Tag Archives diversity in the Bay Area

On Being Black in San Francisco: A Snapshot

Photo cr: massiveselector.com
Photo cr: massiveselector.com

Last night, my sister, my friend “Mercy” and I were on the bus returning from Oakland’s First Music Festival (a blast!). We were exhaustedly babbling, trying to figure out what to do for dinner (sleep sounded like a great option!) when a young guy behind us interjected:

“Excuse me ladies…”

Oh lord. Don’t let this be some lame line. I am too tired.

“Excuse me ladies, but I just have to tell you how refreshing it is to see three African-American women on this bus. On any bus here really.”

Oh. Well…yeah. 

We all nodded laughed knowingly. We get it. There are so few of us here – particularly the young and upwardly mobile. You get so used to being the only one on the daily. It’s like we’re unicorns, aliens or endangered species; so, when you see another, it makes an imprint.

We chatted with him for a little while (he did, not-so-subtly, but charmingly, try to get one of our phone numbers indiscriminately) about the festival and his job at one of the museums in the City.

No numbers were exchanged, no wondrous epiphanies had, just a pleasant and notable encounter among strangers on a bus.

Side note: I’ve visited Oakland four or five times in the 11 months I’ve been living in San Francisco and I gotta say, Oakland just might be cooler than San Francisco. *Ducking flying objects*

A Day in the East Bay

Damn my need to experience things for myself.

When I announced I was leaving Los Angeles and heading up to the Bay Area, a few people encouraged me to consider living in the East Bay.

[For those unfamiliar with the area, here’s a simple analogy. San Francisco is like Manhattan. It’s the flagship city of the area. Oakland is like Brooklyn, a sister city across the water, that is sometimes very underrated, a city ‘snooty’ residents of the flagship city wouldn’t consider even visiting, and one that has its diehard fans who will passionately defend its superiority.  It’s affordability. It’s lack of pretentiousness. Both cities are experiencing a growing gentrification that dismay it’s original residents and is often attributed to the uptick in the overflow people who can’t afford to live in Manhattan or San Francisco. Then there are the other ‘boroughs’ like Berkeley and other surrounding small towns. 

I should note that I am from Brooklyn.]

When I got a headache looking for apartments in the City, my very sweet friend, Kat, offered, “My friend has a great apartment in the East Bay! His rent is pretty good. I can ask him if there are vacancies in his building?”

“Thanks, but I don’t want to live in the East Bay. I don’t want to live to far from work. I want a short commute.” 

Another friend, Jackie, excitedly suggested, “You should move to East Bay. I love it here!”

“I’m sure it’s great, but I want to live in San Francisco at least for a year.”  I’m six months in. Some days I wonder if I should have just moved back to New York.

I’d been to some parts of the East Bay before like Emeryville, Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, but I’d been wanting to explore more. So, when Jackie suggested we go for a hike one weekend and asked, “East Bay or the City?” I answered vehemently, “East Bay, I get enough of the City everyday!”

I met Jackie at a party four years ago in Los Angeles. She’s big into the outdoors and co-hosted an awesome hiking group through which I met several good friends.

Last Saturday I hopped on BART and met her in downtown Berkeley. Jackie gave me a micro-tour of the East Bay that I wish I could have had in San Francisco. Not a hokey, touristic double-decker bus ride, but the kind of tour only an enthusiastic resident can do justice. It was a great weekend for it with record-breaking high temperatures for this time of year (I believe somewhere in the 80s), which was perfect for me since I am sick of feeling cold and like I have to wear a parka all the time.

We began in Berkeley.

We saw the Berkeley Rose Garden
We saw the Berkeley Rose Garden
She took me to a hidden waterfall (it's on private property!).
She took me to a hidden waterfall (it’s on private property!).

We hiked for about two hours in Tilden Park. On the hike, Jackie began her sales pitch of the East Bay. “So what do you look for in a city?” she asked.

“I don’t know, lots of things to do, culture, diversity, people with progressive views, friendly people, weather that’s not too hot or cold, great food options…”

She smiled at me with satisfaction and stated, “Hmm, that sounds like Berkeley.” It certainly was an appealing city.

After the hike, we had lunch at Cheese Board Pizza. It's a pizza collective! It's located in the ironically named "Gourmet Ghetto." They make one type of pizza per day.
After the hike, we had lunch at Cheese Board Pizza. It’s a pizza collective! It’s located in the ironically named “Gourmet Ghetto.” They make one type of pizza per day.
We visited the original Peet's Coffee location.
We visited the original Peet’s Coffee location.
The renowned Chez Panisse is temporarily closed due to fire damage. It's been named one of the top 50 US restaurants for many years. Reservations are always in high demand.
The renowned Chez Panisse is temporarily closed due to fire damage. It’s been named one of the top 50 US restaurants for many years. Reservations are always in high demand.

While in Berkeley, I played an habitual game of “I see black people.” As I take in my surroundings, I scan for others that look like me. It’s a way of quickly assessing just how much I may stand out and the probability of me needing to put on my self-protective armor. I don’t usually think about it much. Like I said, it’s habitual. But, after six months in San Francisco, I do it a lot. It’s not so I can segregate myself from others. I know other people of colors do it too. There is comfort in numbers. Jackie got in on the fun too, pointing out a cute black girl on our hike. I, of course, had seen her long before she neared us. Black-dar? I like when my non-black friends join me in the game. It indicates to me that they understand the crux of the issue or are at least sympathetic. If you’ve never had the experience of being the only obvious minority in a place, it may be hard to understand just how alienating it can feel. Berkeley’s makeup reminded me a lot of San Francisco’s, which is to say, I wasn’t impressed. However, when we crossed over into Oakland, there was a noticeable change in demographics. “I see MANY black people! And a black beauty supply! Hello Yaki!” Jackie grinned at me. Jackie is half-Latina, half-Armenian. Oakland has more than once been named “one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the US.”

We grabbed drinks at Beer Revolution. Their website boasts: "Only Quality, Non-Mainstream, Beer Is Supported & Served!"
We grabbed drinks at Beer Revolution. Their website boasts: “Only Quality, Non-Mainstream Beer Is Supported & Served!”

After Beer Revolution, we moved on to Heinhold’s where a quartet of locals joined us. (Friendly people? Check!) They had all once lived in San Francisco and didn’t like it. They said it’s full of rich hipsters. Or lame hipsters? Rich, lame hipsters? Either way, hipsters and unpleasant. They were ebullient with their love for Oakland and then realized they might be inadvertently encouraging yet another San Franciscan to invade their city and drive up the rent prices. I told them I wasn’t all that in love with the City and that it wasn’t the same city I first visited over a decade ago. They agreed.

I cannot express how comforting it felt to meet people who weren’t falling all over themselves to praise San Francisco. I felt validated.  I’m getting tired of defending my less-than-excited & surprising even to me, reaction to San Francisco.

Between the acrid reaction I had to my year in San Jose over a decade ago, and my almost daily tension with San Francisco, I was beginning to think I am allergic to the Bay Area. But, my jaunt to the East Bay gave me renewed hope. I am not quite ready to declare an impending move east, though I did feel immediately more comfortable in Oakland. There is still part of me that hopes to find this magical neighborhood in San Francisco that makes me love it and unable to entertain the thought of leaving.

I moved out of Los Angeles, in part, because I felt like my life was stagnating. In San Francisco, I am growing, learning, becoming a stronger person, yadayadayadaimtiredoflifelessons. My life is definitely not stagnant, so the city is giving me what I asked for. As I told Jackie, “I am glad I moved to SF first. Because, if I hadn’t, I know I’d always be wondering what it would have been like.” But, San Francisco better be careful not to push this “growing pains” stuff too far, cause the East Bay is waiting in the wings to swoop in and grab me. And for now, the rent is cheaper over there.

I leave you with a ditty I came up with on a day when I was particularly NOT in love with San Francisco. Forgive the language, I came up with it while in physical discomfort.

Sang to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell”

It’s always fucking cold,

It’s always fucking cold,

What the hell is wrong with this place?

It’s always fucking cold!