Racism Broader Issue in Alameda Society

Racism Broader Issue in Alameda Society

Rasheed Shabazz

Amos White’s commentary about the appropriation of the magnolia tree (“Gone with the wind, Andrew Jackson, Racism and the Southern Magnolia tree”, Jan. 13) also lists Alameda in the top 10 most racist cities in California. “Alameda was recently ranked eighth on the List of the Most Racist Cities in the Golden State, largely due to its number of klaverns (chapters) and Ku Klux Klan officers per capita at the height of peak hate in 1940,” White notes.

Since the article White references resurfaces on various Alameda social media platforms from time to time, I want to point out three of the issues with the validity of the 2016 roadsnacks.com ranking — the website also includes other esteemed rankings like the 10 “most ghetto” and “kinkiest” cities in California.

First, the “ranking” methodology references the Virginia Commonwealth University’s “Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940.”

This multimedia project maps the chartering of Klaverns based on documentary evidence to demonstrate local branches persisted after the mass movement seemed to collapse by the end of 1925. Alameda Klavern No. 39 appears in two publications and VCU lists Alameda’s Klavern 1930 chartering twice. Thus, the ranking website overestimates the number of Klan chapters in Alameda. Still, the VCU website is valuable for local case studies, despite roadsnacks.com’s flawed calculation.

Second, the VCU project lists Alameda Klan No. 39’s founding date as 1930. However, the Alameda Chapter of the KKK started as early as 1924, with documented activities as early as 1920. According to sociologist Chris Rhomberg, author of No There There, “In the 1920s, the city of Oakland was a center of Klan activity in California.”

In 1926, a major local Klan figure was elected as Alameda County sheriff. In the City of Alameda, the City Council twice denied the KKK use of public parks for a “ceremonial.”

The Alameda KKK also protested the rezoning of a school building for Japanese children in 1926. This raises interesting questions as to how active and influential the KKK was in Alameda between the two World Wars. But how relevant is a 90 year old Klavern to today? Sure, descendants of Klavern members may still live and may hold some sway in Alameda, but the ranking makes no connection between past and present.

Finally, the KKK is not the only proxy for white supremacy. The absence of the KKK does not mean the absence of racism. While the KKK was influential and active in the City, County, and region in the 1920s and 1930s, there are other important metrics to measure racism in Alameda today.

Housing is one area where systemic racism continues. I’ve documented racially restrictive covenants in deeds in four Alameda neighborhoods (“Black History Month, Feb. 12, 2019). Although no longer legally enforceable, these same areas of Alameda that restricted Black and Asian residents have the highest concentrations of white homeowners in Alameda today.

As I wrote two years ago, (“Black History Month, Mar. 21, 2019), according to Policylink and the National Equity Atlas, “93 percent of Black residents are renters.” Overall, 53 percent of Alamedans are renters. Alameda has a legacy of racially exclusionary policies including zoning, redlining, publicly enforced segregation, and real estate discrimination.

The legacy of residential segregation and school attendance boundaries has impacted educational experiences.

In the last decade, Alameda Unified School District (AUSD)’s Black student population has declined 37 percent, or 459 students, according to the state Department of Education. Last school year, the state identified Alameda as a district with “significant disproportionality.”

For three consecutive years, Black students “have been identified as children with disabilities, specifically, with certain kinds of disabilities, at a higher rate than peers of other races.”

Among other causes of significant disproportionality include “policies that rely on subjective Racism Broader Issue in Alameda Society Commentary In addition to arbitrary policing in schools, Black people experience systemic racism from law enforcement. b RACISM:
assessments of student behavior” and “practices and procedures that result in students being categorized and consequenced rather than supported and coached.” The subjective assessments of AUSD’s barelyany-Black-folks staff results in less opportunity for Black children.

In addition to arbitrary policing in schools, Black people experience systematic racism from law enforcement. As noted last year, (“Watkins arrest reminds Alameda of things past,” Jun. 25, 2020), in response to a number of racist Alameda Police incidents in the 1990s, the 1991 Mayor’s Committee on Ethnic and Cultural Diversity found that “Racial problems do exist in the City and Police Department.”

The concerns persist. The 2021 draft recommendations from the Committee on Police Reform & Racial Justice found that “... arrests rates of people of color exceed their proportion of the Alameda population, increasing the potential for negative outcomes for our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.”

Longtime readers may recall when Ted Koppel asked Nightline viewers, “What is the most racist city in America?” and a caller responded: “Alameda, California” (“Toward a more equitable society,” Jun. 7, 2020). We can find a more effective way to accurately document Alameda’s past and present racial inequality in order to create an equitable and just future. I’ve suggested developing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Beneath the surface, unequal outcomes in housing, education, and policing in Alameda grow from the same roots.

While I certainly appreciate symbolism and their impacts and share concerns about urban forestry and environmental justice, let’s not miss the forest for the trees, whether Oak or Magnolia. Rasheed Shabazz is a writer and West Alameda resident. He is currently writing a history of African Americans in Alameda, titled Alameda is our Home.