The Color of Power

The Color of Power: Racial Coalitions and Political Power in Oakland

Frédérick Douzet
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Color of Power
    Book Description:

    The Color of Poweris a fascinating examination of the changing politics of race in Oakland, California. Oakland has been at the forefront of California's multicultural changes for decades. Since the 1960s, the city has been a shining example of a fruitful liberal black-and-white political partnership and the successful incorporation of black politicians into the political landscape. But over the past forty years, the balance of power has changed as a consequence of dramatic demographic trends and economic circumstances. The city's formerly dominant biracial political machine has been challenged by the demands of new multiracial interests.

    The city, once governed by a succession of black mayors and majority black city councils, must now accommodate rapidly growing Asian and Latino communities. While the black-led coalition still relies on white progressive support, this alliance has weakened due to a shift in the progressives' agenda and the voting habits of the black community, the rise of a Hispanic-Asian coalition, and a strong demographic decline of the African American population. With similar demographic changes taking place across the nation, Oakland's experience provides insight in to the multiracial future of other American cities.

    The Color of Powerinvestigates Oakland's contemporary racial politics with a detailed study of conflicts over issues like education, elections and political representation, and crime. Trained as a journalist, a political scientist, and a geographer, the author provides a unique perspective supported by numerous maps and extensive interviews.

    Winner of awards from the French Society of Geography and the French National Academy of Sciences

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3284-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Bruce E. Cain

    Racial and ethnic relations in America are evolving continuously, shaped by policy shifts, economic circumstances and demographic trends. For much of the post–World War II period, the defining racial paradigm was biracial as America gradually worked through the residual effects of slavery and post-Reconstruction Jim Crow discrimination. The end of racially defined immigration quotas and the economic pull of Mexican undocumented labor ushered in a new era of multiracialism, the effects of which were initially most visible in the Southwest and West. But now the effects of immigration have reached into almost every region of the country. What was...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In their bookProtest Is Not Enough¹ (1984), Browning, Marshall, and Tabb argued that minority incorporation in the political life of cities was based on biracial coalitions formed by the electoral mobilization of African Americans combined with the backing of progressive whites. Although Hispanics were at times associated with these coalitions, their role was never necessary or sufficient for minority political incorporation up to the early 1990s.² The city of Oakland, California, was one of the case studies Browning et al. picked as a significant example of successful liberal black-and-white coalitions.

    After several decades of experience with African American mayors...

  6. 1 Racial Diversity: A Central Political Issue
    (pp. 9-36)

    The shift of a black and white biracial model toward a multicultural model is a new phase in the long history of racial politics in the United States, a history closely related to the country’s immigration policies and economic conditions. Two questions constantly recur, one or the other dominating depending on circumstances. The first has to do with the assimilation of a mass of foreigners who pose economic, political, and identity problems, the second with equality of opportunity and equality of results in connection with the adoption, followed by the side effects, of affirmative action policies.

    In periods of large-scale...

  7. 2 Blacks Come to Power
    (pp. 37-63)

    Like many other American industrial cities, Oakland had to face severe economic, social, and political problems in the mid-1960s. As Watts burned in 1965, many experts were worried about the city’s situation, considering it the next potential candidate for urban rioting. The massive injection of federal funds limited the risk of violence in the city that nonetheless witnessed the birth of the Black Panthers. Organizing to distribute federal assistance fostered the emergence of a black leadership that, because of the unrelenting resistance of the white oligarchy in power, took a long time to win office. It was not until 1977...

  8. 3 Economic Developments: The Shrinking of the Pie
    (pp. 64-89)

    Oakland’s difficulties in overcoming painful economic changes contributed to giving successive black administrations in the city a reputation for incompetence that tarnished the image of the city and eventually fed black voter disillusion. In addition to the rapid deindustrialization of the 1970s, California was struck full force with the recession of the late 1980s. Oakland suffered even more than other cities in the state from the general economic slowdown, aggravated by the sharp decline in defense-related industries. In the mid-1990s, growth returned to California, but it was not enough to lift Oakland out of the economic doldrums in which it...

  9. 4 Diversity and Perceptions
    (pp. 90-123)

    In May 1996, in a move reflecting the minority population’s heightened desire for recognition, the Oakland City Council decided to rename one of its major streets, East 14th Street, International Boulevard. This artery, running from Lake Merritt downtown to the neighboring city of San Leandro, became a symbol of the city’s ethnic and cultural diversity. This breath of ecumenical and multicultural celebration in Oakland provoked sarcasm from the most critical. Merely by going down the boulevard, one goes alternatively through homogeneous cultural neighborhoods and areas of astonishing diversity showing how porous borders are between neighborhoods. Areas of real ethnic mixing...

  10. 5 The Redistribution of Power in Oakland
    (pp. 124-172)

    Holding the promise of more effective defense of minority interests, political representation, and political participation, was at the heart of black demands in the 1960s and 1970s. The conquest of power was not, of course, an end in itself but represented the possibility of finally creating the conditions for access to greater social and racial justice. It was also a sign of true integration. Progress is often measured by the elected offices and the political representation achieved by African Americans in the course of the last three decades, as well as by their accession to key economic and administrative positions...

  11. 6 Education: A Means of Integration?
    (pp. 173-208)

    The school issue is the focus of most of the debates swirling around multiculturalism. Most ethnic and racial groups see education as the source of all evil and of every hope. As the transmitter of culture, education is thought to have the virtue of moving minds toward ethnic pluralism and greater tolerance for difference. It is seen as a site where a common culture can flourish that would be able to preserve and even exalt the diversity characteristic of the American population. A social crucible, it is thought to provide access to knowledge for the most disadvantaged groups, offering every...

  12. 7 Race, Crime, and Justice
    (pp. 209-250)

    Every introductory approach to the city of Oakland begins with its crime rate, simply because when any resident of the Bay Area, finding out you’re going to Oakland, wants to know why, tells you to be very careful and not to go alone, and gives you a list of the neighborhoods to be avoided at all costs. Perception of crime is at least as harmful to the city as its reality. The Bay Area sees Oakland as a black city, which means also a danger zone. Residents have their own mental maps of safe and dangerous neighborhoods according to the...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 251-262)

    Since this book was first published in 2007, Oakland has suffered a number of severe blows. The subprime crisis devastated the most fragile old neighborhoods while ruining the hopes of recent investors in the brand-new developments of the previously booming housing market in downtown and West Oakland. The revenues of the city dropped with the loss of transfer taxes, the economic recession, high unemployment rates, and the California state budgetary crisis, triggering a huge city budget deficit.

    The African American mayor elected in 2006, Ron Dellums, a popular congressman drawn out of retirement by a coalition of community leaders, turned...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 263-280)
  15. Index
    (pp. 281-295)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)