The Suburban Wall 2009

As local police investigate a growing number of racist incidents in Walnut Creek and other surrounding cities, I received a note from Brian Copeland, the KGO 810 radio host and creator of the successful one-man stage show, Not a Genuine Black Man. He wanted to let me know that such ugliness is nothing new in our supposedly placid, pleasant suburban communities.

With respect to local incidents, word came Tuesday that Orinda police are investigating racist graffiti scrawled in a restroom at Miramonte High School. Meanwhile, Walnut Creek police recently provided details about two Volvos that were vandalized with ethnic slurs in front of their home sometime in the middle of the night on Friday, September 25.

In this Walnut Creek case specifically, the two cars were parked in front of the family’s Fyne Drive home, says Sgt. Tom Cashion. One of the cars had a “Support Free Iran” sticker affixed to a rear window. Sometime between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., someone scratched F— Iran below the window on the trunk. The vandal or vandals appeared to extensively “key” the second car, leaving scratches all over it.

“There is a possibility that the race of one of victims had something to do with it since one family member is Iranian,” Cashion said in an e-mail to me. He asked for the public’s help in identifying the vandals. “Out police department takes these incidents very seriously and will use all of our resources in investigating these types of crimes.”

Oh and remember this happening in Walnut Creek? In August, an employee at a North Main Street Midas auto service shop reported to KTVU that he endured repeated racial slurs from a mechanic and, as some kind of sick joke, seeing a noose hung in a work area.

Meanwhile, an update came in regard to the KKK-style cross found in front of a Moraga driveway over Labor Day weekend. Lamorinda blogger East Bay Daze says that the FBI’s San Francisco field office is turning the investigation back over to Moraga police. The investigation involves a small cross, wrapped in cloth and with KKK scrawled on it, found on September 8 outside the home where an inter-racial couple were visiting.

Finally, last I heard, Pleasant Hill police are still investigating racist-tinged vandalisms at an elementary and middle school in their town, while Martinez police are looking for the teenager who last month was reportedly harassing an African-American family at the park near that town’s marina by shouting “White power!” and waving a Confederate flag in their direction.

These Pleasant Hill and Martinez cases prompted my recent post, asking “What’s up with white pride crime in suburbia?” That story in turn prompted Copeland to e-mail me and briefly share his perspective.

“Unfortunately, discrimination in the ‘burbs (and in Northern California) is nothing new,” he said.

I listen to Copeland’s show on Sunday mornings when I get the chance, and I’ve cited his concerns about a growing atmosphere of hate and racism in our society–perhaps sparked by some people’s resentment about our nation’s first African-American president being in office.

However, I haven’t seen Not a Genuine Black Man yet, even though it comes to the Lesher Center a couple times a year. It is supposed to be great, and it just celebrated its fifth anniversary.

This show, which was also the basis of a best-selling book by Copeland, chronicles the challenges, including outright taunts and harassment, that he, as an 8-year-old, and his family faced when they were one of the few African-American families moving into the lily white suburb of San Leandro in the early 1970s. In 1971, San Leandro was named one of the most racist suburbs in America, and a systematic pattern of housing discrimination prompted Congressional hearings. In his show, Copeland also talks about what asks the questions of what it means to be a “black man.”

Copeland sent a link to information about a multi-part CBS documentary on San Leandro’s housing discrimination that put the suburb in the national spotlight. While researching and writing his stage play, Copeland heard about the documentary from several long-time residents but had trouble tracking it down and learned that copies of it might no longer exist. It wasn’t until after his show opened that he managed to obtain an audiotape copy of it, with the help of two former San Leandro residents who had come to see his show and who themselves had been involved in efforts to fight white flight from their city.

The documentary, “The Suburban Wall,” looks at the concerted effort by local realtors and politicians to keep black people from moving into San Leandro. Copeland describes listening to an hour from San Leandro’s past that “made my jaw drop.” You can view “The Suburban Wall” at Copeland’s website. He also provides a link to “The Invisible Wall,” a 1981 follow-up of the original documentary.

Thanks, Brian, for sharing this disturbing but true aspect of East Bay suburban history.

12 thoughts on “The Suburban Wall 2009

  1. Copeland's show, which I saw in WC, was very good at mixing auto-biographical material with comments on the nature of race relations over the last few decades. I urge you to see the show when it is available


  2. One group of people hating another group of people is as old as time. Read history. Where ever man has lived, he has been at war with others.

    If you are religious you believe that once man did dwell in harmony and peace on the earth but that perfect state was disrupted by the entry of sin into the world. If you aren't religious I guess you just have to go with the idea that man is intrinsically evil on some level.

    Why would anyone think that the residents of suburbs are better than any other people?


  3. 8:27, I would make the same assumption based on the quality of schools and education in the area combined with the fact that very diverse communities like Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco are less than 20 minutes away.


  4. Soccer Mom,
    Oh – my God. Must watch the video. Hopefully, your readers and commenters link on over to Mr. Copeland's website to watch the video. I did. I'm speechless. Unimagineable, I was only just born in the early 70s. It would be years (a lifetime) before I could ever understand what was going on in our communities. This is an excellent (though sad) piece of history.

    Perhaps someone should transcribe it for the hearing impaired, and those who can't view video on their computers.


  5. It's mentioned often recently but I don't see a relationship to “increased” racial tensions (if it's real) and who is in the White House.


  6. 10:24 – maybe it's just reported on more now as a result of Obama being in office…

    what I can say is that it's not very deep under the surface for many more whites than I would have thought growing up here in CCC.

    I was repeatedly shocked at some things people would say when they thought it was “safe” because it was “just us whites” in the room.

    My jaw literally dropped when one supervisor I had called an AfAmer a “coon”. I went to bat for that person as much as I could at the time, making sure other staff did not think they could talk that way in front of me…and of course I subsequently left for other employment fairly rapidly.

    To avoid insular thinkers, I find it helps to work in a diverse organization. I believe intermarriage helps to rid families of racism over generations.



  7. Although the vandalism was fueled by hate, when did Iranians become a race and those that hate them become racists? Wouldn't the vandals be nationalists? Let's call a spade a spade not a shovel.


  8. the bay area is a conglomeration of backwards hick towns filled with angry hostile people.I feel the racism and hatred here from people every day. It is really sad too because it could be a really great place if the people werent so hateful and violent.


  9. Anon 4.39 As a member of a mixed race family with children I find no such behaviour remotely like that which you describe…may be I am not looking hard enough.


  10. I grew up in San Leandro in the 1960s through the 1980s. I am very, very proud and grateful of the way I grew up in Washington Manor, and am a grad of Marina High School. I would not change one thing about its past. It was safe, fun and we had a beautiful life, free of crime and violence. I am proud to be an American. DO NOT EXPECT EVERYONE IN SIGHT TO GO ALONG WITH THE MEDIA AND ITS PROMOTION OF MEGA MULTICULTURAL VALUES. IT DOES NOT WORK. LOOK AT OAKLAND, HAYWARD, AND SF. PLEASE BE HONEST.


  11. Forced integration does not work. Multiculturalism has never happened naturally. Too many differences to achieve harmonious results.


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