can bring literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to bear on the problem,” Brooks said. “That’s one of the key differences: no one has ever spent money to stop racism before.”

“While I’m at it,” Brooks added, “I’m thinking of raising Holocaust awareness, which I’m pretty sure will end anti-Semitism. It’s a pet project.”

Critics once said that the creation of a high profile city department to solve an intractable social problem is in fact merely a symbolic gesture, more flash than substance, most likely to lead to distracting bureaucratic turf wars.

But one-by-one they dropped their critique in the face of success stories like Michael Johnson, who since the department’s founding has been released from prison, earned a double doctorate in biomedical infomatics and cosmetology, and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his development of a cure for HIV.

“Screw it, it’s over,” said former Klansman Stewart Bragg as he burned his confederate flags. “They’re putting together a documents that will need to be filed with the Mayor’s office. That changes everything.”

But not all is blissful in Oakland. Though her life is unquestionably better now, young Bledsoe said that not every problem has been solved by racial equity.

“They tell me you can only really appreciate Proust in the original French,” she said. “That seems disempowering to me.”



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Benjamin Wachs

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