Black at Home in the Bay Area
Wendy M. Thompson

Living in a black place mattered to me, the granddaughter of black southern migrants who had left homes in Louisiana to make new homes out west. Monroe, Lake Charles, Gary, Marin City. All of these cities were intimate coordinates on a family map. Soft-breathing places where children and elders and married people made their beds, ate supper, played records, told stories, said their prayers, and left kinfolk behind when it was time to pick up and leave. This was migration. A great train moving toward bigger and brighter cities. A river of black folks flooding into previously all-white towns and streets, wading after jobs, new adventure, greener pastures, a reprieve from the noose despite never learning how to swim.

Like my father, I am a direct beneficiary of people who left home and found purpose and prosperity on arrival. Like my father, I owe my chances to the survival, rage, and wit of a people who stepped into formal and informal occupations, built and rented rooms, sold and lost property. Their sacrifice became my skin in the game.

$525,000 | 2 Bed | 1 Bath | 968 Sq. Ft., Oakland. Source:” width=


$525,000 | 2 Bed | 1 Bath | 968 Sq. Ft., Oakland
Why rent when you can buy? or good for investment property. Located in the heart of Oakland’s Elmhurst district built in the 1920’s is this lovely well-maintained 2 bedroom,1 bath traditional home with gleaming hardwood floors…Cozy living room with wood-burning fire place dining room, kitchen and indoors laundry room. Fenced backyard located in Oakland close to Coliseum BART & Hwy 580, Eastmont Shopping Center, Oakland Zoo, & Knowland Park.

As the firstborn child of the son of migrants and a Chinese immigrant daughter, two people who believed at the cellular level that homeownership defined personal worth in America, there was no way that I could grow up and not be obsessed with the idea, the notion of home. Home was a passport to the good neighbor program, a stamp that marked one as a taxpaying American. It was where you cut a green lawn and lent a cup of sugar. Where respectable Negroes went to at night, their covers pulled tight. It was your nest egg that could carry you through the storm while other black families blew away in squalls that ended in leaky public housing and a payday loan.

Later when I became an academic, one of those mousy, overly critical types who reads the reports and analyzes the colorful graphs indicating racial debt and doom, I learned exactly what had bankrupted black people from the start and how our green cash was always a dollar short leading generations to spend a lifetime in the red. After that, there would be no way that I would not hate the entirety of a racist system that actively participated in the theft of black opportunity and wealth. Of course, they used legal and convenient tools, the same ones that hung my grandparents out to dry, their clothes soggy and drenched around the neck and wrists: mob violence, restrictive covenants, redlining, structural containment, white flight, neighborhood divestment.

$389,000 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 1,096 Sq. Ft., Oakland. Source:” width=


$389,000 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 1,096 Sq. Ft. Oakland
Great price for 3 bedroom home on a quiet street. Cozy living room with fireplace and hardwood floors. Spacious kitchen with eating area. Good size bedrooms. Property is a fixer that needs someone’s special touch to make this home a real gem.

I was born in Oakland. A seed planted between the cracks of my mother’s thighs and roughly watered with the scuffed dreams of my father’s boyhood. There, the light was always dim, though shining, and the language, while broken and sharp, came from a place of love, or was it fear?

$715,000 | 3 Beds | 2 Bath | 1,641 Sq. Ft. Oakland
Charming in every way! This lovely turn key home in a highly sought-after area, features Inviting formal living room with fireplace, good size formal dining, hardwood floors, wood trim, and stained glass inlays at fireplace mantle cabinets. Stone fireplace with built-in shelving and nook. Cove ceiling with recessed lights, and wood flooring throughout. Large oversized picture windows, inside laundry, Charming art deco kitchen, with many features. Desire income? or need a on-site office or studio? This property features well done, pre-existing rear ADU in law unit.

I was raised in Oakland, a seedling whipped straight into wiry plant by my black father’s urban farming hands. Our sun was hand-me-down clothes, our water was Kraft cheese slices, our soil was Saturday morning television. Every time I threatened to bend toward the warmth of other suns, my Chinese immigrant mother came running. There was nothing worse than believing that her daughter’s blackness would turn heart shaped leaves into sickles, a deep obedient passable tap root into a shallow brown fibrous clot. With her best tools, she roped me taut against a stick with twine, replanting me in smaller and smaller pots in shadier and shadier spots until I was like bonsai: prized and evenly cut. Where she showed no concern about my becoming root bound, my father was off alone, looking for new land.

$399,000 | 1 Bed | 1 Bath | 800 Sq. Ft. Oakland
Great opportunity for a anything you may want the building to be–residential or commercial or mixed use. The property has been a church and a corner store before that. Currently, commercial taxes paid and building insured as such. Huge 20+’ yard to the side of the building and 12+’ on the back for driveways. The city allows 2 units on corner lots, buyer to investigate all options. Lots of opportunities for investment in a residential neighborhood. Close to BART, highway, airport.

For both my parents, Oakland was a dangerous place full of violent hunters and traps. For both my parents, Oakland was a place full of precision killers and snared prey. Not traumatized explorers or broken creators or dispossessed thinkers or contrasting colors and warm shadows, or maybe it was also full those things too, but in smaller, way smaller, numbers. For them, a young married couple raising their first daughter, a small brown mammal with a jittery temperament and long dark hair, Oakland was a dangerous place full of men who could take and ruin. Rape and pillage.

Avoid the bounding small chested teenagers who will grow into manhood under the guidance of guns, they told me. Avoid the men with gold capped teeth and dark eyes who will see right through you and know you are new and untouched, they warned. Avoid the old men outside of bars who smell like your grandfather (cologne, cigarettes, and disappointment) and will use those large hands, they cautioned. But did I ever listen?

$549,000 | 2 Beds | 1 Bath | 969 Sq. Ft. Oakland
If you’ve been searching for a place of your own where you can spread your wings and dive into home ownership you’ve found it. This smartly updated home has the most amazing front porch with peak-a-boo views of sunsets over the Bay. With two bedrooms and one bathroom you’ll enjoy details like an open floorplan with a state-of-the-art kitchen that provides the perfect gateway to the truly enviable backyard. From the deck off the kitchen that’s great for grillin’ to the stone patio that’s the spot for chillin’ this fenced outdoor space provides something for everyone. The grassy area is like an oasis for people or pets to play. You’ll be sure to enjoy all of the natural light and cross ventilation that this home provides.

Oakland in the 1980s was a black place abandoned by white flight following municipal divestment, a bowl at the edge of the bay peppered heavily with crack users, vandals, and the unemployed. (In graduate school they would refer to this population as vulnerable, racial capitalism’s surplus children.) To my mother, Oakland was full of people who would pull me completely to “that side,” into a racial geography she regarded as a no man’s land: a vast landfill full of scrap dreams, bad credit, and a people who had arrived in 1619 and still hadn’t achieved anything four hundred years later. To my father, Oakland was overwhelmed with offensive, irresponsible, and destitute black people. And he, being a gainfully employed black homeowner who lived by his work ethic even as his white bosses exploited him, felt mocked by their presence.

What hours of the day could one rest from the constant work of fortifying one’s children against a blackness that would ultimately burden them? What could a freshly cut green lawn not prove about a black man’s level of class and respectability?

$599,000 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 796 Sq. Ft., Oakland. Source:


$599,000 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 796 Sq. Ft. Oakland
The Laurel District’s thriving commercial zone provides the area with some of the very best Oakland has to offer. Live the Oakland dream with convenient access to restaurants, grocery stores, hiking trails and a variety of commuter options. This charming updated bungalow provides modern comforts and conveniences while placing you in the heart of the booming, culturally rich Laurel District. Don’t miss out on this perfect starter home!

Of course, as an adult, I wanted a house for all the right reasons, you know, the ones written about on every finance blog: stability, pride of ownership, wealth accumulation, tax breaks, freedom, and privacy. But I also wanted a house to fill with music and mismatched dishware and a nice exposed roof corner from which to hang wind-chimes. I wanted a front yard full of agave, yarrow, and succulents, and a backyard full of chickens, and children yelling in all directions of the street. So, I chose Oakland in my heart. Even though I knew that every single job I ever had wouldn’t pay me enough to save for that one day house. Even as I grew to love the whole of black Oakland through seasons of murder and trauma and renewal and displacement and the lasting vestiges of the crack epidemic.

There was something meaningful about returning to Oakland, the city where I was born and lived the first fifteen years of my life. To return after the birth of my two children. To return in the twilight of my thirties. To return as a black professional with the means to invest in and support black-owned businesses amidst white-owned patisseries and white-owned artisan wood fire pizza joints and white-owned juice bars and white-owned stationary stores with revolutionary quotes painted on the walls. To return to new monuments and new gods—Starbucks, Chipotle, Wingstop, bay view luxury condos—where before there were only gaping potholes and food deserts. To return at a time when black people were being pushed out and only constituted a small fraction of the total numbers we once had in Oakland, once a black city. To return during the time of gentrification.

$529,000 | 2 Beds | 1 Bath | 950 Sq. Ft. Fremont
Welcome to Parkmont Gardens. Known for its prestigious schools. This unit is located on the 3rd level it’s spacious, has a nice view from balcony and newly updated with New Kitchen cabinets, Quartz counter countertops, New Flooring, Custom shower, New windows throughout. Walking distance to BART, Washington Hospital, Whole foods and many more shops and restaurants. Also, HOA includes Trash, Water, Hazard Insurance, Exterior maintenance, features community pool for those hot summer days.

Our real estate agents, two Asian women who noted my concern for good schools and safety, kept suggesting a town-home or condo unit in Hayward or Union City, even Fremont. They couldn’t understand why I kept sending them listings of small two-bedroom fixer uppers at the edge of the Fruitvale and Allendale neighborhoods. Small ragged things with sagging roofs and unkempt hedges. Dusty porches and sad little rooms with decades-old carpet and linoleum floors. Corner houses on big lots with abundant sunlight that sat at intersections that sometimes hosted sideshows and staged homicides. Houses that were in probate because their elders had died in them before ever getting to the business of wills and trusts. Houses that were sold cheap and fast because somebody’s grandmother took out a reverse home mortgage. Houses that would require hours and years and decades of work that I couldn’t possibly give them.

Also on our list? A house with a garage in neighborhoods where vehicle break-ins were common. And a quiet street where we wouldn’t have to close our windows on Sundays because of boisterous live DJed Mexican birthday parties drowning into the early hours of the morning two houses down.

$569,900 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 1,014 Sq. Ft., San Lorenzo. Source:


$569,900 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 1,014 Sq. Ft. San Lorenzo
Commuters Dream!!!!!!!This home has been maintained to the nines, by its current owner of 59 years. This home offers lots of natural light, and is located on a street showing pride of ownership. New windows in 2009, 2012 all plumbing lines replaced with copper, 2014 New Furnace, 2016 New Sewer Line from the home to the street and in 2017 New Water Heater and new exterior paint. Wood floors under carpet. This home has a large, nicely maintained yard with a nice shed. If you are a BART Commuter, look no more! Walk right next door to BART. UPDATE: OFFERS DUE 5:00PM 8/23

We wanted: A house in a neighborhood not near a freeway or train tracks or the BART. A house on a street where all the other homes weren’t gated and guarded by dogs. A house with a big sprawling yard to replant my many potted plants and give them, along with my children, a deep and permanent place to put their roots. (I always planned to tear out the lawn.)

$575,000 | 3 Beds | 1 Bath | 1,034 Sq. Ft. Oakland
Nice, Neat Roomy Home with many Amenities and lots of room to grow. Fireplace in Living Room, Separate Sunny Dining Area with Glass Cabinets. Kitchen with Granite Counters, Linoleum Floors in Kitchen and Bath. Carpet in other rooms. Office off Kitchen and back Bedroom. Central Heat and Air. Jack and Jill Bathroom connects to nice size Bedrooms. Long Driveway could fit 3 cars outside of Garage. Nicely Landscaped Double Backyard. A Must See. Will view all offers.

I had grown up watching my father pour his Saturday afternoons into lawn care and maintenance. Our family dog, a puppy, had been beaten severely after digging holes in my father’s neat, green, cut grass. Grass like a fine boy with a fade. Grass like the soft hairs creeping up the back of an adolescent’s legs. Grass like a treasured Tudor tapestry full of maidens and hunters and lutes and pheasants—don’t touch! Whenever I think back about that damn lawn, I can still hear his small animal cries and immediately I feel a deep red reservoir of childhood guilt for not being able to protect one of the few things that I loved and was mine in the world.

$559,000 | 2 Beds | 1 Bath | 842 Sq. Ft. Hayward
Great opportunity to own this starter home in Hayward. This 2 Bedroom/1 Bathroom home is minutes away from BART & Amtrak stations and highway 880/580/238 and major stores such as Target & Home Depot are also nearby. The home is currently tenant-occupied.

What about parking? Owning only one vehicle and having witnessed the televised horror of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters that left black people stranded or dead, I placed a high priority on houses that were a fifteen-minute walk max from a chain grocery store. We needed access for our kids, I stressed. We needed to be able to safely travel on foot to somewhere where we could have broad yogurt options and wouldn’t be forced to pay for single-servings of things we usually bought in bunches or bulk at Trader Joe’s or Target. This was something of a dream given that where we could afford were decades-old food deserts.

$838,000 | 3 Beds | 2 Baths | 1,100 Sq. Ft., Newark. Source:


$838,000 | 3 Beds | 2 Baths | 1,100 Sq. Ft. Newark
Great opportunity for the first time home buyer and investor! A Charming house located at a quiet street, double pane windows throughout. Hardwood floor, updated kitchen , Newer roof & Garage door. Beautiful landscaped back yard with many fruits trees. previously. Center of City, Convenient location; Closed to Ranch 99, shops & restaurants, easy to access to HYW 85 to reach Face Book Camps , Palo Alto & Mountain View; 880 to SF or South Bay. 10-15 minus to TESLA camps. High potential. Do not miss it out.

For our two kids, I wanted to live on a street with other black folks. For our two kids, I was also thinking about property values and generational wealth. What kind of impact would seeing black people living in tents behind the Home Depot or wandering the streets in hospital gowns and socks have on our kid’s perception of themselves and our collective blackness? What kind of impact would buying a house that would not appreciate over time compared to those in whiter zip codes have on our kids? All I kept remembering were the statistics and news reports at every house showing: “birth outcomes are … a barometer of … the health of the community, and also a predictor of its next generations’ health. In many places, adverse birth outcomes can be traced to a history of segregation and economic inequality” 1.

$589,000 | 3 Beds | 1Bath | 995 Sq. Ft. Oakland
This is the one you’ve been waiting for!!! 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, almost 1,000 sq ft in living space. Everything NEW: new roof, new windows, new earth tone heavy laminate flooring, new stainless steel appliances, new kitchen with quartz counter tops and beautiful backsplash, new bathroom with tile flooring and tile shower walls, new electrical panel, updated plumbing, new doors, new lights and fixtures, new fencing, new interior and exterior paint and much much more.

But our agents, stressing about the pace of the red hot housing market and wanting us to move in by the fall, kept reminding us: You can always sell. You can always sell. It’s the Bay Area. You can always sell.

1. Margaret Katcher. (2018). “A Mother’s Zip Code Could Signal Whether Her Baby Will Be Born Too Early”. The Atlantic, August 23, 2018.

Wendy M. Thompson is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San José State University. She is the coeditor of Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion with creative work having appeared in Palaver, the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, the Rappahannock Review, Jet Fuel Review, and Waccamaw among others.


Volume 5, no. 1 Jan-Jun 2022