Oakland Gnomes Should Be In All Colors, Not Just White

Posted on Feb 5 2013 - 11:07am by Zennie Abraham


The fact that the Oakland Gnomes story has advanced to a point of being a New York Times article, and without anyone in Oakland asking why there aren’t black gnomes, is a sad statement on Oakland today.

To rap, an unnamed artist has been painting renditions of gnomes on power poles around Oakland’s Lake Merritt area. And so many that there are 2,300 gnomes populating our city. Residents questioned where they came from, and some took of defense of them when Pacific Gas and Electric Company threatened to remove them from the polls.

To “Save The Oakland Gnomes” a number of people got into the act and created Facebook Page of the same name. All of that’s well and good, but this blogger’s really concerned over Oakland’s future, that not one person, not even Zac Wald, chief of staff to Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney and who was mentioned in the LA Times, has asked where are the black gnomes?

Does Oakland Still Want Racial Diversity?

Oakland’s proudest legacy has been it’s love and desire for racial diversity. In 1994, when this blogger was a columnist for The Montclarion here in Oakland, we issued a 60-question survey that I designed. My objective was to gain a pattern of the person we call “The Oaklander,” and what I discovered in the results was heartwarming.

The Montclarion gave me the entire op-ed page section and ran the survey for an entire week. Readers sent back 600 responses – the largest mailed volume ever for that small community newspaper. In the results, one question was this: “Why do you chose to live in Oakland.” It was a write-in question – that is you could pen-or-pencil-in your written response. 60 percent of the respondents wrote in one answer: diversity.

Think about that.

First, it was amazing that Oaklanders who read The Montclarion would take time to fill out the survey, but it went beyond that – far beyond that. People made copies of it, and shared it with their friends. Others shared the survey with people they didn’t even know. And because of that, it reached beyond The Montclarion’s Oakland Hills subscription base, and down into the flatlands. And with all that – with all of the sharing of the survey – we got a really great picture of the people of Oakland and why they’re here.


But today, that Oakland seems to be on the wane. It was an Oakland that had a number of black elected officials, and in Lionel Wilson and Elihu Harris had twice elected black mayors, and then did so again with Ron Dellums in 2006.

That Oakland seems to have given way to a new Oakland – one that’s experienced an incredible explosion in size of a vibrant, young, white population of people who mostly come from other parts of America as much as they moved over from San Francisco. They’re the result of the election of Jerry Brown as Oakland’s Mayor in 1998; what now-Governor Brown did just by his time as Mayor was to make Oakland safe for white people.

Prior to that, Oakland was not a place that was frequented often by anyone white who did not live here. My city was made fun of, skipped over in travels from San Francisco, and painted as consistently crime-ridden by the San Francisco-biased mainstream media. But Jerry Brown made Oakland a hip place to be, and his “10K” program – which this blogger helped promote as a consultant to the City of Oakland in 1999 – gave new, market rate housing for them to live in and be “urban pioneers” living in Brown’s idea of “elegant density.”

Now, we have an Oakland much like the one I predicted it would evolve into in 1994, and again, in The Montclarion: a town that’s almost perfectly racially mixed, with no one dominant ethnicity anywhere. Indeed, while Oakland was considered a “black town” in the 1980s and 1990s, from a U.S. Census perspective, it was a place where there was no census tract that had just one color of people.

Oakland has never been a place where one color of people enjoyed their culture and didn’t share it with others. But the new Oakland is, sadly, somewhat different. It seems to be splitting into racial pockets: mostly whites here, mostly blacks there, some places where it’s really well mixed, and others where it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not becoming San Francisco, but we’re also moving away from what we have been historically – just a bit.

The Gnome Issue Is A Warning

I say that to emphasize that this is a ‘check’ on where Oakland’s going – a warning signal to avoid a future that few would publicly say they want if they were quizzed. Oakland should not allow itself to degenerate into a racially-divided city. It’s not enough to say it will not happen, and it’s everything to make sure it does not occur.

We have to consistently question the images we send out in Oakland. The Oakland Gnomes are a good thing, but they become a great thing, a beautiful thing, if they reflect the diversity of Oakland.

Oakland has never been a city to exclude anyone racially. It should not start now, even if the population happens to be 2,300 painted gnomes.

The best solution is for someone to paint some of them black, Latino, and Asian. Perhaps add in one or several turbins to reflect Oakland’s religious diversity. And why not make one female?

This may comes as a shock, but there are female gnomes, and black gnomes too. On my YouTube video, some commenters wrote vile messages around the idea that gnomes are only white. It’s that perception – the idea that one image has to be one racial identity, when in point of fact, that’s not true – that I’m fighting against.

You should too.

We can’t make Oakland for burning. The legacy of Oscar Grant goes beyond police brutality, and to racial diversity, curiosity, understanding, and acceptance. When I get into a cab on the way to First Friday from The Alley on Grand Avenue, and white men yell at me “Black guy getting into a cab to go uptown,” as happened Friday night, I fear for my city. When whites get on BART in Oakland, see an open seat next to a black man, and keep walking rather than sit down next to that person, I am concerned for my town. It’s too the point where, in personal protest, I stand while riding BART, rather than sit down. (And I’m toying with the idea of putting what I see on video, just to give a clear picture of this ugly reality.)

That’s not the Oakland I want, and I hope it’s not the Oakland you want either. The Gnomes of Oakland should reflect Oakland’s diversity, and for the sake of Oakland’s future.

About the Author

Zennie Abraham is the founder of Zennie62Media which consists of http://www.zennie62blog.com and a multimedia blog news aggregator and video network, and 78-blog network, with social media and content development services and consulting. Zennie is a pioneer video blogger, YouTube Partner, social media practitioner, game developer, and pundit. Note: news aggregator content does not reflect the personal views of Mr. Abraham. Visit http://www.youtube.com/user/zennie62 and http://www.tout.com/u/zennie62 - follow on Twitter @zennie62

  • sam

    Um…aren’t gnomes mythical earth elemental beings from the most northern parts of Europe?

  • http://zennie62blog.com/ Zennie Abraham

    Lord help us. That’s like saying that because the first mayor’s were in Europe, that all mayors must be white. This is Oakland. We prize diversity. If anyone has an issue with that they should leave.

  • sam

    Mayor’s are elected officials, gnomes are mythical beings from a specific culture. The connection is absurd. And there’s no way there would be a black gnome. There are no similar creatures of similar size in African mythology that would provide the genes that would lead to black gnomes. It seems to me that what you are upset about is someone bringing a part of northern European mythology into Oakland. It seems to me you are looking to exclude the possible inclusion of something northern European into the diverse mix that makes up Oakland. When I see street art that represent proud Zulu warriors, they are all black; should I be outraged that there are no Latino Zulu warriors? When I see street art of Rastafarians they are all black; should I be outraged there are no Asian Rasta men? When I see street are of slaves from our history, representing generations of repression of a proud people, they are all black; should I be outraged there are no Irish slaves? Or should I look at all cultures as an inclusive part of what makes up Oakland? Yeah, it seems that you are trying to make an issue where there isn’t one.

  • http://zennie62blog.com/ Zennie Abraham

    I’m glad to know you’re going to be upset when the gnomes take on different colors of different races. ” And there’s no way there would be a black gnome,” is without a doubt the most ridiculous comment I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. Get ready for change: welcome to Oakland.

  • sam

    Who said they were upset? But it appears unless you’re the artist yourself, or prepared to go and deface the work, it’s not happening anytime soon. What does though upset me is the unsupported bombs you drop. When presented with why something appears to be the way it is, your only answer seems to be a view of how you want to see the world, not one where all cultures are welcome here in Oakland, each appreciated for its contribution. The fact that other works of art in Oakland are accepted without similar questions, simply because they are of colors other that white demonstrates, by definition, you to be a racist. And as such, I do wish you would leave stay in Atlana, for we are open to all artistic contributions here, and you don’t seem to feel that way.

  • http://zennie62blog.com/ Zennie Abraham

    I removed the last comment. I never said anything about leaving in this post, and you’re getting personal. If you aren’t who your email says you are, please reveal yourself.

  • http://zennie62blog.com/ Zennie Abraham

    Something else too. If the artist painted confederate flags around Oakland, we’d want them taken down. So this feeling is in that vain.

  • sam

    You didn’t? I could have sworn in your video you said you want racists to leave Oakland. And I for one feel that your insistence that street art of a northern European inspiration conform to your demands, while ignoring the fact that Latino street art portrays only Latinos, African American street art portrays only African Americans, Asian American street art only portrays Asian Americans shows you to be a racist. I for one feel all contribute to the diversity that is Oakland, and that your exclusionary views have no place here in our Town. And your comparison of the gnomes to Confederate Flags, a hatefully divisive symbol, is too laughable to warrant any effort in response.

  • Erik

    This whole article is ridiculous. Sam pretty much summed it up, ” trying to make an issue where there isn’t one”

  • admin

    Of course there’s an issue; after all, you responded. The bottom line is that gnomes do come in all colors. Deal with it. Meanwhile, I’ll paint some Oakland gnomes black.

  • Erik

    Yes the issue is created by the article, not the topic itself. The bottom line is that the article is making a big deal out of nothing. I’m of Hispanic decent and my girlfriend is of Asian decent. Neither of us have a problem with the skin color of the gnomes. Instead of making an issue out of it, we appreciate the effort and time the person took in creating the gnomes. Do what you will, but the truth is that people who have an issue with it have to deal with it. Not the rest of us.