No Apologies: All San Franciscans are equal, but some are more equal than others
“There is no question that San Francisco is unique in many ways. It is a “post”-everything city: post-industrial, postmodern, postmaterialist, and post-Marxist. But it is also, to emphasize the obvious, a city – a large, densely populated, multiclass, ethnically diverse, economically complex city.” – Richard Edward DeLeon, Left Coast City
San Francisco claims to be the most progressive city in America. Yet, I have faced more prejudice here than in any other city in the world.
I have lived in Kirkland and Seattle, WA; Claremont, CA; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Seville, Spain. I have traveled in Portland, Los Angeles, New York, New Haven, Montgomery, Madrid, London, Paris, and Rome. And I have never been so harassed or apologized to so many times in my life.
Comments about my race, gender, age, or socioeconomic status were not uncommon before I moved to San Francisco. Yet, I didn’t move here looking for DeLeon’s “post”-everything city, a post-inequality paradise. After graduation I wanted two things: a good job and the opportunity to make a difference. San Francisco seemed like the best place to start.
Newly arrived from the suburbs of Southern California, I was thrilled to be living in a big city, an “innovative” metropolis with history and culture and diversity. I loved the concentration of talent, ideas, new projects, and strong values that manifested themselves as advancements in healthcare, marriage rights, technology, and thought. I gave myself over to San Francisco and it gave back.
But then it kept on giving and I stopped liking what I got: pejorative comments about my gender, my age, my socio-economic status, and my race. Although these comments come from friends and strangers of all hues – people who often bracket their words with apologies – it is the race comments that have stuck:
“Why you wear your hair kinky like that, you think you black?”
“You’ve never had malt liquor!? C’mon – let’s get some. It’ll be a cultural experience for you.” #hipsterracism
“Black is inclusive. White is materialistic and selfish. They can’t help it – it’s just their nature.”
“I’m sorry, I dunno, they just…make me uncomfortable.”
“But did he say it with an –er or an –ah? Cause I’m pretty sure that one is OK.”
“Don’t forget honey that you’re black. Your daddy is black. That means you black.”
“White people – they gonna walk all over us. You’re gonna have to choose a half.”
These are only a few of the comments I hear every week, if not every day. As a bi-racial woman of a modest background, I’ve always known that straddling two worlds can be both a blessing and a curse. However, most of the world reacts as if it were a blessing; here, the post-inequality populace offers both curses and apologies and each word hits like a hammer.
I’ve been told I need to move to Oakland because “that’s where all the educated black people are.” I’ve been told I’m too “approachable” – people just say things to me that they would normally keep to themselves. I’ve been told that I’m “too sensitive.” All I want is to walk out my door without fearing prejudice and return home without having faced it.
Every city has its problems and, unfortunately, these kinds of comments are not new to me. After moving to New York from the suburbs of Seattle, one of my closest friends from high school told me “there are black people like you. And then there are n*ggers – like the ones in my new neighborhood.” Halfway through my freshman year at Claremont McKenna College, one of my classmates – another mixed girl – shared that she had always thought life would be easier if she were white.
So such comments are not unusual, but in San Francisco, their sheer intensity and frequency was and is overwhelming. What’s more, here I cannot shrug them off as the hateful rantings of the ignorant or uneducated, when it’s the uber-accepting, ultra-educated liberals who turn my race into a spectacle. Why must my enjoyment of soul food or hip-hop be a political statement? When did political correctness become its own form of bigotry? San Francisco residents talk a lot about equality but my daily experience belies everything this city projects about acceptance, equal-rights, and “disrupting” the status quo. Indeed, in the midst of a community that is so vocal about equality, I am often shocked into feeling less equal than others.
I’ve tried brushing it off. I’ve wondered: What is going on? And later: Why do I make people so uncomfortable? What did I do?
The more I’ve searched for answers, the more confused I’ve become. In my mind, I’m a fighter but the only thing I can ever bring myself to say is a weak “why can’t we all just get along?” I’m frustrated and exhausted and I don’t actually want to fight. More importantly, I cannot stomach apologizing for what I am or, worse still, being apologized to for how “they” are – the not-so-mysterious other half.
I’m done with apologies. Frankly, I do not care if you are black, white, Latino, or Asian, rich or poor, straight or gay – my existence is not up for commentary. As an old professor often said, “better grey words and crimson examples, than crimson words and grey examples.”
For now, I’m searching for those crimson examples because I do not intend to abandon San Francisco out of fear or anger or even sadness. I want to believe that somewhere between fight and flight there is a middle ground. Perhaps, dear reader, you can help me find it.