By Etecia Brown
I write this post nostalgic of the 'good ol days' in San Francisco/Frisco/Sucka Free City. I am a 4th generation San Francisco native. Born and raised in Bayview Hunterspoint/the Point I have a lot of love in my heart for all the forgotten people of my home town- the survival and mourning that my community and Black and Brown communities like mine around the country have experienced over the decades since the Reagan Era. (Fill in the name of your major city) Nativism. Its political! When I say I'm a San Francisco Native what I mean is 'I'm hella proud to have grown up here. I am apart of a tribe of people who have watered this land with their tears and blood. I am apart of the tribe that built this city with their hands and minds. And, I'm not leaving'. When you are indigenous to a place that means that you have generations of roots there. You have a symbiotic relationship with your environment and you praise the land, whether it's reppin' your block, your home team jersey, or your kin folks' last name, your place matters. People are intrinsically tied to the place they grew up, like a baby to an umbilical cord. It is only right to be able to raise your children where your roots are. San Francisco natives are currently being re-colonized; we are fighting for our homes, for our health, and for our future. Gentrification is a modern term for colonization. When people are displaced they are being disconnected from their symbiotic relationship with the land. Out of rhythm. Access to and knowledge of resources is scarce in marginalized communities of color in metropolitan cities. This limited access is even greater when these communities become displaced and scattered throughout suburbia. In suburbia community is missing- people become unable to rely on kinship as a means to flourish. There is no collective efficacy without common grounds. Displacement creates isolation of low income Black and Brown families. From DC to Brooklyn to the Bay Area you see Black and Brown people fighting to maintain culture and local tradition and create more spaces for radical native expression.
San Francisco was once glorified as a haven for diversity, freedom of expression, and progressive policies and now has been taken over by developers. The tech culture that has reshaped San Francisco is a culture of looting and isolation. Tech companies have created billionaires who have the power to purchase policy and politicians that serve the industry with no regard to the rest of the city population. Black and Brown people living in San Francisco (and in virtually every major city across the country) are experiencing apartheid. These marginalized people are being pushed out of the system because of poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, miseducation, and state sanctioned violence. The media has focused on the problems of the day without giving context to the current circumstances Black and Brown people are experiencing. The divestment that Black and Brown communities experienced after slavery forced people to rely on creating their own means to get their basic needs met. Throughout America you could see small tribes of Black people gathered to provide goods and services to each other. Not too long after the emergence of the Black middle class did Black people face one of the greatest tragedies of our time, the poisoning of our communities with drugs and television programming. Black communities became bleak and slighted and white people quickly fled out of urban city centers to the safe shelter of suburbia. Today there is a re-interest in urban neighborhoods because of their once-vibrant culture and low market value. Public art and unique enclaves have been paved over and sterilized to cater to the elitist, homogenized budgets and tastes of one demographic. Where I used to be able to walk in my neighborhood of Bayview Hunterspoint, a place that people classified as bad and superfluous, I now see see new cafes and bike shops pop up, and I know that these places are not here for me or for the residents of color still living here. The tech industry in the Bay Area is spreading like wildfire- a virus of sorts, something like the Matrix. In other U.S. cities the pull may be a different beast but no matter the pull the outcome is the same, old neighborhoods that you walk into look completely different. The newly wealthy have co-opted cultural institutions and replaced them with their own exclusive social clubs. This forced sterilization of urban cities has created a Nativism movement. People experiencing gentrification understand that not having a place to live doesn't just mean being kicked out of your home it could also mean losing your life. The Nativism movement is inherently tied to the Black Lives Matter Movement and Housing Justice Movement. People are rallying to keep their neighborhoods not only safe from police violence but also protected from gentrification. The more an area becomes gentrified the more frequent you began to see police murders of Black and Brown people. Just like Christopher Columbus, they come with their guns, germs, and steal and act as if they discovered something new (i.e. Hipsters and thrifting, Hipsters and ice cream, Hipsters and bikes, Hipsters and graffiti, Hipsters and Rap music, Hipsters and "the ghetto") completely annihilating a whole race of people in the process whether that be directly or indirectly. Police are the 'king's men', making way for a new demographic of people to occupy the space where you once lived. First it started with mass incarcerations and gang injunctions, and just in case we didn't get the memo they are lynching Black and Brown people live recorded in public all in the name of housing.
San Francisco had been a place that pulled people interested in exploring their liberties. For Black people, an opportunity to work and purchase a home. For others the freedom to love free or fight for social justice or become an artist or teacher or practice alternative medicine. People came to San Francisco because of this promise of liberalism – to be apart of a community. Our grandparents moved out of the South so they could stop working on other people's land and be able to have something of their own that they can pass down. Now look around you. Some of us are paying 3/4ths of our income to rent- a place we will never own. This is money we will never see again. Renting is paying someone else's mortgage so that they can pass down that property to their children. Slave masters went from farming to real estate. Renting is becoming less and less possible as the average one bedroom in San Francisco is almost $4,000 and in Oakland almost $3,000. That means more homeless children, more homeless young adults, more homeless people of color. None of the money being made by these tech companies is really be invested in the cities poor/working class, families, people of color, or any social services. With the influx of wealthy techies in San Francisco the Center for Homeless Youth closed in 2013, the oldest Black-owned/Black-centered bookstore in the country closed in 2014, San Francisco’s last lesbian bar closed in 2015, and most recently the African Orthodox Church of St John Coltrane closed in 2016. When my family came to California it was like striking gold compared to life in the South. Many Black families who came to San Francisco came because they saw an opportunity for their family to flourish. For a lot of families Black communities like the Bayview symbolized freedom and access as you could once walk down the street and shop at a variety of Black-owned businesses. Now there are a handful of Black-owned business left in the Bayview, let alone San Francisco as a whole. As our roots are being dug up I am pushing deeper to stay. I am exploring what it means to be a native of San Francisco. What it meant to my great grandparents who came here. What does it mean to you to be a Native of a major city? What does home mean to you? Are you a free man? What does it mean to own? What does it mean to save? Place matters, just like Black lives, and Black love. Plant seeds today so that your roots may flourish. Don't give up on your home. It's yours.
*In my opinion this movie sums up the experiences that Black people in San Francisco are facing today. Thank you James Baldwin for making our voices heard.
Take This Hammer with James Baldwin, National Educational Television 1963