A mural taped to my kitchen floor is distracting me today.
It’s unfinished and will remain so until the eve of my birthday celebration when party attendees will add the finishing touches: messages of love, peace, prosperity and gratitude.
At dusk, we’ll parade through our neighborhood—the streets where Oakland and Berkeley tangle together—and tape our artwork to some to-be-determined neglected façade. There it will hang radiant and glorious until its more than likely rapid demise.
One section will be left blank for passersby to add their own messages of good will and inspiration.
We will create this mural not from a feeling of “need” but rather as an offering and exploration of community collaboration.
I keep drifting to the fabulousness of it all …
Its ephemeral nature.
Possibilities for frequent change,
This mural, similar to a sudden pop-up “park-let” or repainting of section 8 apartments may be considered an act of gentrification.
This leads me to question, am I a gentrifier?
My afternoons are spent “interning,” volunteering, dancing, reading and creating—a luxury, I can’t not imagine, nor associate with the workaholicism of a gentrifier. Surely I, a Black female with an income just above the poverty level is not the face of gentrification. I can’t write code. I don’t own anything.
And yet, yes, in some ways I do identify with this group of well-heeled invaders, not because I’m half White or because I buy organic produce, but because I’ve arrived at this uncertain yet experientially rich juncture purely by the privilege of choice. Should I one day determine I’ve had enough lentil and potato soup, I could upgrade my circumstance with little difficulty—I hope.
This mural will be created by those with similar stories—educated do-gooders, artists, dreamers and healers who probably could pursue more stability should they be willing to accept the corporate chains that often come with regular paychecks and benefits.
The truth is, this is not OUR neighborhood and the opportunities we’ve had and the environments in which we were raised do not reflect those of this formerly entirely Black-owned community.
Vintage boutiques, brewpubs, a creole restaurant and the yoga studio I frequent are all new to the neighborhood, and are they not here specifically to cater to other nonconformists who like myself have flocked to this last bastion of affordable rent in the Bay area? Whether we like it or not our presence is changing the face of this neighborhood.
But, does this mean recognizing our privilege, we should shrink into the background, quickly dart into the safety of our domiciles and avoid recognizing and greeting long-time inhabitants?
I think not.
We will let our brushes swirl in the acrylic paints purchased with the tip money from our service-industry jobs and pour our hearts and idealizations into the butcher block.
We will let our well wishes be a beacon,
Of honesty, transparency and hunger for connection.
And we will have fun!
How will these acts be received? Of course, I have my hopes: That love, good will and recognition will radiate from out little mural and it will hang until it’s ravaged by wind and rain; that the intentions poured into it will spill out and uplift.
Maybe someone will see it and smile,
add a thought, a word or a heart.
Or maybe it will be ignored, unnoticed or smirked at,
Immediately identified as a childish attempt from newcomers who simply don’t know,
Ripped and used as a resource for some other something.
And if so, I will understand.