Last week I sat in a meeting where the word “slave(s)” was said at least 20 times.
No, I wasn’t involved in a discussion on slavery or history, as someone asked when I tweeted about it. I was in the office of a tech startup. [I’m contracting in my old career until my new one takes off.]
Each time “slave” escaped someones’ lips, I cringed internally, trying hard not to externally display my discomfort. However, with each “slave” uttered, I sank deeper in my chair as my tension found other ways to release itself: a bouncing foot, a tapping finger, deep, quiet sighs, shifting positions in my chair. With every vocal release of “slave” it was as though someone tossed the sharp-edged word directly at me. A lashing by lexicon.
In technology, “master/slave” terminology describes the relationship between entities. In the case of this meeting, the discussion centered around databases.
I’m familiar with the terms from reading about them during my undergrad studies, though they never made the cut for class usage, thank goodness.
I’d also heard the terms during orientation months ago. Mercifully, they were only vocalized twice on that occasion. Afterward, thrown by the incongruity of this word usage in 2015, I turned to Google to research if it’s a topic that’s been addressed before.
Unsurprisingly, those online who criticized the change – with the majority who weighed in being non-black people –responded with over-intellectualized arguments about the origin of the terms, their multiple meanings, complaints about an overly PC culture, and other irrelevancies.
As a black American who descends from enslaved people, in a country where the legacy of slavery STILL has its tentacles ensnared in so many institutions and systems, not to mention daily life, it disturbed me.
Do I think that the folks in the room used the words to hurt me directly? No.
Do I think they are evil racists? No.
What I do think though, is that usage of the terminology is insensitive because it ignores the negative affects such words have on some employees, regardless of how small they are in number.
I don’t really care about the history of the words, anymore than I care about the history of the words “ghetto” or “thug.” I do not care about the usage of the phrase in other countries or in peoples’ bedrooms. I care about how the words are used here, where stolen human beings were treated like chattel, with fewer rights than a dog, for hundreds of years. I care about the fact that no one’s work experience should involve them feeling assaulted by the free usage of outdated terminology.
Words evolve in meaning and association. It’s disingenuous to pretend otherwise. We can talk circles around the topic, but I will never again sit through this crap.
I wish I’d left the conference room. I think I was rendered immovable by the shock of the situation. My mind reeled with options. I’d considered walking out as I uncomfortably anticipated the next utterance of “slave.” I didn’t want to seem unprofessional, especially if I left mid-meeting without explanation. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want to make a scene.
Ultimately, I endured the meeting and bolted out of the room the instant it concluded.
I am somewhat ashamed by my response. I promised myself I’d no longer refrain from addressing difficult subjects just because it might make other people uncomfortable. I WAS EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE. The longer I sat in the meeting, the more I heated up, stewing over the fact that if the racial makeup in the room were different, this wouldn’t be an issue. But, I was alone and no one else appeared bothered.
I don’t expect the use of this terminology to change – at least not anytime soon. Tech is ruled largely by white men and as the thinking goes in this country when we gauge offensiveness, if it doesn’t bother them, why should it bother anyone else, right? If they don’t see a problem, it doesn’t exist.
The tech world is known for a serious lack of diversity. Words matter and continuing old practices like usage of “master/slave” terminology doesn’t help people like me feel included, nor valued.
If the tech industry really wants to attract and retain more black talent (as well as Latino/a, Native American and female), issues like this require addressing. People whose experiences differ from the majority shouldn’t be dismissed as “too sensitive.” Diversity isn’t solely about increasing the number of employees from underrepresented groups, it also involves adapting and evolving customs and practices to foster a culture of inclusion rather than marginalization.
Earlier this year I was lounging at Starbuck’s with my friend V, who is Chinese-American. A friend of hers, also Chinese-American, was getting married to a half-white/half Japanese-American man.
She told me, with some sheepishness, “You’re going to kill me, but I bought a card for ___ and ____ with white people on it.”
“Why would I kill you? It’s not like I’m some militant “black power” chick. ‘You must only buy cards with people of color on them!'”
She chuckled and nodded.
“But, let me ask you this,” I continued, “would you give one of your white friends a wedding card with a happy Asian couple depicted?”
She thought for a beat and answered, “No. No, I wouldn’t.”
“That’s all I’m saying. You can do what you want. But, if you would think twice about giving your white friend a card with a non-white person on it, why wouldn’t you think twice about the reverse?”
The answer is pretty simple. In our country, the dominant culture is white, of European ancestry. White is considered “normal” or the “default.” To not be white is to be different, other, a minority.
When The Hunger Games movie was released last year, a subset of moviegoers were less than thrilled to discover that two of the characters, Rue and Thresh, were played by black actors. One particularly warm-hearted malcontent tweeted, “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”
Well, damn. To me, that comment suggests that this person doesn’t see a black life as valuable as a white life. Seems pretty racist to me.
As Anna Holmes rightly identified, in her article in The New Yorker on the “The Hunger Games” tweets, “…the heroes in our imaginations are white until proven otherwise.” Again, white is the default. Some people assumed Rue and Thresh were white. It should be noted, as people who read the books (including me) pointed out, the young adult novel explicitly mentions Rue “has dark brown skin and eyes” and Thresh has “the same dark skin as Rue.” Why shouldn’t there be black characters in The Hunger Games (or Asians or Latinos)? We exist too and we should also be represented, and not superfluously to fill an invisible quota or to simply play the sidekick propping up the white hero. Also notable about the book, is the fact that Rue and Thresh’s skin color was explicitly mentioned. Often when characters are white, their color isn’t addressed. It’s often only when a character is a person of color or otherwise “different” that their ethnicity or race is explicitly stated.
Many of my friends have heard me rant about the fashion industry’s use of the words “nude” and “flesh” as colors. Those colors are basically tan or beige, maybe peach. When I look at my flesh, it’s brown and decidedly not tan. When I am nude, I am still brown, not beige. Those color terms, as innocuous as they may seem, represent just a slice of how pervasive the dominant culture is in our country. “Nude” and “flesh” are normal. If I want an article of clothing or an undergarment that closely matches my skin tone, the color won’t be called “nude”, it’ll be “chocolate” or “deep brown” (and likely there will only be one dark shade, but many more lighter shades).
Concerning oneself with the lack of ethnic diversity in greeting cards, or taking umbrage at the terms used to describe colors in fashion may seem trivial to some. I very much disagree. It’s all too easy to internalize the idea that you are somehow inferior to the majority or the dominant culture, when you don’t readily see representations of people who look like you. When people who look like you are considered abnormal – outside of the norm.
I cannot count the number of friends of color who have shared with me stories of “the time they wanted to be white.” Their reasons varied from they “wanted to be like everyone else,” to they “wanted their family to be like the white families they saw on TV.” More harmfully, however, there were expressions of the desire to be more “conventionally attractive.” There were fears their nose was too wide, face too flat, butt too protruding, hair too nappy, skin too dark, eyes not large enough and so on. We, the “different ones”, should not have to live in a society where we feel excluded or somehow less than. The prevailing standard of beauty in this country is a European standard of beauty that more often than not, doesn’t include people of color. Yes, there are exceptions, exceptions some are all too quick to name when they want to avoid acknowledging potentially discomforting realities. However, these exceptions prove there’s an issue.
The famous “doll experiment” from the early 20th century aptly demonstrated the internalization and implicit acceptance of a white standard of beauty. A group of black children were given two dolls: one brown with dark hair and one white with blonde hair. They were asked questions such as which doll they’d prefer to play with, which was nicer, which doll had a nice color. The kids showed a clear preference for the white dolls. When the study was repeated in the 21st century, obviously with a different set of children, the results were sadly, quite similar.
I remember being told once as a kid, by a black female relative, “Don’t stay out in the sun too long; you’ll get too dark!” The subtext of that warning was, of course, that being “too dark” would make me less attractive. Internalized racism is real.
I don’t want to take anything away from anyone. I want to be equal. I should be able to feel good about the body I was born into. I deserve to feel good about the body I was born into. It’s real work to feel secure in a society that tells you that you aren’t normal. As much as I’ve built up my self-esteem, I still find traces of that internalized racism lurking down deep from time to time. It horrifies and disgusts me. Even a black woman, who is aware these issues exist, I am not impervious to their power.
It’s not just about a card (or a doll, or birthday decorations, or “nude and “flesh” colors) to me. It’s so much more.
The idea that we’re living in a “post-racial nation” is a bad, bad joke. We are still not equal. As long as these minor, but cumulative signs and symbols of racial power and subversion continue to exist, we are not and will not be equal. In the same way that women fought and continue to fight for equality, including challenging existing male-centered, patriarchal language, we have to do the same for people of color. This is a call to everyone to examine the ways in which our society still doesn’t acknowledge and include all of its citizens and work to change it.
You can find greeting cards for purchase online that encompass diversity. However, it would be nice to be able to walk into a standard drugstore or greeting card store and have a varied, diverse set of greeting cards to choose from. There areSpanish-language greeting cards. Further, Hallmark has a separate line of greeting cards specifically for African-Americans. This is progress. However, these “speciality lines” are segregated in store displays. There are the “normal” cards with images of inanimate objects and / or white people and then there are the “other cards.” Segregation, even among greeting card displays, doesn’t demonstrate inclusion. It should be considered “normal” to have diverse sets of people represented on greeting cards, whether those people are black, white, Asian, Latino, multi-racial, gay, disabled, etc. The faces of Americans are ever-changing and our societal artifacts should reflect as much.
A few days after our greeting card conversation, V and I visited Papyrus. V wanted to find a more suitable card for her friends. I’d picked up some Christmas cards there, one batch of which featured a tall, thin, brown-skinned woman, with long-flowing hair in a fashionable outfit. She didn’t look anything like me other than the brown skin, but it was a close enough representation for my satisfaction. We weren’t able to find a card representative of her friends, unfortunately, so she ended up purchasing a card without people on the front flap. Problem solved…for now.
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.”
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*
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 considereven 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 BARTand 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 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.
At the entrance to Tilden, we spotted several painters using the view as inspiration. One woman even brought a pet bird with her.
There were beautiful views all around.
Being in the park felt like being somewhere far away from a city.
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 headed to Jack London square, a business & entertainment center. Ferries also dock here.
We moved on to Heinhold’s Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, the name of which was inspired by sailors who visited the bar before long trips on the sea. Several scenes from Jack London’s noves were inspired by the bar. This actually Jack London’s log cabin home that was imported from Alaska.
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 yetanother San Franciscan to invade their city anddrive 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.
I’ve been living in San Francisco a little over four months. I had five immediate goals when I arrived:
Unpack box-partment and decorate within six weeks of move in – Did it in five.
Don’t get fired (or maybe it was “do well at work”. Still, end result is, don’t get fired.)– still employed
Find a gym – found
Make friends – well, see…so…but I, err…
Possibly finally trade in bitchy, useless, freeloading, ungrateful second cat.*
*still debating this one
Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are going well. Number 4 hasn’t been as smooth, which I foolishly did not anticipate. When I moved to San Francisco, I was full of hope and enthusiasm. In just two months, those feelings were replaced by boohoo and what the hell did I do?! Los Angeles was a perfectly fine place with beautiful weather, wearing of open-toed shoes and sleeveless tops almost year around and a world I understand, for good and for bad. I miss my friends, my burger places, Koreatown, ramen, mid-priced quality sushi, seeing and hearing Spanish everywhere, cheaper rent and not sobbing when I write out my rent check and not being the only upwardly mobile black person for miles. So what if I felt suicidal in traffic some days? There are plenty of doctors willing to prescribe me drugs to handle those emotions!
I get asked a lot whether I like it here. Sure, it’s a beautiful city. But so are many others I’ve been to or lived in. What’s got to make San Francisco stand out from the places I’ve lived and visited is the people. My default answer is usually, “I don’t know yet,” and I’ll explain that I’ve found it difficult to meet people. I’m either met with looks of confusion (how is it possible that you don’t love it here?!), nods of understanding and agreement or the not at all novel: “Have you tried meetup?” An L.A. friend who is a former SF resident shared that it can be hard to break into a clique in San Francisco, but once you do, the friendships you make will be more genuine than you’ll find in Los Angeles. That’s…comforting?
Volunteering a couple of weeks ago, I went out for lunch after with some of the other volunteers. I met a lifelong Bay Area resident who, once I told her I moved here from L.A., delighted in telling me how much she hated SoCal and the people in it. “They’re so fake.” You know how you can talk all kinds of shit about your crazy uncle who wrecks family events on the regular, but let someone outside of the family chime in and you’re cracking your knuckles, ready to throw down? That was me; hiding my hands under the table. I can talk shit about L.A. all day. I earned that right as a long-term resident. She, however, visited once or twice and dismissed it. Humph!
“What are you unsure about?” she asked me.
“Well, it’s supposed to be diverse here, but there are no black people here (I waved my hand around the black-less the restaurant as I said this) and that’s kind of uncomfortable for me.”
I laughed to lighten the weight of my words. Uncomfortable chuckles from the group followed. It’s funny how awkwardly some people react when a minority brings up race, especially blackness. Sometimes I just wanna say, “Blackitty black black afro negro blackish black black blaaaaack. I AM BLACK! Feel better? Now can we move past your discomfort and talk about this?” It’s like they’re afraid you’re gonna know they secretly rap the “n-word” in hip-hop songs when no one black is around. The SoCal-hater had an immediate solution to my discomfort, “It’s plenty diverse here. Just go to the Tenderloin. Ha!” I thought to myself, “Did this chick really just tell me to go to the Tenderloin to see black people? The Tenderloin where everyone warns you away from due to the huge likelihood of being asked repeatedly for money, seeing someone pooping on the sidewalk or seeing a drug deal go down, Tenderloin? Does she think it feels good for my soul to see downtrodden black people?”
I told her, “Yeahhhh, there’s that…but, I think we have different interests.” This dumb, clueless chick. Diversity isn’t just about counting numbers of people of the same group. How well are those people represented and integrated among the population being measured? I just can’t with her foolishness. But, when meeting new people it’s better just to grin and bear it, put on your happy face and complain to your out-of-town friends about her flippant tone. I don’t tell her I’ve heard complaints that San Franciscans can be snooty and pretentious and that her bitchery isn’t helping to disprove that stereotype. Be nice now, save Keisha Fierce for later.
In response to one of my posts a few weeks ago, a blog reader suggested I check out Rachel Bertsche’s blog (thanks!), which led me to her book: MWF Seeking BFF (I recommend it if you’re in the friend-shopping business). In the non-fiction book, Rachel is a late twenty-something relatively new to Chicago, having moved there to be with her husband. Upon realizing she’s lonely and lacking in close girlfriends, she vows to go on one new friend date a week for a year. Throughout the book she details – often hilariously – the women she meets and their dates. Interspersed throughout the book are interesting friendship factoids and tidbits such as: “minorities are more open to friends outside their race than white people are” (ch. 7). Did I mention that San Francisco is almost 50% white? Oh, this will be fun. Good thing SF has a large Asian population and a smaller Latino population!
A co-worker moved here a little under two years ago. She told me that while she’s met people through activities here and there, she hasn’t yet found anyone that she’d call up for last-minute plans or to confide in. That’s…sad, and unacceptable for me. Another couple of women told me they felt it took them three to four years (one said six!) to feel they had a good circle of friends and felt comfortable here. Ain’t nobody got time for all that! I know there are other places where the weather is warmer and so are the personalities of the residents.
Inspired by Rachel Bertsche’s tenacity and my own rebellious nature that refuses to accept it taking years to find good friends, I decided it’d be fun to see just how many friends I can amass in a year. If I make it a competition (with myself), it’ll be more thrilling. Because, trying to make new friends once you’re out of school, is not really a joyride. Once it becomes a conscious effort it becomes work, especially when you’re seeking to create a social circle you don’t have. When you’re hoping to meet at least one person to be the Gayle to your Oprah (or better yet a Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, Rose quad!), you’re putting in work!
I’ve been friending my ass off. Well, maybe not friending as much as meeting-new-people my ass off. I was out socializing five out of seven days last week and I had a couple of moments of fun, but mostly it was work. Last week alone I met or re-met so many new people I was exhausted come Thursday and I wasn’t even done! Sunday was my day of rest, cocooning in my box-partment. The groundwork I laid a couple of months ago is finally paying off. When I started my job, I made it a point to eat lunch with people I want to get to know at least twice a week. Every meeting is a chance to show off my stunning personality. People need to know what richness they are missing.
At a work Valentine’s Day party, we had to meet at least one new person to be allowed to enter the raffle. I used it as an opportunity to speed meet people. People are starting to wave and smile at me in the halls! I’ve even gotten a few lunch invites. Unexpectedly, a co-worker, L – with whom I’ve rarely interacted except during a training class and a few run-ins in the kitchen – invited me to happy hour last Thursday. My first happy hour invite! I could have cried. I double-checked the IM to see if she really meant to send it to me and not someone else. She meant me! At happy hour, K, with whom I’ve gone to lunch once and was also in training with me and L, told me, “I loved how during training you told HR “no” when they asked if we thought the training was helpful. That was awesome! You go, girl.” L, the girl who invited me, nodded in agreement. Yep, that’s me: no bullshit. This no-bullshitter could be your friend!
A few weeks ago, I joined a women’s group that helps connect women looking to build female friendships. I’ve been to a couple of small events and met some cool women. A few of them have given me their phone numbers and invited me out outside of the group – unprompted. If I were a straight dude, I’d really be feeling myself. I’m getting those digits! I also joined an adventure group that seems promising. My calendar is slowly filling up again.
One of the new women I’ve met asked me to go for coffee sometime. Coffee is not an activity, it’s a beverage. It’s the means to a caffeinated end. Why coffee? Why not drinks? I’m skeptical when people suggest going out to drink beverages and the beverages don’t include at least the option of alcohol. Recovering alcoholics get a pass. But, I’m wary people who don’t drink because they just don’t drink. I don’t drink anywhere near as much as I did in college or in my mid-20s when I was trying out every single club in L.A., but that party girl is still in there. She’s lying dormant, judging my more sober lifestyle, my “please God don’t let my friend have her birthday party at a bar-ness” and old lady o’clock bedtime. But, she’s ready to get the party started if the moment presents itself. It’s fine though, as the intro to MWF mentions, there are different types of friendships and they are all valuable. Maybe she’ll be my friend I do healthy, productive stuff with. Like I’ve said before, friendless beggars can’t be too choosy.
At the same volunteer event where I met the snooty, clueless girl, I met A. I liked A right away. She was warm, lively and very sharp. When we talked about diversity in San Francisco she passionately said, “Oh, it’s bull! Everyone talks about how many Latinos are here, but they’re all Mexican. I’m from Central America. I’m from the East Coast where there are people from different Latin countries all over the place. And the food? I can’t get good Central American food to save my life! My boyfriend’s family has lived in the Mission for generations and the techies with money are probably going to price them out.” She worked in youth outreach in Bayview-Hunter’s Point and has seen first hand just how segregated and economically lopsided this city can be. With each word, I swooned. She gets it!She gets me. We exchanged numbers and email addresses. A few days later, I emailed her offering to grab a drink (with alcohol) or dinner. It’s been a month and she hasn’t replied. Maybe I scared her off? Maybe she thinks I’m a lesbian, read my email and thought, “Oh hell no!” Or maybe she’d rather go out for coffee? Can’t win ’em all.
Who Will Stand Under My Umbrella (ella, ella)?
All the people I’ve met have been nice, but as Rachel said in her book’s introduction, “I can be nice, but I don’t want nice friends. I want funny, gregarious, sarcastic and smart friends.“ To that I’d add: socially conscious, opinionated, adventurous and easy going. If you’re a pop culture fan we’ll probably be insta-besties. My ninth grade English teacher lectured “nice” out of our arsenal of adjectives. And she was right too: nice is fucking boring. However, I know it can take time for some people to warm up, chill and let their good crazy show. I am learning to be patient.
I haven’t yet hit that pivotal moment of friendship with anyone, when you crossover from perfunctory greetings and awkward small talk to this is my homegirl, ride or die. You’ve heard of Bonnie & Clyde? We’re Bonnie and Bonnie! Psychologists call it: self-disclosure. I can vividly remember those tipping points in many of my cherished friendships. You feel all warm and fuzzy and bubble up with joy around your buddy. It’s a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait to experience it again.
Despite this not being the smoothest transition, I’m glad I moved here. Shaking things up is healthy. I’ve amped up my friendmaking ventures. I am meeting people, I’m not exactly having fun yet, but it’s gotta pay off at some point. I eagerly await the moment when I can rush up to a new friend and say, “You will not believe what just happened to me! I couldn’t wait to tell you about it!”
I forgot how hard it is to move to a new city where you know virtually no one. It’s my sixth time doing this. I think it gets harder each time.
When I moved to Los Angeles years and years ago I dreamed about the fabulous life I’d have hobnobbing with celebrities, meeting other actors, falling in love with my hot male castmates in all the leading roles I’d get and generally just living a flyass life. None of that happened. The closest I came to meeting a celebrity that early on was during planning for a charity event. We were looking for star power to amp up the interest; someone offered, “My friend is friends with Ryan Seacrest. Maybe we could get him to host?” At the time, Seacrest was a drivetime DJ for Star 98.7 in L.A.. He declined the offer. The next year, he signed on as host of American Idol; of course he wasn’t going to host our rinky-dink, ill-planned, never-happened charity event.
I threw myself into friend-making in Los Angeles. I met some weird people the first couple of years. I attached myself to a social butterfly through a women’s group I found. She knew a lot of people, was exceedingly outgoing and talked a lot about things that were foreign to me yet intriguing like reiki and chakras. But, not too long after I met her, I found her “crazy”. (Everyone has something “crazy” about them, it’s just a matter of deciding if you can deal with their brand of crazy.) She hooked up with the boyfriend of the sister of a friend (got that?). When confronted about her trifling behavior, she said, “I am friends with her, not her sister, so I have no loyalty to her sister.” This was my first encounter with “LA Logic”: basically it’s illogical, full of specious arguments, but allows one to justify behaving like an asshole. I, and the friend believe(d): you hurt people I love, you hurt me. I also soon realized she was a bit of a flake, a wee bit too new-agey for me and always seemed to have a relationship with a “soulmate.” Problem is she seemed to have a new soulmate every few months. After a while, I stopped caring about her latest soulmate, how she finally found love and how her life was now complete. Oh and she might move to another state to be with the latest one! She was like a starter friend. A friend to help make the transition easier, show you around, introduce you to other new people and generally make your new home a little less lonely. Then as time passes, you gradually part ways. I would like to skip over the starter friend phase here in San Francisco and just find friends.
One year early on in elementary school, I was transferred to a new class for the “gifted and talented.” (I know they meant well, but how the heck does that make the kids feel who aren’t in those classes? Slow and awkward?) One of the popular girls in class invited me to her birthday slumber party. My life was made. At that early age I was already strategically navigating my social life. I figured if I could get in with her and be entertaining at this party, I would be guaranteed invites to the other kids’ birthday parties. I really wanted everyone to like me. We had a great time at the party. People laughed at my jokes. The next morning the birthday girl said to me, “Keisha, you are fun! I want to have you at every birthday party!” Who was the winner? The winner was me. I had this. I would be popular. A couple of months later, my family left New York for the promise of a safer life in Georgia. All that work and I had to start all over again. Sigh.
I’ve been in San Francisco for two months now and I have no friends. Now that I’m no longer spending my weekends getting my apartment together, I have time to think about this. Zero. Zip. No click for anybody to fuck with. Okay fine, I have one friend. But she’s busy, she has a man, her family lives here and I don’t want to attach myself to her like a canker sore. “Take me wherever you go. Don’t leave me! I’ll make you feel pain!” I’m a big girl, I can fend for myself. But, it’s lonely. I spend too much time with one of my cats (the other one is a useless, skittish, waste of fur and cuteness). A few weeks ago, I was taking a bath. I never take baths. I am not that wine, bubbles, soak, cucumbers-on-sockets, bathtub-time girl. I like showers; no sitting in my filth. This cat I’ve had for 10 years has only seen me take a bath a few times, so when I hopped in a tub full of water, he was curious. I watched him pace around the tub examining the water and the bubbles, reaching up to peer into the tub. He looked at me as if to ask, “Is okay I jump?” “No, kitty, no jump.” I could just imagine the ensuing hilarious hijinks once he realized he was voluntarily in a tub full of water. If by “hilarious” you understand I mean “a naked, painful, mauling by cat incident.” He didn’t jump in. But, the fact that he thought about it led me to the conclusion that he and I are spending too much time together. He’d probably be speaking English and quoting rap lyrics along with me if his mouth could form the words.
I network. I smile at (almost) everyone, including the guards at all the banks in the financial district on my way to work. I’m probably now on some government watch list. People who case banks for robberies probably act all friendly and shit. One guy likes it though. He always gives me a big grin and a “hi” now. Weekdays, people in the financial district brisk their way down the street like work drones. No smiles, no stopping to look at the architecture, no flashdancing; just singular focus on getting to work. Why? The office ain’t going anywhere. Sometimes I like to smile widely at people just to throw them off. Yeah, I smiled at you. Boo!
I’ve no problem doing things solo. But, I prefer for that to be a choice, not the default option because I have no others. Last week, when my hormones decided to hijack my brain, I had a mini meltdown. I saw a posting for an event I would have loved to attend: SantaCon. People dress up in Santa suits and go pub crawling. How awesome.is.that?! Then I realized I had no one to go with (let alone a Santa suit just hanging around) and I threw a fit…to myself. I have no friends to throw a fit to. Now I have to wait another 362 days before SantaCon rolls around again. I better have some Santa-suit-wearing, pub-crawl-loving friends by then. I do not want to spend another SantaCon weekend Michelle Tannering it: “This is nooo fun, noooo fun, looking at the waaaallllll.”
Ask anyone how you make friends outside of school and they’ll say: “Join a church group!” “Have you heard of meetup.com (as if this is 2005 and a revolutionary idea)?” “Take a class!” “Make friends at work!” Always said with exclamatory enthusiasm.
I don’t go to church. I’m not going to church. So, that’s out.
I’ve joined a shit ton of meetup groups. I’m not sold on meetup.com though. In L.A., I attended a few meetup groups. I met a few people who ensured I would be scared to go to another meetup again. You know the type: no social skills, weird ticks, creepily interested in you and every detail of your life, or the gross guy who is clearly there trolling for women. You’re at a women’s brunch, mofo, why are you here? Perhaps SF meetup-ers are of the more uncreepy variety? We’ll see.
I started taking a Spanish class a few weeks ago. For myself. I am tired of being a monolingual American. Bonus if I meet people. It’s a group class for up to eight people. As luck would have it, there are me and two other girls in the class. Just three people. Girls. I specify girls because a question I’m frequently asked by inquiring friends (in other cities!) is, “Have you met/seen/smelled any hot guys there?” No/No/No.
Work is…cliquey. I’m sure people don’t mean act as such, but they are not exactly inclusive. I bet karma is behind it, cackling at my plight. The bitch. I am told I was in a clique at my last job. It wasn’t on purpose; I promise! I am proactive. I have targeted a few lucky people that I have decided I want to be my friends. They are people that I have or will ask to lunch or potentially smile at too often, making them think the new girl is creepy. Nope, the new girl just has no friends. One of my younger sisters said to me with 95% seriousness, “Keisha, you’re pretty, who wouldn’t want to be friends with you?” Ha! No one can blow smoke up your bum and make you feel momentarily less like a loser than a sister or a good frie…awwww (tear).
I’ve made progress! Last Friday in the kitchen at work, I ran into one of the girls that is actually outwardly friendly to me. She asked me if I had any plans for the weekend. My response: “I don’t really have any plans because I don’t have any friends here yet.” Why lie? She took pity on me, having been new in SF once herself, and invited me out. Last Saturday night, I actually had legit plans with someone who lives in this city. It turned out to be a pretty good-sized group, so I met a few new people. I had a great time! I danced, I drank, I friended my ass off. Now I await their verdict. Am I cool enough to be asked out again? I can’t seem too eager, but I can’t play it too cool. It’s elementary school all over again.
I’m on my way. I’ll get there. I’ll find my buddies. Getting there is the hard part. When I do finally have friends I think I may allow myself one really good Sally Field Oscar moment (“They like me! They really like me!”) and then dorkshame myself.
If you know of anyone who lives here whose personality you think would mesh well with mine, feel free to send ‘em my way. Yes, that is how desperate I am. I am trolling for friends on my blog which is read by people from the United States to countries I’ve never even heard of but am now intrigued to visit.
I'm Keisha ("Kee-shuh", not to be confused with Ke$ha). I am a (later) thirty-something, non-mommy, non-wife, who lives in San Francisco, California New York and has lots of opinions on lots of things.