I had a few thoughts while reading a book called “San Francisco: Then & Now,” which shows past and present pictures of SF landmarks and neighborhoods. Of course you know the Golden Gate Bridge is gonna be in there, plus Fisherman’s Wharf, Transamerica Pyramid, etc. I wanted to look for residential neighborhoods but could only find the Marina, Telegraph Hill, Nob Hill, and the Sunset. When reading about the Sunset the book said the alphabetic street names (Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo, etc.) were all named after Spanish colonizers, meaning the people who stole those very same lands and murdered and enslaved the population living on them. I will always think about that whenever I drive through the Avenues from now on.
To me, gentrification is colonization. Not to lessen what the Indigenous went through, but I think SF locals can identify with being forced out of your homeland and watching a conquering race/class take over the land while appropriating your culture and directly benefiting from your hard labor.
Another action colonizers take is wiping out the history of the people being colonized. Looking back at this book that mentions almost no working-class areas, I realized that our neighborhoods have never really been included. Based off the pictures in this book, it would be easy to assume that only white people live/lived in SF. There was a small blurb about Fillmore’s jazz history but what about the proud dockworkers that settled Bayview/Hunter’s Point, or the diverse artists and musicians of the Excelsior? Actually I’m having a hard time thinking of other historical facts about these neighborhoods because, come to think of it, they’ve never been taught to me!
I recall an article in Huffington Posts about black business leaders boycotting San Francisco because black residents are being shut out of the tourism industry. I read the comments and saw things like “Why would anyone want to go to black neighborhoods in SF?” or “They’re too dangerous for tourists to visit.” Yet Chinatown is full of poor folks, and definitely has a history of gangs, crime, and violence, but is still one of the biggest tourist draws in the city. Perhaps being able to benefit from worldwide tourism has allowed Chinatown to gain more economic power and prosperity, while also shaking the same stigmas as other Asian/black/Latino neighborhoods. If our history and our value is unknown or unacknowledged, then I guess it’s on us to document and tell our own histories in our own way. We have to show these yuppies, hipsters, tourists, corporations, and greedy politicians that we have always played a crucial role in this city and that our culture and history is beautiful and deserves to be recognized.
One final thought. When looking at a picture of Golden Gate & Taylor (off Market St) from 1922, I saw well-dressed white folks walking to and from local shops and businesses. Now that same intersection is part of the Tenderloin and swarming with drug addicts, dealers, and struggling businesses. It’s also being heavily gentrified right now as part of Mid-Market redevelopment. Crazy how once neighborhoods become populated with poor people of color, they are neglected, flooded with drugs (crack dealers do not own planes), and given a bad reputation. To me it seems like the people of these neighborhoods are made to die a slow, institutional, systemic and social death. As they are being neglected, the rich make plans bulldoze over their lives and legacies to build new housing and businesses that those poor people would never have been able to afford. It’s very likely that 2022’s picture of Golden Gate & Taylor might also feature well-dressed white folks enjoying successful local businesses without a poor person in sight.
As I get more and more involved in the struggle against gentrification I realize how important it is to document all this information and make it readily-available. This is still a fairly new, developing issue and not everyone has access to the facts. Maybe I will write a book of my own. I don’t want to look at an SF history book in 20 years and see that our struggle to maintain our housing and our culture has also been swept under the rug.
About 3 years ago I wrote, filmed, and edited a video about gentrification in SF. I wanted to raise awareness in my own community, nationwide and even internationally about what was going on. I never thought that the problem would have gotten this much worse by 2013. Sometimes I think about this and it almost bring me to tears. I live in Oakland now and I hate coming to SF, it’s expensive just to visit. I get crammed into a sardine can BART train, or pay $6 toll and sit in awful traffic on the Bay Bridge, and I look around and at all these faces and almost never see anyone familiar.
San Francisco is now Babylon. The city culture used to be based on community, on diversity, on peace and happiness like the hippies preached when they came in the 1969 Summer of Love. Of course there was always the gap between the really rich and the really poor neighborhoods, but so many people were able to come together within that gap. They are the ones who helped make this city so wonderful that people from all over the world wanted to live here. But now SF culture is based on greed, selfishness, and hedonism. Whereas before you had hippies, artists and community-minded folks flocking to the Bay Area, now you have people who don’t have seem to have much interests besides following trends, making money, drinking, and running through SF like it’s their own personal playground. This is really symptomatic of the kind of sick American personalities based in ignorance, privilege and entitlement that seem to be predominant in most of the 50 states these days. I don’t want any part of it.
One time another SF native and I were walking near the Embarcadero on a crowded Sunday morning. We looked around and realized that the only other black people in the area besides us were homeless. That’s probably quite proportionate to the general city population- the only neighborhood that hasn’t had a drop in its black population is the Tenderloin and 6th St./SoMa area, where most housing for homeless folks is located. This is all part of the plan: the war on drugs, the epidemic of street violence, the prison industrial complex, the constant cycle of poverty- all of that shit has been working like a charm. People always tell me it’s a class issue, not a race issue, but if you’re black or brown you’re born into those types of conflicts. We inherit them. Our ancestors were exterminated and enslaved and the same tactics used on them are more or less being used on us. If you read comments on news articles or social networks, people act like all the minorities just floated away and are now living on some magical island or something. Actually, I take that back, they don’t really seem to care where we’ve gone at all. They just praise how much safer and cleaner certain neighborhoods have become. Well if the city managed to clean up those neighborhoods, why couldn’t they have done so when they were mostly populated by people of color?
Once I was on 4th and Mission, where graffiti used to be pretty common, and I noticed there wasn’t a single sticker posted or tag on the walls. The streets and gutters were spotless. Now, head on over to BVHP and tell me where you can find the same quality of street cleaning. It’s very obvious that the city government is deliberately ignoring the needs of certain peoples and communities while bending over backwards for others. Meanwhile, they will blame and criminalize the residents of those communities for responding to the unlivable conditions that the city itself established.
Another time, I was walking in the actual Mission District, 15th and Mission, and I noticed huge condos being built and advertised. RIght away I thought, “Oh hell nah! We gotta do something to stop this!” Just then I realized that the developmental planning on those condos had probably started years ago; that all the permits were in place; that the time do something about it had long gone. This is consistent with all the other issues and actions related to gentrification. The more research I do, the more I realize that this has plan has been in place for decades. It goes back to redevelopment of the Fillmore and the creation of the “Western Addition;” it goes back to government shutdown of the Hunter’s Point shipyard and the transformation of that area into a toxic waste dump; it goes back to the military internment of Japanese citizens during WWII; it goes back to the massacre of Native Americans by miners and mountain men during the gold rush; and all the way back to when conquistadors touched down from Spain and forced the Ohlone people into the Mission system.
Almost every turn of events related to city politics in the last 50 years has led us to this. The closure of public schools, gang injunctions, metered parking on Sundays, tickets & citations no one can afford, sit-lie laws, the courtship of the America’s Cup, and the endless development of high-price housing- they are all part of this tangled web.
Maybe this sounds extreme to some but now I relate to those Native Amercians. I relate to the Palestinians. I relate to anyone that’s had their homeland taken from them by people who look at you and everyone like you as inferior. These yuppies, hipsters and tech-types don’t care about struggles of poor, working class people. If anything they are disgusted by poverty; they look at homeless people as a nuisance, young black men as a fear, and outspoken Latina women as a threat. They are conveniently sheltered from us in nice Victorian homes we used to populate, and watch us from shaded outdoor patios at expensive trendy restaurants. To be an outsider in your own home is a terrible experience that I don’t wish on anyone.
Unfortunately this experience is not limited to San Francisco. What’s most disturbing is that this cycle of gentrification is common nationwide. My patna from New York laments about how whack Brooklyn has become. My homegirl from South Central LA is shocked to have white neighbors for the first time in her life. Even my folks in Asheville, North Carolina talks about how trendy hipsters have invaded the town. So, now I pose the question: what exactly can we do?
The sad answer is that, at this point, I simply don’t know. Honestly most of me has given up on San Francisco. I love living in Oakland, and these days that’s where I prefer to spend my time- something I never thought would be the case. But I know in my heart that I can’t just sit idle and start over here. Even if it was possible for me to fully abandon SF, I know that Oakland is experiencing the same type of change as we speak. I’m afraid that just as I get settled here, the Oakland natives that I know and love will be replaced with more of these modern-day colonizers. I’ve already seen it happen in just the short year and a half I’ve lived here. I don’t want to just lie down and accept it.
I want to be face-to-face with Mayor Ed Lee, look him in the eye and force him to address these truths I want to gather the displaced and soon-to-be-displaced residents of SF and force city politicians to give us a real answer. I want to call out some of the authors and publishers in the SF Chronicle on their biased articles. I want them to see, understand, and embrace how the true heart and soul of San Francisco is really living. I want to see some of these media and tech giants that have found success in our city use their massive revenue to help families and working-class people keep living here. I want people of privilege to empathize with our struggle instead of calling us lazy or accuse us of not working hard enough to keep up. More than anything, I want the same thing I wanted 3 years ago- I want the people who can really step up and do something about this to wake up- that means YOU.