By Carroll Fife
After Civil War Reconstruction, white men fearing loss of privilege and power used intimidation, manipulation, and violence to influence the law and maintain systems of dominance.They did this because emancipated and free African Americans were beginning to engage the economic and political systems previously inaccessible to them. Black leaders set out to expand the rights of individuals who designed and built this country, yet had been denied its benefits.
The quest of Black elected officials was equity and autonomy. The response from White America was panic. It is now as it was then. And like clockwork the reaction is to “Make America Great Again.”
Unfortunately we don’t have to go back hundreds of years to experience “whitelash”, nor do we have to look to the deep South. Right here in Oakland, a push for fairness in the legalized cannabis industry has caused a similar knee jerk reaction in those who would deny entry opportunities for Black and Brown residents in the above-ground economy.
Currently, People of Color are less than 5 percent of the industry and many would keep it that way.
A recent mailer depicting three City Council members as “stooges” with a black fist ripping an oak tree from the ground is circulating. It conjures images of violence and racism similar to leaflets circulated by newspaper editor John Mullaly during the Civil War.
He condemned the war to be “wicked” and “unnecessary” because it “would solely benefit negroes,”. The Oakland mailer targets the elected officials for pushing racial equity in an industry that has criminalized and jailed Blacks and Latinos for engaging in practices that will now legally create wealth for everyone else.
The idea that we should reject equity is just wrong. As residents of this city, we should all push for equity and fairness. Justice begins with leveling the playing field.
It is one thing to have a perspective about the processes of City Hall, it’s entirely different to represent African American and Latino elected officials as caricatures because they present something you disagree with.
The offensive and demeaning representation of these individuals is reminiscent of an era in American history when it was commonplace to publicly undermine, mock and dehumanize POC leadership.
A deeper look at the creator of this mailer raises concerns about the potential racist mindset of it’s designer and the movement to kill the Equity Permit Program.
According to the Eastbay Express, Eugene Gorelik, who is listed on the flyer, is the same landlord that repeatedly hung Donald Trump banners from the rental home of a disabled, African American senior he evicted on Christmas Day.
Regardless of Gorelik’s opinions and tasteless commentary, it IS the responsibility of lawmakers at all levels of government to create equity in systems that have been responsible for historic disenfranchisement.
It is imperative, for all to prosper, that communities of color have a seat at the table and the ability to build their own tables. It is the obligation of the Council to do the right thing in service of public good.
Because the system has primarily benefited a few white men, it’s often challenging for them to see things more inclusively.
Entitlement prevents a true dialogue on how to achieve equity. As we countdown to the presidential inauguration, the nation is on edge. People are concerned about Trump’s Cabinet as well as his rhetoric and what it incites in his followers.
The soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief has made it okay to be sexist, racist, and xenophobic. Some fear a rise in white nationalism on a spectrum ranging from everyday discrimination to more white supremacist martyr’s like Dylan Roof.
In Oakland, we fight. It’s the diversity of this city that gives it strength. We must support policies that promote economic self-sufficiency, particularly for those who’ve been under attack.
I urge the City Council members who are working for REAL equity to continue the fight.
We are moving in a direction that will create community wealth in places where it doesn’t currently exist, increase small businesses and jobs for residents, and allow people who would otherwise be displaced to remain in the city.
I am confident that we will end up on the right side of history and that Oakland is Doing the Right Thing for the Cannabis Equity.