Dear fellow tech workers,
“We interviewed a senior being evicted from their home in the Mission who told us, ‘Google is Hitler’. What would you say to that?”
An interviewer from TechCrunch asked me this question a month ago. The question didn’t surprise me, even though it should have. It seems like that’s all that’s been in the news lately.
The same week, I went to a Youth Speaks poetry slam with my girlfriend, Monica. This was the first poetry slam that I’ve ever been to, and I was excited to hear young people speaking out about the issues they hold dearest. The event was fantastic. It inspired me to see youth cultivating their creativity.
But it wasn’t long until a slam came up accusing “toxic” tech workers of ruining the city:
On valencia now that’s all you see. It’s spreading. Like an airborne toxicity. And that’s exactly what I mean, it’s a toxic city. So they force us out. Both young and old. Raised up the cost of living, no rent control. So if we can’t afford to live our only option is to die or move out to Tracy or Antioch like a couple of my guys. While I’m in my city, they’re out in the burbs. Not to mention that Twitter and Google are too strung up for words. They’re speechless. Denying the fact that the only ones who can afford to live here now are the ones that are Google bussed in. Like they’re employees from the mystical wonderland called the valley of silicon. It’s really damn sickening, and I’m a 19 year old mother f**cking San Franciscan, damn. – Jerome Robles-Reyes “In My City”
It seems, from all fronts, that the city hates tech workers. Even SF Streetsblog, a blog I hold near and dear as a daily cyclist, declares the tech community as a monoculture that “blames those less wealthy for their own problems”.
Monocultures serve no one, including those whose culture takes over. – Fran Taylor, SF Streetsblog
From these articles, I should be ashamed. I should move back to where I came from. I guess that would be Indiana.
But I’m staying in San Francisco. The solution to evictions is building more housing. But building more housing isn’t going to conquer the root problem which is the animosity many native SF’ers have against people who work in software.
Instead of leaving, I’m going to see all the hate as a challenge to become a better member of the local San Francisco community. I think as tech workers we can make a big difference in public perception with consistent, everyday steps that any techie is capable of doing. You don’t need to be a community organizer to make things happen. A community is just a bunch of ordinary folks having relationships with each other.
I did some research, and apparently there are 20 ways to not be a gentrifier as described by local paper Oakland Local. It inspired me to make a list of my own:
1. Go get a haircut at a local barbershop or hairdresser (price must be < $15 (guys) or < $30 (gals)). Talk to your hairdresser. Talk about the car accident that happened down the block last weekend. Talk about the traffic issues from Outside Lands. And listen. Learn what’s on the mind of folks in the community.
2. Read and talk about local news. Be aware of the pulse of the city and about what’s affecting everyone, not just the software industry.
3. Get involved in local volunteerism. This summer I helped Doug, a local SFUSD high school teacher, in an externship hosted at Tint. He learned technical skills with us that he can bring to the classroom in the upcoming school year. This fall, I hope to mentor local high school students so they too can learn how to write code. There are lots of resources for you out there, you just have to look! For starters, check out SF Citi or Mission Bit.
4. Participate in local art. It could be as simple as going to a poetry slam or an art walk, or go even further! My friend and colleague Brandon is a great example for this. He’s working with a local organization called Clittorati on the Vulvatron. What could be more SF than a visually iconic mobile art piece, empowering women, goddesses, and the feminine identity?
5. Don’t talk down to people less fortunate than you . I once met a fellow tech worker who condescendingly referred to the 38 as the ‘dirty eight’. As someone who rides the 38 every day, it made my blood boil to hear that comment. I finally knew how it felt to hate techie outsiders. Don’t reinforce negative stereotypes.
These are just a small subset of the many things that can be done to cultivate a community and dismantle the image of the evil techie outsider. Do you have your own list? Please share your ideas and actions in the comments below.
The biggest change that anyone can make is to treat everyone from all walks of life with respect. Even with the fairest of intentions, it’s easy to seem condescending to outsiders, so it’s our responsibility to think carefully and act generously. It’s our responsibility to participate in the community.
Ryo Chiba, Co-Founder & Developer, Tint