It has become more and more apparent that media plays an enormous role in shaping how a society functions. It not only influences how outsiders think and feel about places they do not know, but it also influences how we feel about ourselves, about our homes and about our existence.
Very few of us who live, work and attend school in Oakland are actually ashamed of its reputation, or even its reality, and most of us are actually proud to be a part of this city. But, somehow, we still show signs of Oakland shame when discussing our choice of residence and education with outsiders.
Maybe it truly is because Oakland is statistically less safe than most Bay Area cities.
Maybe it is because its increasingly present poverty has made parts of it devoid of joy, of culture, of humanity.
Maybe it is the pothole so big a turtle could live in it outside of 7/11 on MacArthur Blvd., or the half washed away graffiti on the Fruitvale freeway exit sign, or the bars on the windows of every home and business lining the Laurel, High St., International Blvd., you name it.
All of those things contribute to the little lies our family and friends hear and repeat about where we live: “I’m not in Oakland proper, I’m in Oakland Hills,” “Mills isn’t really Oakland, it’s its own place,” and, perhaps most common, “I live in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
This last lie is the most detrimental to Oakland-lovers, and it is one that Mills College itself promotes.
Oakland is it’s own place. It is not San Francisco’s sidekick, it is a superhero all on its own.
Most people here know this, feel this, believe this. And yet, we are still bombarded with our very own institutions telling us we are San Francisco’s strange cousin no one wants to talk about.
We are the purposefully forgotten sister, the one that maybe needs some cleaning up after, but who truly has a mind of her own.
Why not embrace that identity for ourselves, Mills?
Why not embrace the weirdness, the dirt, the love, the art, the horror, the beauty. That is who we are. How are we supposed to be proud of that if our school cannot?
I hope one day I can look at the Mills College website and see a photo of the Laurel district, or the Fox Theatre, or one of our myriad of farmer’s markets, or a skyline view of our port. And I hope I will see the words “In the heart and soul of Oakland.”