Sitting still behind large windows in a cafe on Fruitvale, I watch the faces that pass by rather than concentrate on the work I should be doing.
I grew up here. Unlike most in this neighborhood, Dimond, I have roots here. My grandfather haunted this same cafe when it was owned by a different family. I went to school with the daughter of someone my grandfather would meet and hang out with at the cafe. She and I had a mutual but unrequited crush in high school. When I look out the window I do not see her. I do not see my grandfather. I see the clash of gentrification with the Oakland I am familiar with.
I had planned to sit here and work after my interview today, but I can not concentrate. I am unsettled. I want the job, but they are not hiring. I knew going in to the interview that they are not hiring. I did the interview to get my foot in the door, have a conversation, introduce myself, and learn more about the firm. After learning more about RDG, seeing the work environment, and talking with a few of the landscape architects, I want to work there more than I did before. I regret not applying to work for them back in 2007 when I first met one of their employees and was invited to apply. I was far too loyal to Miller Company for my own good.
While sitting here and thinking about my future, I look out these windows on to the same sidewalk I walked as a child holding my mother's hand, and later as a youth wandering with my friends. The faces on the street now are different, but there is a familiarity in some. I do not know most of these people. It is not that. But I can still see the Oakland I remember sometimes on an old woman's face, or the old black guy cruising past on one of those motorized seat things for old people. Then a Chinese man walks buy with groceries. I recall him from the bus stop. He must live somewhere near by. A gorgeous young woman walks by. She reminds me of Tricia, a black woman - Egyptian she would say, deliberately invoking Cleopatra and Nefertiti to herself - who I worked with at Lucky's grocery store in Lakeshore when I was 19. She was cocky and an operator. She knew that I wanted her, and parlayed my desire into rides home, borrowed money and so on, while she dated another woman working at the same place, and then cheated on her girlfriend with other men or women she met at the clubs she used my money to pay her way in to. It is funny that Tricia's behavior never bothered me. I knew what she was about when I met her. She thought she was slick, but even at 19 I could see through her. There was an honesty to her body language even if lies were all that came out of her mouth.
A group of young girls, all white, clearly middle or upper middle class, wealthy, confer with one another while feeding the parking computer terminal thing with money. These are the new people. The people who do not remind me of Oakland, but instead represent the new. Like the young white boy with a goatee who was in here earlier. In a few respects he resembles what I would have looked like at his age had I not grown up here. There is something unseasoned, uncultured, and unsophisticated about these people. He has not had friends or acquaintances killed or paralyzed by a bullet crashing a party somewhere in East Oakland where the police treat every young black male from the day of their birth as a criminal just for breathing and being. There is no sense of the injustice, the brokenness that comes with the "real" world. Instead I see the blank unformed faces of suburbanites who grew up playing soccer on clean green fields in some placeless place in anywhere America. I do not know if that is what they are or what their experience has been. Some of these people are actually from here, but they still don't belong. There is an oblivious ignorance, an entitlement that rubs me the wrong way. Its the same white middle class naivete that I grew up with. Its the part of myself that I have long rejected and fought. The privilege and comfort, the stupidity from lack of experience. I've always been stupid, naive, the dreamer dreaming of a better world, unrealistic about what I am capable of doing to make that vision real, and I have hated all of this in me, except for the dreamer. I hate my white middle class upbringing, the privilege and comfort, what it means in terms of deprivation for others, and my own lack of merit. I can never earn anything and deserve it because everything that comes to me is largely a gift of my own privilege. I hate that.
But I sat in that interview today, and I thought of all the time I wasted at war with myself, unable to accept success, sabotaging opportunities that came my way because I did not earn them, disrespecting my education, feeling sick whenever I was given praise that I knew I did not deserve. Feeling like a domesticated cat escaped from a high rise apartment and trying to make it in the alley on scraps with the real cats, and out of his depth whereever he goes. Out of place amongst my own kind, and too naive and stupid to live on my wits on the street. Yet here I was today sitting in an office of a firm which did the work I have always wanted to do, stream restoration, open space conservation planning, park improvements, the works, and I felt like I did not belong because I had not fought tooth and nail to make everything I could out of myself. Instead I have been in conflict with myself, prone to failure, to doing things the hardest way I know just so that I can feel like I deserve my place, like I paid my dues, and that I did not sell out. What does any of that matter? All that really matters in that moment is the work, the work that needs doing, and if I want to be the one to do it, then I should use everything I have at my disposal to put myself in a position to do it. I have not. I have been too busy trying to burn white middle class privilege and comfort from my soul, to telling myself I do not deserve anything and believing it instead of ignoring such bullshit and simply doing what needs to be done.
When I look out this window and recognize Oakland on the face of another, I am seeing what I wish I was. Worldly. Tough. A survivor. Able to smile in the face of adversity and shrug it off with the will to do the right thing. And the will to make a space for yourself regardless of whether anyone will accommodate you.