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Where Exactly Is East Oakland?

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Oakland is a naturally suspicious city. If you tell somebody that you’re from or have lived in Oakland, it is entirely normal for that individual to ask you where. This is not asked in a casual or friendly way. They’re trying to catch you in a lie. Oakland and SF both have built in hierarchies when it comes to where you live. There’s a racial and class element to this as well. Rich people in SF and Oakland want to confirm you’re not trying to steal their stuff and poor people in SF and Oakland don’t want to grant you any unearned street cred. 

Geography in Oakland is as complicated as existence in Oakland. Everyone has their own view of where things are, maps be damned. This is especially true in East Oakland, which is entirely too fucking big to uniformly define. But it’s also true in smaller sections of Oakland too. West Oakland is pretty easy to define, but then I heard someone claim they lived in West Oakland, but they really lived in a loft in Jack London Square. I was like “This isn’t West Oakland, this is Jack London Square.” However, you could make the argument that Jack London Square is West of Downtown. 

You could also say that the Oakland Hills is the real East Oakland and East Oakland is actually South Oakland, but people in Alameda say they’re the true South Oakland even though they’re not even in Oakland. I’m getting a headache just thinking about this. 

The City of Oakland has historically deemed East Oakland to be the area southeast of Lake Merritt. If your street name has an E before a number (E 18th St.) or if it’s a numbered avenue (22nd Ave.) The City of Oakland considers you to be in East Oakland. 

Despite what Oakland’s government considers to be East Oakland, locals and real estate agents don’t always agree. When I was a kid I lived in the Laurel District on Patterson Avenue. This was considered to be East Oakland. However, I’m an adult now, and real estate people tell me it’s Lower Hills. Once again, I’m fucking confused.

This change in designation didn’t start in the Laurel, it started in the Dimond. The Dimond District is also technically East Oakland, but it’s not poor. The section of Fruitvale Ave that goes through the Dimond gives off a Piedmont with potholes vibe. There’s a bit more diversity than Piedmont, but it’s still fairly gentrified. Even if the infrastructure is more neglected than you’d find in more explicitly affluent parts of Oakland like Rockridge. Laurel was always a bit more rundown than Dimond, so people in the Dimond said they’re not East Oakland and that East Oakland started in the Laurel. 

A restaurant owner in the Dimond was quoted expressing this sentiment in an interview with Bay Area Journalist Janee Darden. “Hmmmm? He says East Oakland starts six blocks east of us. That’s in the Laurel District.”

The Laurel got sick of this and once it started to gentrify, it no longer wanted the stigma of East Oakland on it and it became “Lower Hills” along with the Dimond District. 

The only area people seem to universally define as East Oakland is an area colloquially known as Deep East Oakland. Deep East Oakland, which I define as anything past 55th Ave, is aesthetically what I think people picture when they think about East Oakland… This part of Oakland suffers from extreme rates of poverty as a result of redlining and other forms of systemic racism. But I think it’s unfair for East Oakland (which technically stretches from Lake Merritt to San Leandro) to be associated with the worst side effects of bad policy. 

I think it’s better to see East Oakland as a sprawling land of possibility that is home to all walks of life. To think East Oakland automatically means impoverished and dangerous is doing a disservice to everyone. It also makes you look like you don’t understand basic geography. You can’t be pretentious if you’re dumb, and assigning a geographic label based on how you feel is pretty fuckin’ dumb. 

I’d also like to point out where you live doesn’t really define who you are.

You do, so act like it. 





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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!