Last week I announced that I was leaving Google and said in passing that I found the Bay Area “congested, racist, incestuous, and overpriced”. Those four adjectives were apparently more newsworthy than my career moves; fair enough. The reaction (and there was a lot of it) ranged from giggly agreement to sincere anger. So I should follow up.
I think “congested” and “overpriced” hardly seem worth elaborating on. Yes, my own hometown is overpriced too so I grant a certain unfairness in my bandying that word.
I’d bypass “incestuous” too, but I have to pass on (from a private discussion) someone’s suggestion that I meant the “startup/VC/tech-press Human Centipede”. Well yeah, and I wish I’d thought of those words.
Racist?!? · What particularly stung was that I got pushback from people whom I respect immensely and are distinctly non-white. So I owe more.
It’s like this: Whenever I’m around San Fran and the Valley, I can’t help noticing that 100% of the people I see who are building the future and making the big bucks are ethnically Chinese, Indian, or white. And 100% of the people I see who are washing floors or guarding doors or serving fast food are black and Mexican and Central-American. It’s not subtle, it’s totally in-your-face. And saddening.
So, is this “racism”? People have argued that it’s not; rather, an ongoing self-reinforcing hangover from many intertwined bad histories. Well OK, maybe. But the effect is unsubtle: To my eyes, the Bay area looks racist.
Is there another choice of words that would better describe what seems plain to the eye? I’m really asking, non-rhetorically.
(I’m not saying that the Bay Area’s problems are different from or worse than the rest of America’s, because I don’t know.)
(And of course my profession, centered in the Bay Area, is also strongly sexist, empirically; but that’s a problem of the profession not the area.)
My hometown is too? · Am I claiming it isn’t? Not really; I’m actually pretty convinced that tribal behavior is coded in our genes. I acknowledge gut-level ethnic prejudices but try really hard not to act on them.
On the upside, Vancouver’s main ethnic groups are all well-represented among our vicious gangsters, billionaire philanthropists, real-estate sleazebags, and songwriters. When you meet someone here (and this is a very good thing) their accent and skin color give you essentially no useful information about their likely professional or socioeconomic status.
Our own racist stench is that Canada’s original inhabitants no longer number among what I called our “main ethnic groups” because my ancestors killed ’em and squeezed ’em out and took their kids away and shut ’em up on reservations; they’ve been playing catch-up for generations, with very little constructive help from the mainstream. So yeah, it sucks, but it’s not a systemic thing you see in every bloody burger joint and cleaning crew.
I’m sorry · I upset people whose opinions I respect and I apologize to them. I hope that in some important way, what I think I see every time I visit is wrong.
And for what it’s worth, I’m perfectly aware that as a privileged white guy flitting in and out by jet, I’m hardly part of the solution.