San Francisco: Not a Treat (Yet)

5 min read

I’ve been feeling pretty lonely and lacking regular human interaction the past few months. You know you’re desperate for human interaction when you look forward to visiting your new chiropractor because you know that as chatty as she is, she’ll also be a captive audience.

La, La, La, I Can’t See You!

Photo by epSos.de, flickr.com

I know monkey, I’m lonely too
cr: epSos.de, flickr.com

I think people in this city, at least the parts I’ve been in, are deathly allergic to making eye contact with others. As though meeting the eyes of another human might suck out their souls. I know there are many reasons why people may avoid eye contact: some are shy, some have social anxiety (or just regular anxiety), others wary of strangers, I’ve heard some say that they are afraid of being asked for money, but everyone?!

When walking down the streets, I’ve found people to be aloof and sometimes cold. I’ve met friendlier people walking down the streets of Manhattan and Paris. I’ve made more connections here with the thousands of gorgeous and no doubt very pampered dogs that live in the city than any of their owners. They happily wag their tails at me the same way I do internally when I see another black person on the street. I treat other black people in this city like they’re endangered species. I am shocked by their presence and have an urge to capture them and protect them like I may see another ever again. NatGeo voiceovers play in my head: The black American, endangered in these parts, is seen walking into a Starbuck’s, where we must assume, they will purchase a caffeinated beverage.

I’ve started missing the comfort of Los Angeles. A city where I know how things work, how people behave and (for the most part) how I fit in. An article in The Atlantic quoted a study that found:

…withholding eye contact can signal exclusion. … Even though one person looks in the general direction of another, no eye contact is made, and the latter feels invisible.

Yup, pretty much.

New York City gets a bad rap as an unfriendly city

New York City gets a bad rap as an unfriendly city

The friendliest resident I’ve met to date is an older black panhandler named Mike. I was in the Castro trying to find a nail shop I was Christmas-gifted with a manicure to, when he asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any change and noticing me]y peering around, he asked me what I was looking for. (I legit didn’t have any change. One of the best lessons I learned last year was not to forget the humanity of the homeless and down-and-out. I try to at least smile at and acknowledge those that I encounter.) I told him the address and he walked with me trying to help me find the salon since as he told me he’d been “on that street corner for 10 years!” If anyone could find it, he could. He didn’t find it, but he gave me his phone number, sweetly asked when we’re getting married and made me promise to come back and show him my nails (I did, but he wasn’t there when I returned). Meeting him was the highlight of that day. “Mommy, another human spoke to me today!”

We Are the World?

I’ve read discussions online about the supposed diversity of SF. The city is largely white and Asian (majority Chinese) with those two groups comprising over 80% of the population and Latinos being the third most populous ethnic group at ~ 15% (give or take some percentages depending who’s reporting). We also have the largest gay and lesbian population in the US. Yes, this is a lot of different groups, but whether this is considered “diverse” depends on your perspective.

I often wonder if the “diversity” is touted by people who aren’t used to feeling like a minority in a US city. [Indeed: “Ideas of what is a diverse neighborhood differ by race.” ] Online, one commenter will lament the mass exodus of blacks from a city that used to have a large population of them (down to less than 6% from over 15% in 1970 and less than the US population of 13%). Another will rebut that there are plenty of blacks in Hunters Point (also known as Guns Point) and Bayview (a mostly working class neighborhood, with high poverty rates and called one of the most violent neighborhoods in the City by the New York Times).  Neither are neighborhoods you’ll see mentioned in glossy guidebooks or in hipster-foodie conversation.

Then the discussion inevitably devolves as some asshole puts in his or her racist two cents about how they are glad the “ghetto black thugs” keep to their habitat in Oakland. I (mostly) resist the urge to reply and instead fantasize about pulling a Tina Turner and getting the hell out of the US altogether . But, I’ve already covered that. (Please do not misunderstand, I’m an equal opportunity friender, but being the only black person [or one of few] in many of the places you frequent, gets really old after a while.)

To some, “a lot” of black people is 10 out of 300 white people. When I think of cities that are diverse, Houston, Los Angeles (though I think LA is unfortunately pretty segregated) and New York come to mind. Not just diversity of ethnic groups and sexual orientation, but economic diversity. It seems there are two kinds of residents here in SF: those with money and those without. The middle class is continually shrinking because the city has become so unaffordable.

There definitely aren’t a lot of black professionals living in SF. I went from working at a company where the staff was admirably diverse, including 15% black employees and 50% of women (in Santa Monica, not exactly a diverse area in itself). At my current office, I am one of 7 or 8 black employees, less than 3% of the total workforce. Some days I feel like walking around the city wearing a big ass sign that says “token”.

What About Your Friends?

Let me iiiiiin!cr:  stevendepolo, flickr.com

Let me iiiiiin!
cr: stevendepolo, flickr.com

On the friendship end, my attempts to reach out to the few people I already know here have mostly failed: multiple cancellations on their ends and one non-reply after dates to meet up were discussed. The kickball league I signed up for was cancelled. My coworkers are still cliquey.

A couple of weeks ago the cube people around me loudly talked about the happy hour they had planned. No one bothered to invite the new girl. This happened twice in the same week. Previous to that, on my way home one evening, I ran into a manager who asked me if I was going to the happy hour one of my project teams was having that night. That was the first I’d heard of it. Further, last week in the office, I walked by a woman whose tag was sticking out of her shirt. Trying to be helpful, I told her, and her response was “Oh.” No “thank you”, just “oh”. Later I ran into her on the elevator and she averted her gaze. Bitch, fine, look raggedy with tags sticking out all over the place, next time I’ll say nothing. So its been less than a treat, to say the least.

In the coming weeks, through convergence, I am signed up for a few meetup events, a speed-friending event (yes, I think it sounds lame too, but lonely beggars can’t be choosers) and an event with a service that helps women find girlfriends.  Supposedly the new kickball league I was transferred to starts in April. I am not holding my breath.

Is this really my life?

Hope Floats

I am not giving up though. I’m charming, dammit, and people in other cities like me. Funnily enough, thanks to a crazy boiler blowup in my apartment building, I ended up having a drink with my (married and retired) building manager who’s lived in San Francisco all his life. I was probably a little much as when he asked how I was doing I sighed so heavily you’d think I was recovering from an asthma attack. This is what having few friends does to someone who’s a Myers-Briggs ‘E’. All my thoughts came gushing out like a busted fire hydrant. Chatting with him was a pleasant reminder that behind the non-gaze of San Franciscans are people who like and even wish for human interaction.

Hope is nigh! I think I may have finally cracked one of the cliques at work. And I may have a couple of new lunch buddies. Last week, I had a girl date with someone who lives in my neighborhood that seems promising. My neighbors have been nice and a couple even helpful. I’ve met most of them (and their dogs).

I am the chapter leader of the black employee network at work (for all few of us, though the other outposts of our company have many more). It’s only been three months. I just need to be patient (though telling myself this is like telling Rihanna to keep her damn clothes on: you can try, but you know she ain’t listening) and not let myself be overcome with bitterness. Sharing this with the world is testament to my optimism. I know that in a year or two I’ll reread this post and be thrilled with my progress and laugh about my former loneliness with my new friends.

8 Comments
  • theh2obaby
    March 9, 2013

    I am so sorry SF isn’t being better to you! I lived in the Castro for 3 years and loved it ~ but I started by moving in with a good friend. If kickball doesn’t work out for you and you aren’t terrified of water, I recommend http://www.sfuwh.org/ Underwater hockey players are super people and make great friends. Everyone remembers being a beginner and welcomes them. My natal team became my friends while they were still wondering why I kept coming back because I was so lame, but I still felt welcome. And now I have friends all over the world because of uwh. Keep reaching out, girl. Those connections will come, but they take time and effort in a fantabulous city where everyone is working their butts off just to make the rent.

    • thegirlnextdoorisblack
      March 11, 2013

      I had no idea underwater hockey existed. Unfortunately, while I am not afraid of water, I am afraid of drowning, lol. But, I’ll keep it in mind for when I finally conquer my last bit of swimming mastery: treading water.

  • Hellyes
    February 27, 2013

    I’ve moved around a lot. And I’m not sick of it. Which may be scary actually.

    So, despite being an extravert on the myers briggs test, I get bored a lot. And I don’t like to waste time with people who are only my friends because they’re in love with me. That sounds conceited, because it is, and it all came from deep dark parts inside my head, but I run into a lot of people who are desperate for relationships without assessing how much I am reciprocating their affections…

    What I often turn to is self-help stuffs, like you where you’ve joined dodgeball. I’m learning how to play violin again, joined choir etc, there’s never enough time or money for me to do all the things I want to learn.

    And like Heidi said, when all is said and done, there’s no time to do much.

    • thegirlnextdoorisblack
      February 27, 2013

      I appreciate the thoughts, thanks! I totally agree with this: “there’s never enough time or money for me to do all the things I want to learn.”

  • Andrew Heaton
    February 27, 2013

    I love this post. I love it because, despite being 30 and white, I relate to it in so many ways. We moved here to Cupertino in June, and the change in demographics was jarring. I wrote about it at the time (http://southernmaninindy.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/independence-day-in-a-city-of-immigrants/), and I’m still adjusting. Having come from the South and Cincinnati, the almost complete absence of black neighbors is still something I’m not used to seeing.

    I’ve also moved around a lot since I graduated undergrad back in ’04, and I really sympathize and relate to just how hard it can be to make friends as an adult in a new city. We’ve been here since June and I still feel isolated at times, outside of my wife and daughter. Good luck on your journey!

    • thegirlnextdoorisblack
      February 27, 2013

      I enjoyed your post. You have lived in some really black places, lol. It’s cool reading about your perspective going from majority to minority! Good luck to you, as well! 🙂

  • Heidi
    January 29, 2013

    Ah no…. so sorry you’re finding it tough. It is though when you move some place new. And to be honest I’ve never liked SF because I’ve always felt like I would never fit in there – everyone seems to be too ‘something’ – perfect isn’t really the word (because that’s LA) – maybe too white or too homogeneous, or something… I just never got the vibe that so many people I know love about SF. If you were in the Palo Alto I’d send you over to bug my cousins… they are fun people… but I know what a pain it is to travel around the bay area.

    Well, there is always London or Europe in a few years. 🙂 And I’ll be here…. but if you wait too long I’ll be in Australia…. so check your timing. And hang in there…. once you’re really busy you’ll find all the friends and then you won’t have time.

    Cheers!
    Hx

    • thegirlnextdoorisblack
      January 29, 2013

      Thanks for the continued support Heidi, it means a lot to me! 🙂

      Ah Europe. I will definitely check with you before I plan any out of country moves! 🙂

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