Monday, November 06, 2006
Gay For Pay: In The Bay
I've recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm working in San Francisco and living in Oakland California. Initially I did not think that this would be the culture shock that it has been, considering that I grew up in California's San Francisco Bay Area and went to Junior High school and High school in Oakland. But boy was I wrong!
After living for 12 years in the "deep south," I've developed a way of being that is not necessarily compatible with the bay area. Particularly my way of being around justice issues and issues of social equality are incompatible. In the south, one can trust that white people who talk about Social Justice are a little more than rhetoric. Racist white people certainly do not come in liberal packages in the south.
Race issues in the Bay Area are completely FUCKED UP! The trick seems to be that if liberal white people can make you believe that they do not have race and class benefits then they can keep their feminist, anti racist, anti classist identity, from college, and do not have to give up their race and class benefits. It's all a bit too much like having one's cake and eating it too.
Every white person that I've met here considers themselves anti-racist. Columbus Day is instead, "Indigenous Peoples Day," black people are instead "African American." Everyone is for the abolishment of prisons and the eradication of homelessness, and everyone is pro-Palestine. Public schools in the bay area are named after such American heroes as Cesar Chavez, Malcolm Ex, and June Jordan. Every home has copies of the Bluest Eyes, or By The Light of My Father's Smile proudly displayed in there libraries. Every organizing initiative tries to include representatives of people of color communities. The Mexican celebrations of Day of The Dead and Cinco De Mayo, along with Junteenth and Kwanza are on the calendars of every liberal home, white, black, Asian, and Latino/a alike. I should say White, African American, API and Latino alike. Everyone rides bikes, shops at thrift stores and co-ops, grows there own food and smokes "home-grown" weed.
This is the liberal capital of the world!
San Francisco and its bay area is "The Myth of The Level Playing Field." This myth is powered by the bike riding, food growing, pot smoking, room mating, kwanza celebrating, liberal white queers who have post graduate degrees, make over $100,000 in a year and live in bungalows on the co-op land. Everyone is fake working class. Those that don't make over $100,000 in a year can afford to make less. For example, all of the nonprofit jobs pay below $40,000 which here in California is considered low income. While shopping for jobs I've begun to wonder "How do these people survive?" Then I go back to the nonprofit lessons given to me by my friend Shira, a Progressive Jewish Clergy Woman. Shira says that "movement" nonprofits are all about white guilt. See the rich whites play this game where some of them work in the nonprofit and get their rich white friends to donate to the nonprofits and everyone gets to fix there guilt. The low pay is part of that guilt fixing mechanism.
This is something that folks who use their jobs as there primary source of income and in my case ONLY source of income don't really understand. How can someone live off of $40,000 a year in the bay area? Is it because of the roommate culture? Is it because of the wonderful public transportation and bike lanes? No. The real answer is that one cannot afford to live off of $40,000 in the bay area. Those that seemingly afford to live on this kind of income have other income sources like parents, trust funds, and investments that allow them to work for the pennies, identify (because of there "income from work") as "Working Class," and get to be absolved of guilt by penance.
What is annoying about this whole set up is that while everyone is an anti-racist and feminist change agent, poverty is just as devastating here as it is anywhere else. With all of the wealth in this area, and for all of the progressive politics of the bay area it is troubling that more money does not make it into the hands of the poor and those that serve the poor. But rich whites don't have to help the poor here because they are working in nonprofits for $20,000 a year and are poor themselves. Right? While walking down the street with a group comprised of former welfare reform worker, homeless advocate, and a few other social justice types a woman approached us with such a look of anguish on her face I thought that she might pass out on the spot. She asked for help. Not for change but for help. I was hurried into the room by the Welfare reform worker, the Homelessness rights attorney, the troubled-youth advocate, and the Human rights trainer, the door was slammed behind us. We stepped over the woman.
This is how I see the bay area. People full of rhetoric about fairness, equality, and justice, who are immensely politically correct and who work in the "movement" all while stepping over and forgetting the poor.