The East Bay Express’ Stephen Buel, who I’ve talked to but never met in person, is always someone I wanted to think the best of. That was certainly the case in 2014, when I took note of a discovery that his Oakland Magazine presented a city that was all but devoid of black folks.
My taking issue with the lack of color was met with a rather derisive entry on the website of Oakland Magazine with this title: “Zennie’s Rant and Some Eye Rolling”. Here’s the entry I wrote, followed by what Buel wrote:
Zennie’s Facebook Rant
I’ll have to be candid: I can’t bring myself to like Oakland Magazine because every time I see a copy of it, there’s perhaps ONE black person in it. It’s no wonder the publisher has not once sought to contact me, the one who established Oakland’s first blog, is the city’s only consistent video-blogger, and has a full history with the city of Oakland in various capacities: because I’m black. If I were white, I’d have gotten an email or call from Oakland Magazine long ago. Oakland Magazine represents a new, and really ugly, kind of subtle racism that is plaguing my town. Now, if someone wants to say that all they have to do is contact me, my response is, not so. What Oakland Magazine must do to make me happy, is authentically present Oakland, and stop trying to whitewash it. When the magazine does present someone black, it’s in an article about a stereo-typically black problem. The photos of African-Americans are generally by those who have bought ads-not by the publisher or the editor.
Zennie Abraham via Facebook
Editor’s Note: Oakland Magazine categorically disagrees with Abraham and his assessment and highly doubts whether he has actually perused an issue of the magazine. By coincidence, Abraham happens to be mentioned on page 15 of this very issue. Additionally, Telegraph Media publishes The East Bay Monthly, which published a long interview with Abraham in The Kilduff File in February.
So, then I added this:
As a follow-up, your address of my criticism of the “other” Oakland Magazine was not accompanied by an email or phone call to me to talk. For some reason the old Oakland Magazine and it’s problems were not considered as being the focus of my, as you call it, rant.
But Stephen took over, it seems, and the Oakland Magazine of 2014 is a different animal than in the past, and a much better one. But the fact remains, the first version did not represent Oakland. I’m glad to see this one is at least trying to do so.
I will be candid. When I made the observation regarding Oakland Magazine, it was on Linkedin, and was transferred to Facebook. The Linkedin “rant” in the “Positively Oakland” group that I made was matched by not less than three other comments in agreement – all by white Oaklanders.
The truth is that for some time Oakland Magazine has not reflected Oakland. It’s very dishonest to have a new owner or management come in and then act as if there was never a problem. In light of current events in America with respect to race, you do yourself a disservice with such behavior. Rather than meet my criticism with honest discourse, you act in a way that really is classically racist: you try to dismiss the person who points to the problem.
Of course, that didn’t work either. Try as you or anyone else might, the fact remains that I’m Oakland’s longest active consistent blogger, and it’s first and only continuously active YouTube Partner. If I were white, that fact would have been celebrated long ago.
I hope you are upset that I point that out.
So, I left it at that, and unlike today, didn’t make a vlog about it, or a blog post, or a video-blog entry. I figured maybe Stephen was looking to get traffic by triggering this vlogger, so I left it alone. But fast forward to 2019 and I find that the same person has been accused of racism by people who work for him. And in that case, the headline was “East Bay Express Publisher Resigns Over Epithet”. What happened was, according his words:
“One story described white people singing along to live hip-hop songs that contained the N-word. This is a worthy topic for coverage, and I said as much. But while referring to hateful words subsequently reclaimed by the communities they once oppressed, I said a couple of those words aloud. I should not have done so and am extremely sorry that my remark caused others pain. I also should not have unilaterally taken down the articles. Instead, I should have respected our editorial structure and taken my feedback directly to our editorial management so that the editors and author might have addressed my concerns without permanently removing the pieces from our website. I am sorry for the way I disrespected the writer and editors involved in that coverage.”
The media coverage around that story got around enough such that Nenna Joiner of Feelmore, the popular sex toys shop in Uptown Oakland, announced she was not doing business with the East Bay Express any more. “As a community leader, I witness people in power abuse their roles, and there are no repercussions for their actions,” she wrote. “You have taken the first steps by expressing remorse and asking for forgiveness for the use of such shameful speech. More action is needed to ensure that you are worthy of community trust. Oakland deserves that, and so does the greater East Bay.”
And then, to make a long story short, Stephen Buel resigned.
Well, according to a “document” I found online, Buel is not only back, but sole head of something called “East Bay Publishing LLC”. Interesting, because other local news media entrepreneurs I talked to were under the impression that Telegraph Media owned the East Bay Express. But the LLC document lists Buel and apparently reopening a business that had been closed, because his current page on the East Bay Express website shows that he’s the current editor from “2019 – current”.
So, Stephen Buel is back. And since he’s back, I want him to work to stop the very institutional racism he has been a part of advancing.
See, the real problem is, as Mr. Buel himself demonstrated in 2014, if a black person like me complains of racism, a white person like Stephen will say I’m wrong and “roll eyes” as he, himself, put it. That’s pretty bad.
In my opinion based on a relationship that goes back to 1994, the East Bay Express has a long tradition of story after story working to make local black elected officials look guilty for actions that their white counterparts are allowed to get away with. The East Bay Express also has a long tradition of avoiding hiring blacks as writers. To my knowledge, they have had one or two African American female writers, and no standard payroll black male writer, versus many white male writers and editors. I do recall an African American man who was the sales and marketing boss something like 20 years ago, but that’s it.
I also have a ton of bad experiences that have come to define my relationship with the East Bay Express: from the 1994 time when I was hired to make a computer model of the economic impact of UC Berkeley on the City of Berkeley, only to be met with the horror of having my report chopped and pay slashed only because the editor, John Raeside, didn’t like the conclusion my 949-variable system dynamics model came to. That if UC Berkeley salaries were reduced, there would be almost no impact on the sales tax revenue to the City of Berkeley, because 77 percent of Cal employees lived outside of Berkeley.
Rather than use his space to talk about my story of the amazing achievement of building the model, and the other finding that a raise in UC Berkeley student tuition to $6,000 per semester would reduce sales tax revenue growth, I was subjected to an on-the-phone shouting match and no allowed, written explanation by his publication of what system dynamics was, or the system dynamics model that I built from scratch.
Then there was the time in 2001, when I gave my Super Bowl: Oakland video tape presentation that was made for our 2005 Oakland Super Bowl Bid Effort to an East Bay Express writer, only to wait for something to happen in terms of a story. The story never happened, and it took me six months to get my Super Bowl: Oakland video tape back. I had to call the Berkeley Police to get the East Bay Express to give me my tape back.
And how about the recent effort by another writer of the East Bay Express to paint me as doing something bad just because I have helped my long-time friend Phil Tagami with his bulk terminal project – which I have been a supporter of since its first introduction in 1991. I never hide. I have been proudly open about the fact that Insight Terminal Solutions is not only my client, but as the developer of the OBOT, one I sought out to work with. Anyone who reads Oakland News Now, knows this – the ITS logo has been in the face of my readers for eight months to date.
Only a person who has a racist lens would look at what I’m doing in a way that forms a cloud of suspicion, and not read my blogs or watch my videos to learn that I’ve helped Phil for decades and have Insight Terminal Solutions as a client. If I ever got paid, it wasn’t for my point of view, but for my platforms I built for him.
But, that written, I’ve helped Phil Tagami in online work many, many, many times without pay. And that goes back to 2006 (we met in 1991 at the Oakland Sharing The Vision convention). I regard Phil as my brother, and just as I regard Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf as my godsister, even if I disagree with the way she handles some things. That’s life.
But that now-former and freelance East Bay Express writer with the racist lens would never think to look at my association with Mayor Schaaf. I guess since she’s friendly with Tom Steyer, the East Bay Express writer looks the other way.
So, this now-former and freelance East Bay Express writer insists on a racist point of view, which reduces me to just another black guy who isn’t honest. So, then, laughingly, that person said he’s not racist. No, buddy, you’re massively racist. Want to know why? Just ask me. Don’t tell me I’m wrong.
There’s a small movement today. It consists of blacks and those who understand, who are at war with a practice that’s used by white men in particular, and regardless of political stripe. It is best encapsulated in this Atlanta Monthly article called “Racism isn’t always going to look like racism,” by Anjali Enjeti, and is a must read. This entry says it all, for me:
When it comes to identifying or defining racism and xenophobia, white people need to do less talking and more listening. What is and what is not racist must be determined by the people of color who are its targets. They are the experts, in the same way that members of the LGBTQ community are the experts on transphobia and homophobia, or Muslims are the experts on Islamophobia. All marginalized voices must be believed, centered, and supported. Any attempt to minimize, gaslight, or erase them only magnifies the trauma and compounds the pain and shame. It leads to silence, isolation, and strengthens oppressive systems of power.
I hope Stephen Buel, The East Bay Express, and that racist writer, come to the 21st Century, and stop telling me what I should think.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media