Residents Speak Out After Travel Article Portrays Oakland as “the Wild Side of San Francisco”

Social media backlash unraveled after an Australian travel article referred to Oakland as San Francisco’s subordinate.

Complaints from social media users outpoured after an image from an article in AWOL, an Australian travel blog in partnership with Quantas, was brought to attention on Facebook by journalist and historian Davey D Cook. The image reads “Introducing Oakland: The Wild Side Of San Francisco”

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One commenter, Jonathan Darr King, said, “How the hell does a person not know this is colonizing, silencing, ignorant, and on… Being Oakland is enough. We are a center, not the sideshow.”

Cook posted the image Monday morning with the message, “This is how our beloved city of Oakland is being marketed by our Visitors Bureau around the world.. I just saw this photo/ad along with an article on a website in Australia sponsored by Quantas airlines.. I was shocked to see it I must say this is pretty lame..One would think with the tremendous amount of history and talent in everything from art to activism that has put Oakland, we would not be presented this way.”

In the original post, Cook also called on Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and several city council members to explain the image, which was earlier believed to be an ad campaign by Visit Oakland, a private, non-profit tourism organization in Oakland. “I disapprove and if any of my tax dollars went to this I really disapprove,” he said online. Cook later stated the picture was generated by Oakland visitors bureau as part of a campaign.

Several of the council members responded to the post, which as of Tuesday evening has over 1,000 “likes” and over 600 “shares.” Oakland city council president Lynette Gibson McElhaney clarified the image was in fact not part of Visit Oakland’s ad campaign. “Where did you see this? I’ve never seen it and I know it’s not the official campaign of Visit Oakland. Interested to know who did the piece. Is it a meme?” Gibson McElhaney commented.

Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks also responded by saying he did not agree with the image’s message. “Oakland is magnificently Oakland…not in the shadow of anything, not needing to be introduced, and not the comical ‘wild side’…I didn’t, and don’t, approve of this marketing campaign,” commented Brooks.

In a recent interview, President & CEO of Visit Oakland Alison Best told the Express that “the piece was not an ad, but an editorial piece written by an Australian journalist for an inflight magazine.” She said that the image was used at a travel conference, after which one of her staff uploaded the image to her Facebook profile, linking the image back to the organization.

Visit Oakland did provide some photos to AWOL for the article, however, which Best says is standard procedure. “When journalists write about Oakland they often contact us about photography, so when it prints, it says photos provided by Visit Oakland. But we did not provide the [header image],” Best said. 

Best also said she doesn’t know where the controversial image originated.

The article, which was published on February 15, details a traveler’s first-hand account during a visit to Oakland while en route to Burning Man. The author references how The New York Times once referred to Oakland as “Brooklyn by the Bay,” and claims, “For plenty of residents, the East Bay Area is just an outer suburb of SF, an easy commute from city jobs, gigs, and restaurants. Rents are lower across the bridge and life is a little rougher, but that’s exactly what makes Oakland such an interesting place.”

The author also describes Oakland as “a mix of hip culture, immigrant neighbourhoods and tech start-ups” but with a vibe “much grittier than its east coast cousin.”

For many, the story’s content affirmed that their city is being misrepresented in order to appeal to a certain demographic. 

“They want to make Oakland a playground for white people to enjoy the ‘Black experience’ like Harlem was a playground escape for the wealthy white New Yorkers,” Alexine Braun commented. “But Black people of course are shut out from real participation but are fine to be the servants, serving up their culture on a silver platter for whites to devour.”

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