Decline Is Good: Blacks Leave Oakland

A surprise from the census: the black population of Oakland declined by 25% over the last decade, and now has nearly as many whites as it does blacks. The reasons for the decline: increased integration and suburbanization as black families seek out better neighborhoods and schools.

Oakland, whose thriving African American community for decades shaped black identity for the nation, lost nearly a quarter of its black population in the past decade, U.S. Census data shows.

Now, Oakland has nearly as many white people as it does African American. It also has nearly as many Latinos.

The exodus left the city with a net loss of 33,000 African American residents and made Oakland one of the few big California cities to decline in size. Oakland, which had the second largest overall population decline in the state, lost about 2 percent of its population, which now stands at 390,724. Only Santa Ana lost more residents.

African Americans have been moving in large numbers from urban areas to the suburbs and beyond for the past two decades in California. But the migration has particular significance in Oakland.

As you might expect, some people find this to be bad news.

Oakland was where the Black Panther Party was founded, the place that produced iconic black politicians, athletes and entertainers. Hall of Fame athletes Joe Morgan, Bill Russell and Rickey Henderson all grew up in Oakland. So did entertainers like the R&B group the Pointer Sisters. Black congressional leaders Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee are both from Oakland.

Oakland's black community "brought African American identity into the mainstream, instead of the margins," said Ishmael Reed, author of "Blues City: a Walk in Oakland" and a longtime resident. "I just hate to see the decline."

Is it part of the SF Chronicle's style guide to lead off a discussion of the glories of Oakland's black community by name checking the Black Panthers?! They were part of the problem, not the solution, and in fact brought about many of the dysfunctions that have blighted Oakland over the last few decades: street crime, drug dealing, ghettoization, racial separatism, and anti-authority antagonism.

Black people haven't bee ethnically cleansed from Oakland. They are leaving voluntarily, often for greener pastures available now because the sort of de facto segregation that was once the rule has been virtually wiped out. You don't need to stay in Oakland to "appreciate" its rich heritage, but there's no rule of racial solidarity that requires people to stay in a crime-ridden neighborhood just to satisfy Ishmael Reed.

Slowly, but surely, we are making progress. That's a good thing.

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