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Editor's note: This article belongs to our Impact Stories series in which scholars, activists, artists, policymakers, and everyday people share their experiences putting OBI's research and principles into action in their communities.


The Othering & Belonging Institute has opened the doors for us as educators at UC Berkeley to name the structural root causes of injustices today, be it homelessness, displacement, climate change, transportation equity, and so on. I teach classes regarding racial justice, city planning, public policy and law at the Goldman School of Public Policy and the City Planning Department.

Two years ago I had Nicole Montojo (OBI housing researcher) give a presentation to my Urban Studies students on Roots, Race & Place, the report she co-authored about the history of residential segregation in the Bay Area. I also use the report as part of my curriculum.

Margaretta Lin speaking on stage
Margaretta Lin

The students have loved it. I think one thing we barely hear about is the history of racism in housing against the Asian American population. In a number of California cities, the first racial covenants targeted the Chinese, and very few people know that.

In fact where I live in the East Bay, according to my home deed, I'm not allowed to live here, in my own home!

The report revealed that history, which is important when we think about the debates today on affirmative action and how Asian Americans are used strategically and politically as a wedge against Black Americans.

I also used a quote from the report in my work at Just Cities, which is a racial justice planning and policy organization I lead. We had organized a meeting recently with grassroots community leaders and city officials regarding Oakland's Housing Element, which is the state-mandated plan all jurisdictions must submit every 7-8 years on their housing needs and strategies. We wanted to see certain policies included to stem the tide of racialized displacement and homelessness.

It really helps from my experience to bring in the reminders of history – how we got to where we are today – in conversations with policy makers because it helps to expand our thinking around what should happen today. 

At Just Cities, we also used the OBI Richmond report to complete the structural roots section of the Richmond Housing Element, which contains what I hope will be transformative new housing policies. The report had the history of housing in Richmond we needed. We didn't have to do new research or have to rewrite it. It was all there for us to pull from.

From a more general background, the power of a university research institute like OBI in naming racism and capitalism as foundational root causes of the problems we're experiencing today has been profound and powerful.

Margaretta Lin teaches courses on racial justice, planning, public policy and law at UC Berkeley. She is also the founding director of Just Cities, a leading racial justice planning and policy organization.