Race Wars

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Normally I don’t delve into this stuff because I’m spoiled by who I surround myself with, unless some rookie happens to get under my skin.

       For worse or for worse, Facebook has amplified a new range of voices. Shit, everyone’s a philosopher nowadays (why even go to school). I mean, it’s great that technology has encouraged a wave of intellectual awakenings, but watching people try to reinvent the wheel can be frustrating. Everyday now (or really every time I check the damn thing) people are sharing links and liking posts, positioning themselves alongside random internet gospel in an attempt to manufacture confidence in the beliefs they’ve duct-taped together. In discussions, all it comes out to be is a half-assed blurting of other people’s half-assed stuff to try and score ego points here and there in never-ending asinine back and forths (the equation for ignorance is half-ass^p, after all).

       The current trend is to invade discussions about solutions to racism. The banter usually boils down to talking about how we are not actually a post-race society; and how certain efforts are or are not successful at transforming us into that post-race society. On my view those efforts fall into a few different models: bruteforce solutions (over-compensatory), passive solutions (equilibratory) and role-modeling solutions (singular).

       On the brute force model, people attempt to manufacture equality by countering racism with anti-racism. Here, the plan is to force demands for equality down societies gullet through methods like protests and boycotts, thereby squeezing racism out of humanities butt-hole and hopefully reaping the benefits. One recent example is the Bay Bridge blockade. The other day my Uber passengers were unaware of why the Bay Bridge was being blocked off. I explained to them what the cause was, but they didn’t seem sure it worked. Of course, some will say nothing was accomplished (SF/Oakland is still seeing robberies in broad daylight, Flint isn’t now getting clean water and killer cops aren’t getting re-tried), while some say it served its purpose (by virtue of getting an aloof Uber-riding couple to talk about something other than getting drunk).

       Another example, Jada Pinkett-Smith was on record as saying she wants to boycott the Oscars. She wants to force the awareness of the blinding absence of minority representation within these kinds of events. Of course, some will argue avoiding the already all-white celebration is the right move (in order to avoid playing the token black woman and risk humiliation), while others will want to argue that merely being there helps to scrub away some of the white washing (Jada could be the one carrying the torch and she’d surely be a good fit to do it). I mean, can she (or the protestors) ever really win in people’s eyes? Jada, the people on the Bay Bridge, and others like them will always end up damned if they do (people will argue that nothing really changed) and damned if they don’t (people will argue that they did not help to bring awareness to issues at all).

       On the passive model, people try to create an idyllic piece of reality under the hope it will be embraced and dispersed by society itself. In other words, by behaving as if all things are equal and showing what equality can look like, the rest of society will follow suit and just make it happen. A popular example is Star Wars’ Black lead actor, John Boyega. On the one hand, he plays a Jedi (thumbs up…and spoiler?), while on the other he’s a servant and a galactic janitor (thumbs down). Some people say that Finn represents a billion(s) dollar invitation to Hollywood to put more minorities in lead roles, which will encourage the rest of the studios to catch on and do the same (emulating and propagating equality). Others argue that Finn is just status quo for Hollywood and that other studios will continue to mock minorities one way or another (sabotaging attempts at equality).

       A similar case is  Black Entertainment Television (BET), which is a channel (just like PBS, CNN and NBC) that produces its own content (just like Two Broke Girls, Big Bang Theory, and How I Met Your Mother). Yet, the channel is at once supported by a part of the community and also disdained by another. Some think it is necessary to keep the channel alive to maintain minority representation (else there wouldn’t be any to speak of; just having it up might inspire other bigwigs to put out more channels and content for minorities in a mostly white washed space). Some argue that merely having that channel running doesn’t do enough to provoke racial equality (citing endless reruns of syndicated shows and no unique, thought-provoking content; what good has really come of endless Lil Wayne music videos). Again, damned if you do (people say passive efforts carry some embedded racism anyway) and damned if you don’t (what examples of equality would there be if no one even attempts to show what it could look like).

       On the singular model, though, an individual places the burden on herself to encourage change with both passive and bruteforce methods. In other words, this is the “do work” solution. See, I was watching ESPN and Marlon Wayans was actually asked if he would boycott the Oscars (his friend Jada already said she would). Besides saying he wasn’t invited (in a joking way), he said that his primary concern is putting his head down and producing, writing and creating content. In this case, Marlon believes he carries the responsibility as an individual minority actor/filmmaker to represent other potential minority filmmakers (proving it is possible to succeed) and also help others to become creators (making others succeed). He is a classically trained actor (some would call him whitewashed) who produces pretty dumb movies (some would call him an Uncle Tom). No matter what, people are going argue about whether he is doing good or bad for equality. But no one can say he he hasn’t put in the work to demonstrate and encourage success (look at the commercial for his new movie and it is minority actors in the spotlight). Marlon wants to earn his right to get invited to the Oscars and decline if he so chooses, and is helping get others to the point where they can get invited to shows (and decline). Quite frankly, he doesn’t care what people think about his efforts, because he’s actually seeing a payoff (financial, familial and sociological success). There is no damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t in this case, because he has become who he wants to become and is helping others become who they want to be. Who can argue against that? 

       If you’re reading between the lines, the only “model” that matters is the singular individual effort a person makes towards ultimately becoming who they want to become and also helping others do the same. Talking about other people’s efforts (whether bruteforce or passive) does society no actual good (talk is cheap, after all). Each of those people on the Bay Bridge, Jada, John, and Marlon all have shifted society forward in some real way (look into Boyega’s eyes here and tell him he’s an Uncle Tom hurting our chances at equality). If you ask any of them, they’ll tell you they have seen change come about through their efforts and have seen success occur. I’m sure the dude said something like, “be the change that you wish to see in the world” not, “argue how SOMEONE ELSE is right or wrong without ever doing shit yourself.” I mean, maybe I haven’t changed the world by wanting to become some Mexican-Salvadorean,  Latino Honor Roll every year, ADHD researching, salutatorian (Kelly!), news article writing, Cal graduating double majoring, fitness coaching, businessman, tutoring, blogging kid from the Mission, but at least I’ve proven that anyone from the hood can do cool shit, too. There’s just no way I’m gonna let a sideline Facebook troll tell me I haven’t tried to put up my end of the bargain in this thing. 

 

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Finding Fault

 

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Topic has been beaten to death, revived and done over many times, but I did have a good discussion about what type of responsibility (ultimate or immediate) one should weigh as more responsible-er.

It is quite common to hear about people becoming resentful of their new neighbors. Whether it’s fair or not, I’m not sure yet. I’ve been going back and forth about who really holds the responsibility for the eviction of the middle-class problem, or whatever you want to call the disappearance of the local families and individuals in San Francisco. Ultimately, lots of different kinds of people are at fault; the more opportunistic individuals already living, or even native, to the city being the most at fault. That is, those San Franciscans who are successfully selling precious spaces in the city at increasingly higher prices, thereby trickling down certain expectations onto business owners (such as the one that people now living here can afford to pay more for stuff; $20 sandwiches, $15 PBR can, $300 dollar-a-month gym memberships, etc.), are the ones heavily catalyzing the shape-shifting of the city into one that fits snugly into the back pocket of the wealthy. Clearly, there is a real estate equivalent of a gold rush taking place within the city and the bidding wars for those precious spaces are tearing the city apart. Naturally, locals are increasingly resentful about the rise of living-space prices and the ensuing evictions. Some people seem to resent the newcomers moving into the city, while some would rather blame those who actually allow it to happen.

At first blush, some people might want to direct their resentment over the changes in the city towards the new neighbors coming in. In speaking with my friend, J, she admitted to blaming the “whitewashing” of the Mission on the newcomers themselves. That is, the evictions of loyal Mission families and the sprouting up of unwanted juice bars and random art galleries is totally the fault of the newcomers. She argues that, had these individuals not chosen to overcrowd the Mission, the local communities could have stuck together (and not disintegrate across all the greater bay area). On her view, the newcomers could easily have chosen to live or start business somewhere else, considering spaces in places like the Sunset neighborhood or even the Daly City outskirts are cheaper (and still mighty close to those hipcool Valencia Street bars). Basically, it does not make sense to want to crowd a place more than it already is unless you are simply trying to impose your greedy will on a situation (like forcing your way onto a severely overcrowded MUNI; making life harder for others, but at least getting what you want and getting to where you want to get to). It makes sense to want to resent the overcrowding on those who are ostensibly aware of the neighborhood and the dire situation, but still choose to compound the issue.

I would argue, though, that it would be somewhat irresponsible of those effected by the real estate rush to direct all of their resentment at the neighbors and none on the landlord. For example, my friend J lives in a building that is owned by a San Francisco family. Ironically enough, this family has a history of lucky strikes. They found gold back then and have lived off those profits ever since (even own a popular restaurant in the Mission). But now, in the second coming of the rush, they have taken notice of another opportunity to cash in. Let’s say J and her family pay approximately $700 a month for rent. J and her family are safe for now, thanks to the relationship between her mother and the landlord, but say the day comes when the mother and the landlord are no longer around. J believes the landlord’s heir would evict J and her family to make room for other, wealthier people willing to pay closer to $1500. In this case, it is clear to me that the blame should go to the landlord and not whomever actually moves in. It is a more clearly evil act to cash in on an opportunity that is guaranteed to betray people, whereas contributing to the overcrowding itself (as a human body taking up space) is merely a consequence of the evil act. In other words, it is worse to promote and instigate gentrification (as a landlord) than to play the role of a pawn (or newcomer) in the gentrification itself.

Now, those people directly moved or affected by the eviction problem have all the right to ration out their resent in any amounts and directions as they please. It just appears that maybe the greater share of the blame ought to be heaped on those eager to promote the availability of the Mission (all while undercutting the wellbeing of those already living here). The newcomers are merely the players in a game being refereed by the landlords. It’s a crappy game because the teams winning most of the time are the ones being protected by the refs.

 

16th and Protesto

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When turning up gets political.

More and more frequently protests are propping up all around, mostly in the Mission. Some are less rowdy than others, but they seem to aim to escalate to a certain class of mob-like gathering. Just the other day (read a little about it: http://missionlocal.org/2014/01/mission-protesters-take-on-condo-dwellers-cops-cafes/) there was another protest, calling for people to “shoot the cops” and “burn the coffee shops”. The intent of this protest (and many others) is, of course, to engage in anti-gentrification catharsis, but the explicit reality is that it comes across as a crude and unfocused attempt to remark on the flaws of the current version of (Neo) San Francisco.

Firstly, to ignore the problem of burglary and instead aim vitriol at cops is sort of irresponsible. Some claim that the increased presence of officers on 16th and Mission (and other shady parts of the hood) can be attributed to the increased presence of richer folk. That might be true. At worst, the wealthy have proven that they can flex their influence and impose their will on the city by making things happen. At best, the wealthy’s influence has manifested itself in the form of increased police presence in places that might be dangerous for your girlfriends, mothers, and family to walk through on their way home from work late at night. Of course, it’s harder to walk around with a 40oz, but I think the trade off ultimately benefits more people than it hurts. Hell, I’ve been written up a time or two (stay away from 24th late at night fyi; cops be like grizzlies at the river hunching over for salmon) and even I’m ok with the increased police presence. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the city streets aren’t just my own personal playground (the streets are other people’s storefronts, baby-stroller lanes, pathway from work to home, etc.) and I’d rather more people feel safe than I feel free to debaucherize the town.

Secondly, to incite people to arson isn’t a safe idea for the community. Something about destroying property tends to lead to more property destruction. As was seen last year, some people don’t know how to do that shit right (supposed to burn Dodgers jerseys, not sacrifice MUNI buses). I can only imagine what would go wrong if people started burning places. I’m sure more than a few instances of friendly fire would piss people off (aim for Generic Coffee Shop, hit local mom and pop trinket store; misfire). Besides, what good is anyone’s brilliant creativity behind bars if convicted of arson? It would be like an infantry shooting themselves in the foot and taking themselves out of a war that needs as many soldiers as possible. Staying out of trouble is probably a wiser move.

Plus, this call for shootings and burnings could make the big-picture problem worse. If the new residents start seeing all this violence, they (with all that influence) are gonna call for even more police enforcement and then people are gonna feel they have to match that with even more violence. Eventually, the area would become a sterile no fun zone with a cop at every corner, thanks to the people who weren’t thinking hard enough about what could happen later if they continue all this irrational behavior. It’s like one gigantic party foul. Though, luckily, nothing too crazy has happened, it is wise to at least appreciate that nothing has, and to maintain that nothing will, happen. We don’t need to b martial law guinea pigs.

Protesting itself is not a problem, of course. I just think town hall type meetings would portray  a better image of the rebellion (rather than broken windows, death threats, etc.) and could actually squeeze compromise and creative solutions out of people a lot better than the rowdy rallies. For instance, the issue of the condos and the possible pros and cons that come with them. Some people argue that the condos would be a huge eye sore to the city. The condos could also displace other establishments that have been around for a long time. That car wash near 16th and Potrero doesn’t need to transform into a sun-blocking monolith representing the rise of the rich. Still, others could argue that the condos would allow certain people to move in there rather than displace families in other places by bidding on higher rent around the neighborhood. They could potentially block the rise of evictions (and serve to quarantine the rich). See, there are points of discussion here that I don’t think rallies always help to illuminate.

Rallies keep people occupied with doing the wrong things (threatening, throwing, drinking, etc.). Blogs can only do so much (fun to read, but not truly mobilizing). I’d rather meet with local business owners, neighbors and all relevant parties (maybe at the city college campus every Tuesday, or at Crepe House across the street) to come to an agreement about what’s the best way to articulate our worries with the City’s officials. It’s too easy to want to hate all cops, all coffee shops, all new residents, etc. It’s harder to focus that anger on the particular individuals themselves, simply because it costs mental energy to figure out who is actually at fault. But if people could meet and help each other understand who exactly should be called out, then the entire cause would become clearer and more legitimate.

Ride Share

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A Transportation Cold War is taking place in our city.

Google, Inc. (private) vs SFMTA (public).

A little while ago, Seattle guy (boooo) and New York Times (double boooooo) columnist Tom Egan called all bay area transit companies to the carpet (check it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/06/opinion/dystopia-by-the-bay.html?ref=opinion). He basically observes that the City’s modes of transport have ascended to a new level of futility even higher than FUCK-THIS-STUPID-SLOW-ASS-BUSS-ness. He even points out that MUNI buses slug along at 8Mph, the slowest pace in all the land. Good point, Seattle Guy. He very astutely explained that our buses have been left in the dust and are now inferior to other, private modes, such as Google’s own service. But that’s only a field goal in what should’ve been a touchdown on his part.

There’s a popular polemic relating to Google that’s been going around for a good while now: Google’s invasion of our streets for the sake of catering to its make-believe San Francisco residents (or Goobers) has infringed on our privacy. Not only do you have the Neo San Francisco issue (out-of-towners scooting locals off the block), but you also have the Transportation Cold War problem (hulking top of the line buses occupying our own MUNI bus stops). In other words, how dare these people not only try to show us what a real San Franciscan should live like (insufferable and aristocratic), but also try to show our city officials how to run a transportation program? Talk about arrogance, man.

To be fair, San Franciscans have a fickle dependency on MUNI. We need it, and deserve it, but sometimes we would prefer something else. Now, personally I love MUNI. It’s therapy for me. Yeah, sometimes you see things you don’t wanna see, but for the most part I get to where I need to get to in a reasonable amount of time (accounting for malfunctions, detours, wheelchairs, overdoses, dumpers, wheelchairs, fights, thefts, stabbing, wheelchairs, etc.). Plus, I can catch up on music. I mean, sometimes there’s a caravan of buses coming at once (all late) and sometimes sitting next to your resident drug addict isn’t that fun, so I can understand the displeasure some might feel toward MUNI. I mean hey, I get what I pair for, right? Until a new solution props up, MUNI is all we got.

As Egan pointed out, Google’s private bus fleet can be interpreted as a solution to their problem. For example, let’s pretend I am Google and I need my workers here on time. My employees can’t seem to rely on Caltrain with all the breakdowns, though. I mean, it’s not my fault they want to live over in hipcool SF. So I gotta do what I gotta do to make ends meet and it seems I have the resources to make it happen. I might not have quantum teleportation systems (yet) and I don’t have invisible cars (also, yet), but I do have all these black buses (at least they’re invisible in the dark. ). So boom, I solved my own late-employee-due-to-undependable-transportation problem. As a sensible person, I can appreciate that approach. After all, Google isn’t in the business of politics or public service. They’re a company with employees to take care of. Like with health insurance and other employee benefits, it’s at Google’s desecration how much they want to bend over backwards for their employees.

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Problem is, though, that this particular form of private transportation is a benefit for a very specific group of people (Goobers). The city has more or less been forced to play host to this private service (inaccessible to us) to satisfy the demands of the people playing house in San Francisco. In a growing list of  Have Nots for real world San Franciscans, these buses are rubbing people the wrong way. It’s like new neighbors moving into the projects, parking their 5 new Lambos and taking up your parking spot to make room for all their cars. It’s disrespectful and insensitive, all things considered.

Maybe the SFMTA should just do better, then. Take those parking spots back with Lambos of your own. Well, what if the SFMTA can’t? Maybe they need a little help from the outside. Like we’re finding out with cabs and their issues, there are solutions propping up from the outside, like Lyft and Uber. Cabs and cab drivers have their downsides, like being hard to hail, unnecessarily aggressive on the roads and sometimes rude. These new cab-like options (all hailed via our iPhones) are proving superior and more reliable than actual cabs. Best thing is that they are open to the public. So good job, code monkeys. You guys figured out how to “do better” in a manner that is inclusive, rather than aristocratic and private. I can support this kind of evolution (and no, I’m not implying good riddance cab drivers, because I’m rather sure those same cab drivers are thinking about switching over, if they haven’t already).

Google, of course, is a search engine company that, over time, has gotten into everything from email to phones. No lack of ambition on Google’s part. My suggestion is this: if Google really is super innovative and has the capacity and resources to make moves into different markets, why not dabble in transportation? I say this because ,not only does most of SF now know that Google has some kind of transportation system (viral marketing on a whole new level), but they’ve already tested it to apparent success. Google Buses Beta, if you will.

As Egan pointed out, what makes New York cool is that their buses serve the poor and rich. Fortune 500 company dudes can sit next to a butcher and a house wife without too much pretense. They are all just trying to get to where they need to get to.  Google Buses (let’s run with it) have the potential to make life easier for al kinds of people, and not just Goobers. Basically, those buses could turn into a new business venture for Google. Think about it. Routes could be mapped on Google Maps and Street View could help those who need assurance. Bus times could be posted on there, too.

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Now I’m not saying Google ought to take up the SFMTA’s transportation problem. I’m just saying, if Google is anywhere near as shrewd as I am, I flip this drama shit on its head. Remember, Google is/was trying to give all of SF free Wi-Fi. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Google would want to continue strengthening its relationship with San Francisco. By allowing the public to make use of its buses (at a fee), Google could bring in a whole new kind of revenue. Plus, this move would kill a lot of the heat on its employees.

Hell, UCSF does a similar thing, with shuttles open to employees, professors and guests to the different campuses. It’s a small sample, with only a handful of shuttles roaming the city, but there is never anything on the news about fights, dumping or malfunctions. They are free, since UCSF isn’t looking to profit from them (more of a service, like the current version of Google buses) and they are open to the public. It just  kind of works. Drama free, even. Of course, Google’s version could give the public access at a fee.

This has the makings of a coup, in my opinion. Google Buses (Beta). There you go. Touchdown. Google Buses (doesn’t that sound cool, Google?) is the peace treaty that Goobers and SF Natives didn’t even know existed. You’re welcome. I want a ride on this money train, Google…

Neo San Francisco

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I live where yuppies party.

Where people come to escape from the burbs, from trust funds, from the startup, from whatever. Or to get a cheap high from the obvious fact that they are commingling with people much poorer than they.

It might not even be intentional, but these outsiders (or  yuppies) bring that arrogant stink with them every time they stumble in. Like eau de bougie.

There is an interesting polemic at stake here, let me make that clear: If one earns a living, is it in their rights to also determine their living situation? That is, if I work for Google, and I’ve earned all these opportunities and money, should I not, then, feel that I’ve earned the right to live somewhere that is available and appealing to me?

On the one hand, we have the families and other dudes and dudettes that have lived here for a long time. Some for generations, some only for years. We all understand the feeling of territorialism that comes from protecting the neighborhood, or hood in this case. So we can sympathize with evictee families. But there are also, you know, non-ethnic people being evicted. Case in point, Twitter recently bought the building my former coworker is, or was, living in. She has, for all intents and purposes, been evicted; another, albeit uncommon, victim of gentrification.

So we have cases ranging from poor income families, to mid-income non-ethnic  individuals (or whatever we really want to call white people) who have succumbed to tech-driven manifest destiny.

What I’m trying to establish here is this: If I work hard for what I have, and I’ve earned my living space, should I feel guilty about the fact that, poor or not poor, my right to live where I want to live is negatively affecting ALL PEOPLE of San Francisco?

I think it’s a powerful interpretation of the situation.

When people take the gentrification issue as a racist issue, my instinct is to tell those people to think about all victims, not just your second cousin. It’s not a racial issue, this is equal opportunity formal colonialism.

Of course, on the other hand we have kids who have gone to school for years, learned a trendy trade and paid their dues. All respectable achievements, by my accounts. All kinds of kids have gone through the same process. Not just white kids, black kids, asian kids, etc. Fastfoward, they’re making dough and can afford anything. Twice over.

Say you’re working at Google, and you want to live somewhere that appeals to you. It’s within your rights to have that desire. Moving into the Mission, for example, is gonna piss people off. Piss a lot of people off. Especially those who are so curtly told to find a new place to live. Is it your fault you’re doing what makes you happy, cashing in your hard work for a cool spot?  Sometimes.

The problem here comes is in the form of misinformation and/or lack of communication.

I don’t think most people (on both sides) are fully aware of the the big picture. One side cites racism (or something resembling racism) and the other side, to my knowledge, really hasn’t said much in defense (probably due to incontinence).

Personally, I believe that, if the defense understood the case, or if those yuppie homies knew what they were actually doing, they’d think twice about pillaging these neighborhoods.

There are cases of sympathetic outsiders who do work in the community and support the neighborhood in ways that make sense (cause buying 5 burritos in one night doesn’t count). I know a few startups or similar type companies that do actually contribute to the city. But on the individual level, I don’t know that there are a majority of yuppies who have learned, or have been privately told, about what is going on. I don’t blame someone for not knowing something, cause sometimes it’s hard to learn obvious things. Like how some misspell Dolores (Delores, Dolorez, etc.).

If there could be some less hostile way to have a discussion with people, on an individual level, not necessarily these admittedly negative rallys (mostly shouting, lot’s of f-bombs), maybe more people would “get it”. So talk to your drinking buddy yuppie friend and help them actually really become somewhat cultured (cause that Aztec pattern beanie doesn’t count).

But who am I kidding. Let’s face it, the real problem here isn’t those outsiders who have the potential to learn and become our friends. It’s those who reek of bougie and who are the ones ok with antagonizing the hoods.

The fuckers that laugh as the lesser than fortunate load up their cars and move to Antioch, Oakland, San Mateo and the other outskirt towns. I’m convinced these cats are just trying to feel like the bully who took their lunch money and their homework. If not bullying, then it’s certainly classism. That’s the shit that’s most foul. So I have no problem when I see someone stand their ground and reply in kind.

But as it stands, that’s all we can do. Talk back. Either talk and help others understand the issue, or talk back and give em shit. Because there is no law against someone moving into a new location (there is rent control and unit limits, but that’s besides the point). Those with enough cash can ride right in, lay claim to our homes, our food and our women without guilt. Modern, formal colonialism.

So until then, cuss them out of every bar you see em. They don’t deserve to be drunk around here.