Decolonial ruptures of the city: art-activism amid racialized dispossession in Oakland
Ramirez, Margaret Marietta
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Since the onslaught of the 2008 recession, the newest tech boom has provoked a perfect storm of gentrification in the San Francisco Bay Area, with foreclosure, real estate speculation, rental prices and evictions rising simultaneously, causing low-income residents to be displaced from their homes at a rapid rate. In Oakland, these forces of dispossession are particularly pronounced, and this text documents this pivotal moment in the city’s history, the post recession boom of 2014 – 2016 and its affects on low-income Oakland residents of color. This project builds a contemporary archive of how art-activists of color use visual and performance art to organize against displacement, calling attention to the intersections between racial capitalist forces of gentrification and other forms of state violence, making their communities’ struggles visible and creating resonant counter-narratives of the city they call home. In this text, I argue that Oakland has become a borderland, drawing from Gloria Anzaldúa, in which the tension, ambivalence and unrest of the borderlands offers a lens to understand the instability of cities gripped by rapid racialized dispossession. Utilizing the analytic of the borderlands, I engage decolonial and Black geographic theory to comprehend the complexities of (dis)possession within Oakland, how racial capitalism continuously denies Black, Brown and Indigenous subjects full personhood, and how (dis)possession of personhood is inherently tied to conceptions of home and land. This project also complicates urban geography’s understandings of the role art and artists play in gentrifying cities, as art-activists of color resist forces of redevelopment encroaching upon the city, and disrupt the notion that Oakland’s geographies are in need of ‘revitalization’ from elsewhere. As such this text contributes to urban geographic theorizations of gentrification and creative cities, pushing discourses of creative actors and spaces, and dislocating the imaginary of low-income neighborhoods as spaces of un-creative blight. Lastly, drawing from Black geographies and decolonial thought, I cultivate the term decolonial geographies to represent the ways that artists of color rupture the racial capitalist and settler colonial order of the city. I argue that through their organizing and creative art practice, art-activists of color in Oakland are weaving decolonial geographies, calling attention to the intersecting forms of dispossession that continually seek to eviscerate their lives and presence from the landscape, and actively produce decolonial spaces in the landscapes they reside in. The spaces, performances, art and other forms of resistance being created by art-activists of color are actively decolonizing the increasingly hostile city by creating spatial and temporal ruptures for the envisioning of decolonial futures. The spaces of collective resistance and survival created by art-activists of color become tangible through the art practice, as they work to gradually disassemble colonial and racial capitalist power structures and imagine alternate futures.
- Geography