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Oakland is a Vibe

For Black communities facing displacement in an historically “chocolate city” like Oakland, California, cultural and community development projects offer a mechanism for maintaining claims to place, while also revealing the political, economic and affective work that Blackness performs for gentrification. Such projects simultaneously provide necessary social and economic resources for Black communities, as well as offer refuge for praxes of resistance, care, and liberation. The latter is productive of Blackness as a form of relational placemaking that I identify as “vibe.”

My forthcoming manuscript, "Oakland is a Vibe": The Relational Geographies of Black Cultural Development, examines how the efforts to (re)claim Oakland’s Blackness pursue unruly paths that suture the operations of racial capitalism to their radical, liberatory counterparts. Using ethnographic, participatory, and archival methods, I follow various instances of “vibe” - in Oakland networks of independent businesses, arts and cultural collectives, and a weaving of individual stories - to understand the way that this racialized experience of place operates as a mundane, yet powerful, feeling of spatial relation that is leveraged to counter the effects of displacement. Claiming and re-creating vibe becomes a way of claiming a subjective relationship to the gentrifying city, one that cannot be dispelled by objectifying representations of a Black aesthetic, but is integral to the relational and economic life of a place. Understanding the role of vibe in the community and redevelopment projects is thus an overlooked but important method for contextualizing the politics of Black diasporic movement, and the right to stay in place. 

Mural by Berj Art
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