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The Color of Power

Racial Coalitions and Political Power in Oakland

Frédérick Douzet. Translated by George Holoch

Publication Year: 2012

The Color of Power is a fascinating examination of the changing politics of race in Oakland, California. Oakland has been at the forefront of California’s multicultural changes for decades. Since the 1960s, the city has been a shining example of a fruitful liberal black-and-white political partnership and the successful incorporation of black politicians into the political landscape. But over the past forty years, the balance of power has changed as a consequence of dramatic demographic trends and economic circumstances. The city’s formerly dominant biracial political machine has been challenged by the demands of new multiracial interests.

The city, once governed by a succession of black mayors and majority black city councils, must now accommodate rapidly growing Asian and Latino communities. While the black-led coalition still relies on white progressive support, this alliance has weakened due to a shift in the progressives’ agenda and the voting habits of the black community, the rise of a Hispanic-Asian coalition, and a strong demographic decline of the African-American population. With similar demographic changes taking place across the nation, Oakland’s experience provides insight into the multiracial future of other American cities.

The Color of Power investigates Oakland’s contemporary racial politics with a detailed study of conflicts over issues like education, elections and political representation, and crime. Trained as a journalist, a political scientist, and a geographer, the author provides a unique perspective supported by numerous maps and extensive interviews.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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title page

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xii

Racial and ethnic relations in America are evolving continuously, shaped by policy shifts, economic circumstances and demographic trends. For much of the post–World War II period, the defining racial paradigm was biracial as America gradually worked through the residual effects of slavery and post- Reconstruction...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book is the result of so many discussions, encounters, interviews, and field trips conducted over more than fifteen years that it would be impossible to mention all the people in Oakland who generously contributed their time, thoughts, advice or documentation...

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pp. 1-8

In their book Protest Is Not Enough1 (1984), Browning, Marshall, and Tabb argued that minority incorporation in the political life of cities was based on biracial coalitions formed by the electoral mobilization of African Americans combined with the backing of progressive...

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1 Racial Diversity A Central Political Issue

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pp. 9-36

The shift of a black and white biracial model toward a multicultural model is a new phase in the long history of racial politics in the United States, a history closely related to the country’s immigration policies and economic conditions. Two questions constantly...

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2 Blacks Come to Power

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pp. 37-63

Like many other American industrial cities, Oakland had to face severe economic, social, and political problems in the mid- 1960s. As Watts burned in 1965, many experts were worried about the city’s situation, considering it the next potential candidate for urban...

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3 Economic DevelopmentsThe Shrinking of the Pie

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pp. 64-89

Oakland’s difficulties in overcoming painful economic changes contributed to giving successive black administrations in the city a reputation for incompetence that tarnished the image of the city and eventually fed black voter disillusion. In addition to the rapid deindustrialization of the 1970s, California was struck full force with the...

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4 Diversity and Perceptions

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pp. 90-123

In May 1996, in a move reflecting the minority population’s heightened desire for recognition, the Oakland City Council decided to rename one of its major streets, East 14th Street, International Boulevard. This artery, running from Lake Merritt downtown to the neighboring city of San Leandro, became a symbol of the city’s ethnic...

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5 The Redistribution of Power in Oakland

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pp. 124-172

Holding the promise of more effective defense of minority interests, political representation, and political participation, was at the heart of black demands in the 1960s and 1970s. The conquest of power was not, of course, an end in itself but represented the possibility of finally creating the conditions for access to greater social and racial...

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6 Education A Means of Integration?

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pp. 173-208

The school issue is the focus of most of the debates swirling around multiculturalism. Most ethnic and racial groups see education as the source of all evil and of every hope. As the transmitter of culture, education is thought to have the virtue of moving minds toward ethnic pluralism and greater tolerance for difference. It is seen as a site...

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7 Race, Crime, and Justice

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pp. 209-250

Every introductory approach to the city of Oakland begins with its crime rate, simply because when any resident of the Bay Area, finding out you’re going to Oakland, wants to know why, tells you to be very careful and not to go alone, and gives you a list of the neighborhoods to be avoided at all costs. Perception of crime is at least...

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pp. 251-262

Since this book was first published in 2007, Oakland has suffered a number of severe blows. The subprime crisis devastated the most fragile old neighborhoods while ruining the hopes of recent investors in the brand- new developments of the previously booming housing market in downtown and West Oakland. The revenues...


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pp. 263-280


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pp. 281-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780813932842
E-ISBN-10: 081393284X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813932811
Print-ISBN-10: 0813932815

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 25 maps, 4 graphs, 8 tables
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 812253811
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Color of Power

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Minorities -- California -- Oakland -- Social conditions.
  • Racism -- California -- Oakland.
  • Geopolitics -- California -- Oakland.
  • Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Oakland (Calif.) -- Race relations.
  • Oakland (Calif.) -- Civilization.
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